My 20 month old daughter, El, occasionally likes to draw with markers on the wall. She looks back at me as her giggles erupt. I say, "El, please do not draw on the wall, draw on the paper." This makes her laugh even harder and in return, I laugh too because, well, she's 20 months old and there's nothing I love more than the sound of her laughter.
I walk over, she hands me the marker, I clean off the wall (sometimes she helps) and we move on or do it all over again.
Setting boundaries is not an area I'm particularly strong at. Often her bold yet playful testing some how turns into a game (which ruins any chance of enforcing a limit). But since I'm at the beginning stages of my boundary setting journey, I have already learned a few things that will hopefully carry me through the toddler years.
Deciding which limit to set, isn't always easy.
- Sometimes I find myself attempting to set a limit on something I think I should care about. This often leads to inconsistency. For example, the marker on the walls. After some reflection I realize, deep down inside, I actually don't care if she does this. She draws, I wipe, end of story.
When my tone and face communicate I mean business, it only makes the inappropriate activity more interesting.
- This one needs little explanation and I've tested this theory on more than one occasion, with more than one toddler.
Mom's acting weird, let's do it again!
Resorting to sternness, is just not me.
- El's best friend is 32 months and is in the prime limit-testing stage. For a while, I believed that my face and tone should convey that I am serious. If she didn't listen, I said it again, direct, stern, and with an edge...on repeat. I was embarrassed and surprised when my emotional state began to rise to an uncomfortable place. I recently read Janet Lansbury's, 9 Best ways to Stay Unruffled with Toddlers article, which provided relief.
Say it once (EXPECT them not to comply), give a choice,
then follow through.
Narrating what is happening on a developmental level, reminds me of the big picture.
- If El insists on standing on the chair, I say, "I know you keep standing because you are curious to see if I'll respond in the same way." By saying what I logically know, I maintain the perspective that El (and any other toddler that crosses my path) is going through a NORMAL, EXPLORATORY and HEALTHY phase in her development.
El is looking to me for information, guidance and consistency as she actively seeks out ways that she is separate. At 20 months old, it's pretty much her full-time job. As a parent of a 20 month old, it is my job to be disciplined in the art of setting limits, so El can continue to confidently defy my wishes, make choices, and learn to collaborate and compromise with the world around her.
Other helpful resources....
Don't Leave a Testing Toddler Hanging; Janet Lansbury
Why Choosing Your Battles May Not be and Effective Parenting Strategy; Kelly Meier