Member question:

I am going through your enforcing rules training and I am wondering if enforcing them with a toddler looks like picking them up and physically making them do something they are resisting? That seems to really get my toddler traveling the yuck curve but it’s for many things like using the potty, teeth brushing, getting the dinner table, etc. We were using timers for transitions but now he’s negotiating with them.🙈
Another example is jumping on the bed. He did it last week and broke his collarbone. Now a few days later he bounced on the bed again and I was super firm but he just flies off the handle (yuck) and I wouldn’t be surprised if he did it again.

Rachel’s response: 

While I do think there are times when we need to restrain our kids (when they’re in Yuck and need help regulating and/or to prevent them from being aggressive), I’m not sure that it’s realistic to “make” a child do something like go potty, or brush their teeth, or get to the dinner table… In reality, it’s not possible to make a child do those things; you can bring them to the bathroom or the potty or the dinner table, but my instinct is that they will feel so controlled that they will refuse to brush their teeth or eat dinner, etc. I also fear that since you can’t actually control another human — and at some point you won’t even be able to carry them — trying to do that will make YOU feel more out of control, leading to a desire to control them more, which will make them want to control more, creating a downward spiral.

BUT… THEY HAVE TO DO THOSE THINGS! So ultimately, if we go back to the basics, motivating better behavior is about balancing firmness with respect.

FIRMNESS: If we use the example of teeth brushing, being firm means that you’re following routines (tooth brushing happens around the same times every day), and that when you say it’s time to brush teeth, you wait until the teeth brushing happens before you do anything else. It also means you’re not controlled by their Yuck (ie, if they resist, you don’t lose your cool).

RESPECT: I think what’s really missing here is the respect piece, and that’s a HUGE motivator! What I mean by respect is figuring out WHY kids aren’t doing what they’re doing, meeting their needs, and giving them tools to be successful.

So why wouldn’t kids brush their teeth? The biggest reason is that they struggle to do monotonous tasks. And if they also feel out of control, they’ll resist you to get control back. So here’s a solution that meets both needs: When you want them to brush their teeth, challenge them to race you to the bathroom. Then you play a game where you’re mirroring them as they brush their teeth (or ask them if they want to mirror you and you be silly while you’re brushing teeth). There are lots more strategies like this, but the bottom line is that you’re meeting their needs rather than forcing them to do something that their brain isn’t wired to do (ie, handle monotonous tasks).

Here’s the thing: When kids know there are no loopholes, and when they feel connected to their parents, and when they have tools to be successful, they cooperate. And it feels so much better than trying to control them (which you ultimately can’t do, and which ultimately leads to more resistance).

Here are some resources for you:

The Motivating Responsible Behavior roadmap:…/ .

Making Activities Engaging to Reduce Misbehavior:…/making…/

Handling Transitions:…/handling…/