Thursday, November 22nd, 2018

Why You Can’t (& Shouldn’t Try To) Control A Toddler

Published on April 28, 2014 by   ·   3 Comments Pin It

Motherhood continually proves to be an eye opening experience and now that I have a two year old, I’ve discovered the power of language. Ours, not theirs.

It saddens me so much to think that, generally, society believes it’s perfectly acceptable to talk to our children with words that are demeaning and manipulating, in order tocontrolthem. Today the teacher of my toddlers Ball class repeatedly told him he was “naughty” for going out the door (repeatedly) that had been left open (repeatedly). And then threatened not to give him a sticker at the end of the class, if he did it again. So in a few short sentences she had judged him and threatened him, in order to manipulate his behavior.  Am I overreacting? To us, it may not seem like a big deal, but in the eyes of a two year old who loves stickers (and running away) these words held a lot of meaning. Luckily, he doesn’t understand what “naughty” means because we never use it, but he still picked up on the negative tone and facial expression of the teacher.


Another problem with labeling children as ‘naughty’ (or even ‘good’) is just that, it’s a label and it doesn’t recognize or acknowledge the reason behind the behavior or the emotions, which is totally pointless. As the parent, I can see that my boy was actually telling me he didn’t want to be there, and we are no longer going to those classes. He clearly changed when we entered the sessions and did not respond positively to being directed (manipulated or controlled). As adults we don’t appreciate receiving threats or being judged if we don’t follow instructions properly, so why would an emotionally and physically undeveloped toddler appreciate it either?

Unfortunately, the poor teacher is the perfect example of mainstream society, who don’t seem to understand that toddlers don’t have the physical capability of controlling their impulses.

“Just as your child can’t be expected to walk until he has the appropriate physical coordination, the ability to ‘behave’ is influenced by developmental readiness, especially neurological development. This isn’t a reflection of your little one’s intelligence, but is related to brain connections that enable behavior such as impulse control which means your child can stop himself from doing things that are unsafe or unacceptable. Each child will develop at his own rate, but being aware of what to reasonably expect at each stage can help you be more realistic and may save unnecessary battles.” Pinky McKay  via Toddler Tactics

So no matter how manipulating the teachers’ language, I doubt she’ll ever be able to control her little students, as she would like.  No, she’s not the Wicked Witch of the West, she’s just never been educated on natural, toddler development.   The easiest and most effective way to deal with this situation, simply would’ve been to shut the door and create a safe space for the class.

How can I ‘control’ my boy if I don’t make him feel bad for ‘misbehaving’? My aim isn’t to control him, as much as I’d love to have control over every situation, I can’t and refuse to belittle my child because he’s not ready to comply to my expectations. Mainstream society certainly expect way too much from these little human beings. I feel judgment and criticism when I don’t react by getting angry at him and telling him he’s ‘wrong’ or ‘naughty’. Personally, I don’t learn when I’m criticized and made to feel bad, so once again I ask, why would a toddler be any different? And people wonder why toddlers break down and let out huge emotions (aka ‘tantrum’).

I know that one day, in the future, when he’s ready, he’ll (probably) understand how to take instructions and (hopefully) how to implement them. In the meantime, I communicate using positive language and being very patient, but more importantly, by being the example he can learn from. Right now, he needs guidance, reassurance, security, connection and respect. My sister, Melissa Knauf, perfectly sums this up “This societal bullying of children needs to stop if there is to be any hope of having a truly peaceful, whole and loving world.”

Kirsty Soo is the mother to Izaiah (2 year old boy) and is passionate about parenting respectfully and peacefully.  She lives in Victoria, Australia.

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Readers Comments (3)

  1. Jessica says:

    This is Beautifully written. Its just what I needed to hear. Children are not out Prisoner’s. They are here to learn and grow without name calling. Im saddened that someone would call your boy “Naughy”. I certainly do believe the teacher is under educated on toddlers. Kudos to you for Leaving that Class.

  2. Jk says:

    You do not have to call a child names or berate them in order to teach them self control . Respectful patenting sounds very romantic and heady but in truth children need structure, rules , limits and consistency. With the development of gross motor skills most kids develope language and have enough recall to understand simple instructions . If we all sit around allowing our children to follow every impulse they have with no interference guidence and yes the big dirty word discipline , these kids will turn into little and then big terrors . Sorry but I don’t want my little girls living next to little boys who have been raised to follow impulses that they cannot control simply because some girl appears to have ” left the door open”. Hopefully this trend will come back to some sort of reasonable parenting measures and practices – this to me sounds like a perfect recipe for disaster. We are not living in caves –

  3. Kate says:

    I love this. Especially the bit about brain development. It’s so interesting that most of us go through years and years of schooling to prepare us for a job, but somehow so many of us arrive at parenting without even the slightest understanding of how a child’s brain develops and how that might impact his or her behavior (and thereby hopefully influence the decisions we make as parents). Really great reminder to be compassionate towards your children. And completely agree–demeaning or name-calling anyone, child or adult, is no way to teach a lesson.

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