The outing to Starbucks with our 2-year-old grandtoddler was perfect. Not a glitch. No screaming, no crying, no collapsing into a heap, no refusal to walk, no running into the street, no running away. And not one single tantrum. Ah, the joys of being a grandparent. Admittedly, the walk, which usually takes 15 minutes each way, took two hours. But it came off without a hitch. Why?
I am no special grandparent. I have no tricks up my sleeve. (OK. Well, maybe a few.) But what I do know is that when it comes to toddlers, hurrying is the enemy. You say, "C'mon, let's go! We have to go! Hurry up! We're going to be late." Your toddler hears you say, "You are not in control." And then, magically, little spikes grow out of the bottoms of her feet. The moment you hurry her up is the very moment she slows down. Her agenda gets longer and longer -- I have to finish playing with my Legos. I have to fit this teenie tiny shirt on that giant teddy bear. I have to put on my socks all by myself. On this walk to Starbucks, there were dandelions to be picked, rocks to be thrown, worms to be touched, fallen apples to kick... and there was no agenda.
It is not only toddlers who dig in their heels when they are ordered to hurry up! The same is true with big kids and even with some adults. Everyone has her own agenda and her own need to control the show. I don't know of many people who like being told what to do. Parents' requests and demands challenge the child's exploding need for control over her own life. Your kids have their own agendas. Imploring a child to hurry screams that she is not the boss, that you are. And you know how that is going to play out!
A big part of growing up, toddler through teen, is cultivating autonomy. The child needs to establish herself as an individual. So she struts her stuff, demonstrates her own taste, her choice, her power, her separateness from you. Every child needs to feel large and in charge. When the child is told to hurry up, she is reduced to feeling small; her autonomy is undermined. What a mess that makes.
Life with children, especially with toddlers, would so much easier if you had no agenda. Two hours to walk to Starbucks? No Problem. I have nothing else to do. But that life just doesn't exist, except for, maybe, when Granny visits.
Set your child up for success by eliminating not only the command "hurry up!", but by reducing your need to hurry. Here are seven more tricks to try:
1. Allow more time than you think you need. If you imagine that the walk to the car will take five minutes, allow 10.
2. Take care of yourself first. Get yourself ready early so you have the time to devote to you child. (That might mean waking up earlier in the morning. Ugh.) Having your attention in the morning, she may not need to dilly-dally in order to get it. And you won't have to say, Hurry up!
3. Give warnings. All children do better with plenty of warning about what is coming next. But repeated warnings fall on deaf ears. Action is necessary.
4. Give your young child two choices. Both choices must lead to your desired outcome. It will help her to feel in control. Do you want to walk to the bath or should I carry you? No hurrying... just do it.
5. Eliminate "OK?" Do not end your warnings or directives with "OK?" If it isn't a choice, don't make it appear to be one. It is the urgings, over and over and over, that lead to needing to hurry.
6. Share the reins. Let your older child take the reins, make her own plan and experience the consequences of her actions. There is no hurrying necessary, as she learns what happens if she doesn't follow through and her plan failed.
7. Cultivate your own patience. Not only do children run at a different speed than adults, but they often travel the most circuitous routes. If you are patient, if you plan for and allow for the time, she will not absorb your tension and feel the need to dig in her heels.