It’s usually pretty easy using Attachment Parenting with an infant. You follow your instincts, you nurse and wear your baby, you keep your baby close, and your baby rewards you by being a generally happy little person who thinks you’re the neatest thing in the universe.
Things get a little trickier when those babies reach toddlerhood. They are impatient to explore the world, test their powers and otherwise interact with this amazing world they’ve been brought into.
What they want at this age is not necessarily anything like what you want, and this can be a time for some real power struggles.
Recently, an exasperated mother posted to a Facebook AP page, saying:
My 19 month old has recently started completely ignoring & disobeying me. He was always so well behaved but now whenever I ask him to please stop throwing toys, please don’t climb on the gate (it’s not allowed at grandma’s), etc he doesn’t listen! I’m getting so frusturated & would LOVE some advice on how to get him to obey me better!!
The answers to dealing with this problem are actually surprisingly easy, but they also goes against most of the parenting advice we grew up hearing.
First off, get rid of the word “obey” from your vocabulary. “Obey” is a word that’s not even friendly when we’re talking about our dogs, much less our children. How would you feel if a friend or your spouse asked for advice on how to get you to obey them better? There’s a reason the word was taken out of most wedding vows. It’s just not very loving.
Think about if blind obedience is really your goal in parenting. Some parents do want total control over their children, but this doesn’t generally go along with Attachment Parenting philosophies. Children who are unquestionably obedient to authority figures are frequently victimized. They have very little control over their own lives. They often rebel against authority later when they have a chance, or they just become doormats to others. While having a completely obedient child might make your life as a parent easier, it is almost never in the best interest of the child. And frankly, the only way to have a completely obedient child at all times is to use abuse and have your child too terrified of you to ever go against your wishes.
Reframe your problem to focus on how to help your child instead. If your child is climbing the gate at Grandma’s and it’s not allowed, then the problem is how to help your child follow this rule. If your child is doing something dangerous like running in the street, then your problem is figuring out how to keep your child safe.
Realize that most of the responsibility for your child’s behavior is yours at this stage — not your child’s. A child of one or two years old does not have the self-control or ability to always keep himself safe, remember rules or choose the correct behavior. Life will be much simpler for everybody if you just help him with these things. For instance, if your toddler keeps pulling the cat’s tail, you should definitely talk about gentle touches and show her how to nicely pet the cat, but you should also take responsibility for keeping the cat away from your child most of the time for the time being. If he climbs Grandma’s gate, then stay with him when he’s near the gate so you can gently redirect him if he starts to climb it. If he tends to dart in the street, then talk about the dangers, read books, practice what to do instead, but in the meantime also just keep a firm grip on his hand when you’re near a street.
See misbehavior as needs that aren’t being met. Toddlers very rarely do things in order to be naughty! A one-year old who throws a toy might just love throwing or might be frustrated. A toddler who has a meltdown in a store might be tired and hungry, and unable to sit quietly any longer. If your little one acts overly wild then perhaps she is full of energy and could use some time at the park before coming to visit company, for instance. The child who climbs Grandma’s gate may love to climb and might happily climb a homemade jungle gym in the back yard instead. Then, the next time he tried to climb Grandma’s gate, Mama could gently help him down and remind him, “Remember, we’re not allowed to climb here but when we get home you can climb in the backyard, okay?”. Then gently redirect to another fun activity.
Know what’s age appropriate. A lot of behavior that’s seen as “bad” in young children is completely normal and natural. It helps enormously to know what’s typical — and to know that it will get better soon on its own. See the links at the end of this article for information on finding out what’s typical for each age.
Say yes as much as possible. The more power you give your child over her life, the more she’ll go along with it when you do have to say no or impose rules.
Stick to your Attachment Parenting roots. Being AP isn’t always the easiest route but in the long term you’ll end up with a relationship with your child that does make much of parenting much easier. Children who feel valued, safe and empowered are less likely to misbehave because they have less reason to. Respect your child and he’s more likely to respect you and your wishes and rules. Work on meeting his needs, keeping him close and giving him love, and he’ll ultimately be a far easier child to raise.
Remember that you’re on the same side. Ideally, you’re your child’s ally, his biggest teacher and his advocate in the world. While he may be frustrating at times, it can be hard being little. Put yourself in your child’s shoes and remember that none of the bad behavior is personal. The more you see yourself as being on the same side, the easier it will be to keep things pleasant between you and keep most of your time together close and enjoyable.
Yes, it can be frustrating when little ones act disobedient. However, if you follow these simple guidelines you’ll find that these occurances happen less and less often — and are much easier to deal with.