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Toddlers Who Dawdle by Refusing to Make a Choice

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Dawdling by Refuse to Make a Choices
I feel like Dr. Phil giving people little scripts to deal with problems, but hey, if they work, why not? I quickly gave this little script on “The Parenting Show” yesterday and thought it would help if I wrote it out in full for people.  Here is how to handle the toddler who refuses to make a choice on what to wear as a way of dawdling in the morning. It’s a small, but oh-so-universal problem.  

Day One (the current way) 
Mom:  Ben, do you want to wear the red shirt or the blue shirt today? 
Ben: (No answer, ignores mom – jumping about on the bed refusing to make eye contact and fooling around) 
Mom: Ben, listen to me! Ben, stop fooling around and get dressed.  Come on – which do you want? The red one or the blue one? Get off that bed this minute and come choose your clothes! (This goes on for 20 infuriating minutes.)  

Day Two (the suggested improved way
Mom: Would you like to choose your shirt or shall I?  
Ben:  (Continues ignoring and playing)
Mom: I see you’d like me to choose, here you go – I’ve picked the blue one for you.
Ben: (Suddenly freaks out on mom): No, no, no I want the red one! 
Mom: I am sorry, the time for choosing has come and gone, you can choose next time. 
Ben: (Continues having a hissy fit on the floor) 
Mom: I am happy to stay if you want help getting dressed, if not I’ll go start on breakfast.
Ben: (Still flailing about) 
Mom:  Looks like you’re choosing to get dressed on your own. I’ll see you downstairs.  Come find me if you need help.  (Mom leaves) 

Day Three 
Mom: Ben, do you want to wear the brown pants or the blue pants today? 
Ben:  (No answer, ignores mom – jumping about on the bed refusing to make eye contact and fooling around) 
Mom: Would you like to choose or shall I ?
Ben:  (Remembering his mother offering him this choice yesterday and knowing now that if he doesn’t answer he is forfeiting his option of choosing for himself, Ben decides he’d rather make his own choices.) The blue pants! 

You can adapt this to suit a variety of situations:  

Would you like grilled cheese or macaroni?  Would you like to decide or shall I?  I see you’d like me to decide, lets have macaroni.  Sorry you’re disappointed, the time for choosing has come and gone, you can try again tomorrow.

Would you like to read Flopsy Bunny or Good Night Moon? Would you like to decide or shall I? I see you’d like me to decide, let’s read Good Night Moon. Sorry you’re disappointed, the time for choosing has come and gone, you have a chance to choose again next time. 

Give it a go and let me know if you find this improves matters by sharing your stories in the comment section.

About Alyson

Alyson has been blogging parenting advice for over 15 years. She has been a panelist at BlogWest, Blissdom, #140NYC and more. Her content appears on sites across Canada and the US, but you can read all her own blog posts right here.

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8 Responses to “Toddlers Who Dawdle by Refusing to Make a Choice”

  1. Christy den Haan-Veltman

    I really like this approach. I have used it with my son and it is effective until I say the time for choice has come and gone. Then he starts really screaming and insisting that “No it has not.” This is actually a frequent problem. When I say, “I cannot play the puzzle right now I have to (fill in the blank–let’s just say) bathroom.” His immediate response is “No you don’t”. What do I say to that?
    Currently I am responding by saying yes I do…I’m sure you can guess where that get us…NOwhere. Sometimes I ignore him but he follows me around whining and repeatedly demanding that I do not have to do what I need to do.
    Any suggestions?

  2. marcia

    I think the answer to “what do I say to that?”, is…nothing. You are doing it right. Like Alyson often says, just leave it at that. I think constant banter back and forth creates a no-win power struggle. Be confident in your parenting and simply and quietly follow-through.
    The goal isn’t for the child to walk away happy with your parenting technique, the goal is to teach the child appropriate and respectful behaviour, even though he doesn’t like in that moment. The dividends will pay off next time, be patient and trust yourself.

  3. Sandra Duvall

    I have tried this technique for getting dressed in the morning with my son. However, his response is always “I don’t want to get dressed. I don’t want to go to school.” He will not dress himself because he does not want to go to school. If I give him the choice “Do you want to get dressed by yourself, or do you need my help.” He has the same response. If I try to get him dressed (since he will not do it himself no matter what I do – leave the room, do something else, etc.), he kicks and wiggles and makes it impossible to get him dressed. Also, I feel as if I am “winning” a power struggle if I do this (which is not what I want to do). Unfortunately, I have to work, and he has to go to school so I need to find a solution for getting him to get dressed and out the door in the morning. Help!

  4. Alyson Schafer

    Hi Sandra,
    Not sure how old he is but you can always allow him his right to not get dressed and simply send day clothes in a bag should he want to switch into those at school at some point ( let the teachers know in advance that you are working to win his co-operation and it may make for a few strange mornings 🙂
    Do you feel he really hates school? What does his teachers say? If he hates school at this age we gotta solve that underlying problem. However – usually its just their “line” to keep the power struggle going.

  5. Sandra Duvall

    Hi Alyson,
    Thanks for the suggestion. He is 2 1/2. He seems unhappy at school, but we are also having some power struggle issues. I will try letting him go to school in pajamas.

  6. Alyson Schafer

    Let me know how it goes and be sure the teachers at the school are finding ways to help him intergrate socially and use his “power” for the good of others: ie – line leader, toy picker upper, hand out craft paper, start the songs, tuck in chairs, pass out snack etc… LOTS of catching his strengths being used for helpful reasons and ask them to send him home little “love notes” which are note from the teachers to him about how he was helpful in the class that day.

  7. Sandra Duvall

    Thanks! Those are great suggestions for the school. I will talk to them about it.

  8. Sandra Duvall

    I wanted to follow up about my son. The teachers at his school were not willing to work with me on the issue, and my son became more and more difficult. In the beginning of December, we moved him to another school, and 95% of all power struggles stopped immediately. He loves the new school, and all of the skills I learned from your book that were not working when he was at the other school work wonderfully now.
    The only problem left is that he will not nap at school. He stopped napping altogether when he was at the other school. Now, he resists naps at home or takes a while to fall asleep, but he does fall asleep and then sleeps for 2 to 2 1/2 hours. The new school has worked hard to try to help him nap but has finally had to just let him rest without sleeping. He is usually very tired by the time I pick him up from school. If you have any suggestions, I would be thrilled to hear them!


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