I gave my toddler choices—instead of just telling him what to do

I pick my battles (and set both of us up for success)

I gave my toddler choices—instead of just telling him what to do

Giving a toddler choices may seem like a bad idea—a really bad idea. But, I needed to find an alternative to the “because I said so” I was so used to hearing growing up. That ultimatum was not working for us, and I could tell he was struggling with not being heard, which lead to inevitable meltdowns over the silliest things. Call me an optimist, but I feel that I’m outsmarting him a bit. I’m giving him a chance to make his own choices, but what he doesn’t realize is I have steered him in the direction I want him to go.


Not to say it doesn’t come with challenges as we establish who holds the power in this household (spoiler alert: It’s Mommy and Daddy). It also came with a newly coined phrase from my son, “Tell me what my options are?” Which sort of makes me cringe every time I hear it.

But I’ve tried to structure how we provide options to help him feel independent and in control of his choices, but also not create a three-year-old monster.

Here’s what I’ve learned:

I offer a max of two options

“What would you like for snack?” is a slippery slope. One, I open myself up to a crazy request that I may not be able to fulfill. Plus, I imagine the answer is always an ice pop or some sweet treat that I wouldn’t want him to have.

By instead giving him only two things to choose from it helps me keep my sanity and ensure he is still getting a snack that I deem acceptable. But he doesn’t realize that—he thinks that he is in control of his choice—which he is, but only to a certain extent.

I pick my battles (and set both of us up for success)

There are a few areas where I let his imagination soar in terms of options, and ironically most have to do with bedtime. When it comes to what PJs he wants to wear and what two books we read before bed, those are choices he can make himself. As we are winding down for the night I have found this actually leads to a calmer bedtime routine.

It is worthy to note, the bookshelf in his bedroom does not contain long books, they are all “bedtime length” and the PJ drawer is always stocked with seasonally appropriate options. AKA no fleecy footie PJs in August. Those are hidden in a separate drawer.

I let him negotiate (to a degree)

Most nights there are severe negotiations that occur in this household around screen time. You would think there was a multi-million dollar business acquisition at stake. I have found that by giving him the option to choose makes for a more peaceful experience.

For example, “if you want to watch another Paw Patrol, that means only one book before bed instead of two.” I allow him to make that choice for himself. If he really wants to watch that additional episode, something else will have to be sacrificed to make a timely bedtime, and avoid the overtired meltdown.

I love watching his face as the wheels turn in his head and he computes which option will allow him to stay up just a few minutes later.

I ask him what he needs

My son has had a hard time at school drop-off, so I was determined to find a solution. We read all the books, tried all the talking and all the bribing. Nothing worked.

Finally one day I asked him, “What do you need that Mommy isn’t giving you?” And he said, “so many kisses.” Cue simultaneous heart melting and heartbreak.

Of course I always gave him a kiss before I dropped him off, but he felt he needed more. So now, on the way to school every day he gets to choose the number of kisses he gets before he goes in the door. Today was “twenty-hundred” (working on counting is for another day).

Since we started the “you pick the amount of kisses” routine, he walks in happy and smiling every day...some days even giggling. What a change! Allowing him the ability to make his own choice has made for a much happier boy (and mama).

At the end of the day, what’s most important to me is to cultivate his confidence—and independence.

Let’s be honest—no one likes to be told what to do, especially a toddler. Allowing him to make choices on his own give him the confidence in his own decision-making ability. I may be projecting too far out, but I think that this confidence helps fuel his independence. He can be sure that he knows the right thing to do, or what will make him happy.

And a happy little man equals a happy mama, any day.

In This Article

    14 toys that will keep your kids entertained inside *and* outside

    They transition seamlessly for indoor play.

    With fall in full swing, most parents are fresh out of boxes to check on their "Fun Concierge" hit list. It's also the point of diminishing returns on investing in outside-only toys. So with that in mind, we've rounded up some of our favorite toys that are not only built to last but will easily make the transition from outdoor to indoor play. Even better, they're Montessori-friendly and largely open-ended so your kids can get a ton of use out of them.

    From sunny backyard afternoons to rainy mornings stuck inside, these toys are sure to keep little ones engaged and entertained.

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    Take their charges on a stroll around the block with this classic doll stroller. With the same versatility they're used to in their own ride, this heirloom quality carriage allows their doll or stuffy to face them or face the world.


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    Whether you're hitting the beach or the backyard sandbox, this adorable wooden sand set is ready for action. Each scoop has an embossed pattern that's perfect for sand stamping. They're also totally suitable for water play in the wild or the bathtub.


    Water play set

    Plan Toys water play set

    Filled with sand or water, this tabletop sized activity set keeps little ones busy, quiet and happy. (A mama's ideal trifecta 😉). It's big enough to satisfy their play needs but not so big it's going to flood your floors if you bring the fun inside on a rainy day.


    Mini golf set

    Plan Toys mini golf set

    Fore! This mini golf set is lawn and living room ready. Set up a backyard competition or incorporate into homeschooling brain breaks that shift focus and build concentration.


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    Janod retro scooter balance bike

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    Wooden rocking pegasus

    plan toys wooden rocking pegasus

    Your little will be ready to take flight on this fun pegasus. It gently rocks back and forth, but doesn't skimp on safety—its winged saddle, footrests and backrest ensure kids won't fall off whether they're rocking inside or outside.


    Croquet set

    Plan Toys croquet set

    The cutest croquet set we've ever seen! With adorable animal face wooden balls and a canvas bag for easy clean up, it's also crafted to stick around awhile. Round after round, it's great for teaching kiddos math and problem-solving skills as well.


    Wooden digital camera

    fathers factory wooden digital camera

    Kids get the chance to assemble the camera on their own then can adventure anywhere to capture the best moments. With two detachable magnetic lenses, four built-in filters and video recorder, your little photographer can tap into their creativity from summertime to the holidays.


    Wooden bulldozer toy

    plan toys wooden bulldozer toy

    Whether they're digging up sand in the backyad or picking up toys inside, kids can get as creative as they want picking up and moving things around. Even better? Its wooden structure means it's not an eye sore to look at wherever your digger drops it.


    Pull-along hippo

    janod toys pull along hippo toy

    There's just something so fun about a classic pull-along toy and we love that they seamlessly transition between indoor and outdoor play. Crafted from solid cherry and beechwood, it's tough enough to endure outdoor spaces your toddler takes it on.


    Baby forest fox ride-on

    janod toys baby fox ride on

    Toddlers will love zooming around on this fox ride-on, and it's a great transition toy into traditional balance bikes. If you take it for a driveway adventure, simply use a damp cloth to wipe down the wheels before bringing back inside.


    Balance board

    Plan Toys balance board

    Balance boards are a fabulous way to get the wiggles out. This one comes with a rope attachment, making it suitable for even the youngest wigglers. From practicing their balance and building core strength to working on skills that translate to skateboarding and snowboarding, it's a year-round physical activity that's easy to bring inside and use between Zoom classes, too!


    Meadow ring toss game

    Plan Toys meadow ring toss game

    Besides offering a fantastic opportunity to hone focus, coordination, determination and taking turns, lawn games are just plain fun. Set them up close together for the littles and spread them out when Mom and Dad get in on the action. With their low profile and rope rings, they're great for indoors as well.


    We independently select and share the products we love—and may receive a commission if you choose to buy. You've got this.


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