When you live with toddlers you quickly learn that there are some responses that will end in tears, some that will end in a fight, and some magical phrases that will result in blessed quiet and understanding. These are phrases you have complete control over. Use them nicely, use them as elements outside of yourself or as actionable promises where the children see you as an advocate for their cause, even though you aren't doing anything for them at the moment. Start early with these concepts. Drill them into the children's brains as fact, or at least as routine.
These are the phrases that work over here.
This takes the onus off you. It's not your fault the toy or contraption isn't working. It's broken. There's nothing you can do. You can follow this up with "let's see if daddy can fix it when he comes home." Works like a charm. Or "We'll have to go buy a new one." It's an element outside yourself and you're promising them future action.
"It needs batteries."
A beautiful variant of "it's broken." Can be used also when you've just shut the sucker off.
"It's too dark out."
This works because the kids can actually see that it's dark. Mine will now look at me in mock distress and say, "oh, no, mama! We waited too long! It's dark out now!" Then you can tell them that whatever outside activity they wanted, you can all do together tomorrow, when it's light again.
"After breakfast / lunch / dinner."
This causes a bit of conflict, since it doesn't move the problem completely out of your jurisdiction. After all, your the mean-pants forcing a meal upon them. However, it evens out as the kids begin to understand that they are the ones in control. They do this action, they get that action.
"Yes, I will get you more."
Kids never want anything good to end. This includes snacks. Oftentimes, just a third of the way through whatever treat I've given them, they're asking me, "next you get me more?" They want to make sure that even if they eat it all, they'll have more. Not necessarily right that second, but in general. I always answer yes to this question. I have to get them more maybe one out of ten times.
"...needs alone time."
I don't know if all kids need this, but I know with twins, it's a lifesaver. They are always with each other. They are trying to branch out on their own, too, but unless both of them are in the mood to do so, I end up hearing, "Mom! Lilly / Dulce won't talk to me! Lilly / Dulce is being mean to me. Lilly / Dulce is yelling at me."
By explaining that she'll come around in a few minutes, she just needs some alone time right now, you remove the personal insult (even if there is insult meant.) The child in question's problem becomes something she has to deal with by herself, instead of an active attack on the other's personality. The sooner alone time becomes a thing, the better, to be honest. You can apply it to yourself also, once the kids graduate to level two.
"It's closed. It's closing."
It's not your fault you have to go home or you can't go to the fun place in the first place. It's closed. There's nothing anyone can do. But you can try again when it opens. Taking onus off yourself, and giving them an actionable promise.
I don't know if this will work for everyone, but my kids don't really like to be dirty. (Actually, that's not true. They dig in the dirt with the best of them). Since they were young, my husband and I have pointed out 'dirty' or 'trashy' things that are gross to touch. They pay attention.
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