How to Communicate with your Toddler - MumsVillage

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Pregnancy & Parenting

How to Communicate with your Toddler

A few days ago, in a shopping mall, I witnessed a young mother handling her toddler who was in the middle of an explosive tantrum.

All she could do was watch as her little one poured his drink all over the floor and then proceed to roll all over it. If you have raised a toddler, then you have felt as frustrated and helpless as this young woman. All children will at one point or the other challenge a parent’s authority. What makes negotiating with a toddler particularly hard is that a toddler has limited communication and reasoning skills.

The good news however is that it is possible to negotiate with a two year old. The truth however is that you won’t be able to negotiate with them in the ways that you would an older child. Here’s how;

  • Get to their level – While a toddler is unlikely to challenge your authority like a ten year old for instance, they are not rational thinkers making them even harder to deal with. It would have helped the above young mother for instance, if she had gotten down to her child’s level both physically and mentally and tried to think like a toddler. When my son was younger, I asked questions instead of barking orders at him. Why are you yelling? Why won’t you do this or that?

This often made him cooperative perhaps because he saw it as me validating his feelings.

  • Bit by bit – “Toddlers are very capable of making simple negotiations,” shares Charity Rwamba who is a stay at home mum of a twenty month old in Nairobi.

So how does she do it? Breaking it into simple bits. Instead of telling him that he will get to go to the supermarket with her if he finishes all his food. She gets him to finish all his minced meat instead. It also doesn’t always go according to plan. She has learnt to just enjoy the small successes.

happy smiling toddler

  • Anticipate – Two years in, Charity can anticipate the places or situations that her child is likely to have tantrums. She plans for them and does the negotiation beforehand.

“He used to cry about things at the supermarket. Now I sit him down when we are about to leave the house and I tell him that I need him to be well behaved. If he does this then I will get him a yoghurt after.”

  • Give choices – Chances are that your little one has people telling them what to do all day long. They know from the moment they wake up that they are not in control. When you give a twenty month old options, they take it as a sign that you respect them. That their opinions matter. Having a say even if small, will feel as if they have some control of the situation and they will be more receptive of you. The trick is that there has to be something at the end of it for both parties. Think of it as bribing.
  • Consistency – For Mother of two Bernice Wahome, motherhood was a like a second chance. She speaks of a past that was fraught with lies. When she had her first born daughter, she decided that she was done with telling lies.

“I never want to tell my children a lie. This has made negotiation easier even with my two and a half year old. She knows that I mean what I say, even if she doesn’t like it.”

She reckons that toddler or adult, it is easier to negotiate with someone who trusts you. A toddler will be more likely to oblige if they are sure that they will get that cookie you promised at the end of it.

  • When to negotiate – “We negotiate but not on everything. We may negotiate on toys for instance but never on sleep, and he knows this.”


Having this distinction helps both of them remember who the parent is. Sometime, what they need is parenting and discipline and not negotiation.

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