My son, who is 2, has discovered that he likes having control, like toddlers are wont to do. Once we get in bed, he frequently asks for water, snacks, a rinse of his pacifier or a complete pajama wardrobe change.

When we’re brushing our teeth, he takes over the brushing. If we’re flossing, he insists that he be the one to cut the floss, even if that results in using 3 yards of floss at once.

Getting him to do things takes on a whole new layer of complexity, especially when you want him to do things that aren’t on his regular schedule or have a time constraint.

Want to go to Target? You need to get dressed and out the door and into a car and all of those steps need to be his idea. If not, you can force it, but then you have a crying kid that is incredibly hard to manage from then on.

Want to get a house clean enough to take real estate photos of it? You need to not allow most common activities like helping me cook or eating a crumbly snack on the rug. Explaining those ideas are incredibly difficult when there is no pre-existing understanding of those ideas.

The best strategy has been to plant an idea early and give it time to grow until it’s his idea. Putting on pajamas happens every night, but I usually try and suggest it about 30 minutes before it should happen. This works best to encourage action where it wouldn’t happen otherwise.

For the actions you don’t want to happen, you have to explain calmly and redirect into something new. Discouraging an action is 100x more difficult than the encouraging action because you can’t really plant the idea of not doing something so that he can make it his own. It’s more about explaining why something can’t happen and then being as calm as possible about it while redirecting into something else, like a game, a toy, a joke or something else. The redirecting is important if he’s particularly stubborn about it.

I am constantly seeking out more ideas and ways to keep encouraging his exploration and newfound thirst for control without breaking our brains.

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