08/11/2014 03:52 pm ET Updated Oct 11, 2014

5 Ways to Get Your Toddler to Do Almost Anything

Jessica Shaool

1. Leverage the FOMO Phenomenon

The FOMO ("Fear of Missing Out") phenomenon isn't limited to single, trendy 20-somethings living in Manhattan. Shortly after my son started to understand language, I learned through sheer luck that toddlers actually experience FOMO too. Instead of sipping on seasonal cocktails with homemade organic syrups overlooking the New York skyline, though, toddlers experience FOMO as a Fear Of Missing Out of slightly more fun than they're currently having -- by a stuffed animal, imaginary friend or even mom and dad. And it didn't take long after this discovery for my husband and I to start leveraging the toddler FOMO phenomenon on a daily basis: "What sweetie? You don't want to take a bath before school? Beeeeaaaarrrr!! Bear! You're on deck! Get dressed, today's your big day!" (Witness as toddler immediately scampers into the tub.)

Best for: Getting out the door in record time

2. Alice in Wonderland Your Life

The tooth fairy, Easter bunny and even Santa himself can't compete with the magic of tiny blue speckled eggs in a mystery bird's nest, dazed and fuzzy yolk-colored ducklings marching hazily in a row or a mama spider spinning her web from a high rise window as raindrops buzz by. Day-to-day frustrations, frenzied outbursts and even the routinely mundane are eclipsed by awe when you direct your toddler's attention to the magic all around us. [Interrupting a crying spell] Did anybody else see that rabbit scamper across the road (or living room)?"

Best for: Redirecting and quelling tantrums

3. Everybody Likes a Little Reward Now and Then

Adults are motivated by tangible rewards, and so are little people. It can be a challenge, though, to find the sweet spot between a motivational incentive and the cultivation of a bad habit. I can't think of a more compelling incentive than a Starbucks doughnut, but rewarding myself with a doughnut every time I go to the gym is not the most productive leverage. Along the same lines, my son wouldn't mind an ice cream sandwich each time he brushes his teeth, but our dental insurance has a crazy high deductible. Dried fruit like cherries, pineapple and apples work miracles, are healthier than mini-M&Ms and can last for months even if your toddler is the personification of perfect and negotiates his way up to four dried cherries per good deed. We also throw a dollar bill or lollipop into the mix every now and then for good measure.

Best for: Activities that require delayed gratification

4. Like the Animals Do

Whether it's swimming like a fish, eating salad like a iguana or putting on sunscreen like a seal (if you didn't know seals wear sunscreen, see #2 above), children are drawn to the animal kingdom and have an instinctual need to observe, learn from and imitate their wild brethren. Dipping your feet in the ocean can be scary and intimidating, but jumping over the waves like a dolphin or kicking in the pool like a whiskerfish, that's living.

Best for: Overcoming toddler resistance

5. Follow the Principles of the Universe

In the world of adulthood, bad decisions result in bad consequences. Changing the rules of the Universe because you're dealing with a 2-year-old only paves the road for an artificially extended learning curve. One of the most educational moments for my toddler was the day he fell into our stinky neighborhood water fountain after he leaned too far over the edge (it was only 10 feet wide and two feet deep). He had a ride of shame home on his tricycle wearing only his damp Elmo underpants and my crocheted sweater. But he still reminds us whenever we're walking near stagnant water: "Guys, don't get too close or you can fall in!" As long as the toddler is aware of the boundaries (because, in this case, ignorance of law is an excuse) and fully informed of the consequences, crossing a well-defined boundary demands a displeasing consequence, according to the laws of the Universe. Time-out works wonders in our house... or the occasional smelly, shallow fountain.

Best for: Severe transgressions such as drawing on walls

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