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Are you smarter than a 2-year-old?

July 10, 2008 - Betsy Bethel
It sounds silly, of course, but when I am challenged by Emma's behavior (like, 500 times a day, most of them before 9 a.m.), I formulate my responses by first reminding myself that I AM smarter than a 2-year-old.

I may not be the brightest bulb (I use CFLs, ha ha), but I've taken the online quizzes to prove I am at LEAST as smart as a fifth-grader, so I am reassured I can outsmart my toddler if I put my mind to it.

You don't have to be book-smart to be a parent, however. As I have observed other parents over the years, I have determined the best parents a) think quickly on their feet, b) are consistent, c) use lots of real-world and child-relevant examples when driving home a point and d) can laugh at themselves.

That said, here are a few parenting tips drawn from my personal (albeit limited) experience. Disclaimer: I am not a parenting expert. I just blog like one.

1. First and most important, THINK like your 2-year-old. No one knows your child better than you do. Put yourself in his situation, and then use your many years of experience beyond toddlerdom to find the solution.

For example, last night Emma watched me slide my grilled chicken pieces off a skewer and wanted me to do it for her, too. So I did, but then she wouldn't eat the "yucky" chicken. (She eats virtually no meat, by her choice.) I then thought she might think it was fun to eat the chicken off the skewer, kind of like corn on the cob or a Popsicle. I showed her how to do it, and the next thing I know, she's chowing down and exclaiming, "Mmmm! Chicken!"

2. NEVER bluff. Your toddler is constantly testing her boundaries ... and yours. It's how she learns what is acceptable behavior and what isn't. If you make a threat -- "I will turn this car around and go home if you don't stop pinching your brother!" -- follow through. If you don't, your toddler will file the incident under "Things I can get away with."

For example, when Emma refused to take a nap a couple weeks ago, I told her we could either do things the nice way or the nasty way. The nice way, I explained, is she lays down, I tuck her in and give her a kiss, and we both are happy. The nasty way is I leave the room with no kiss; she cries and I am angry. "Now, which way do you want to do it?" "NASTY!" she yelled, her cherubic little face contorted into a scowl. So I left the room without a word, shut the door behind me, and went down to the kitchen. She howled for a few minutes. I then heard her yelling, "Nice way, Mommy. Nice way!" So, I went back upstairs, tucked her in, gave her a kiss, and she went to sleep.

3. Use bribes sparingly. If you offer your child a reward for every single little thing, all day long, he's going to think he never has to do anything unless there's something in it for him.

Let's define "bribes." If Emma wants to play on her slide, but I need her to clean up her toys inside first, I tell her no slide until she cleans up. I consider that negotiation not bribery. An example of over-bribing is promising a cookie if she allows me to change her diaper, then another an hour later when she won't stay in her chair at lunch, then a new toy that evening if she puts her toys away, etc., etc.

If used properly and not abused, bribery is a secret weapon, and it works best in times of utmost desperation, like when he is throwing a ridiculous tantrum in the doctor's waiting room and you hiss through your teeth that you'll take him to Dairy Queen if he calms down! It's a dirty little trick, and one rarely feels good about employing it, but it does work.

4. Beware the axiom, "Pick your battles." It means "Don't fight your child over everything. Some things can be overlooked." It's a parenting tactic meant to save parents' collective sanity. The problem is, it can lead to inconsistency and confusion if you're not careful.

For example, I choose not to fight Emma about digging or playing in the dirt. It's not worth the effort, and as my neighbor said when our kids were just babies, "They wash." But what happens when she wants to play in the dirt when she's all dressed up, like when she's going to be a flower girl at the end of the month? I suppose we'll just avoid dirt as much as possible that day! (Or it might be a day to launch the secret weapon.) Nonetheless, be mindful of which battles you pick to ignore, so they don't catch you off guard the next time.

Now, all you harried parents of toddlers, choose only one of these points to remember after closing this page. If you're lucky, you'll still remember it by bedtime.


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