My daughter has been 2 for three weeks now and it’s as if someone let her know that being two meant acting differently. Literally, it feels like a switch went off in her and now each day contains power struggles, meltdowns, and choices. Lots of choices. In the journey to foster her independence over the past several months and strive towards being a more intentional parent, I have always given choices. But just like in real life, no matter our age, there are consequences for the choices we make. And teaching toddlers consequences for their choices is not easy.
How consequences facilitate emotional learning & well-being
While I constantly strive for peaceful parenting, it does not mean that there aren’t punishments or hard lessons to be learned. I feel like it is a dis-service to my children if they do not experience disappointment or if they do not realize that their choices directly dictate an outcome whether good or bad.
Part of raising children is preparing them for the world and life on their own by equipping them with the skills necessary to both succeed and cope with failures.
In the real world that I have experienced, it’s full of disappointment, consequences, getting told no, and doing things I would rather not. And that’s life. Therefore, equipping my child with the wherewithal to handle that is vital. So to help encourage my daughter’s independence and to foster her emotional intelligence as well, I want to parent her in a way that she knows she is loved and I believe in her, but that she also knows what it’s like to fail or to make the wrong decision.
My middle school History teacher and mentor had a poster in her room that read “failure is not fatal”. As a perfectionist, I remember thinking in 6th grade that she clearly did not know that to me it seemed so and that it felt like mistakes were killing me from the inside. And to be honest, I have never emotionally conquered the concept of failure; even small mess ups sometimes feel like the end of the world. And far too often I waver in my own decision making because I don’t like living with even the small consequences.
That trait is not something I want to pass on to my daughter.
I want her to feel like she can conquer the world because she is capable, I want her to be able to let the little things roll off her shoulder, and I want her to be confident in her decision making regardless of the outcome. And that’s a HUGE part of both helping her cope with consequences and fostering a firm and independent spirit in her.
Fostering Independence by Teaching Toddlers Consequences
The strong-will that she has comes to her naturally and therefore her desire for for independence can sometimes be a challenge. But letting her “yes” be her “yes” and her “no” be her “no” allows her to learn what it means to stand by her decision.
So when she very clearly and adamantly chose to go barefoot in 40 degree weather and it made her feet cold, she had to stand by that decision. We talked about why it was a bad choice and then I asked her if she wanted to go back in to get shoes and socks. Of course she did. So we quickly marched back inside to help her prepare herself for the chilly weather.
Options are a part of being independent and every toddler desires to be able to choose what they want. Therefore, my husband and I constantly will give her options. She can choose what she wants to eat, choose what she wants to wear, and choose what she wants to do.
However, we very clearly tell her, especially in disciplining moments, that she needs to “think about it and make the right decision.”
Of course the “right decision” is not always the one she makes or she changes her mind and gets upset about it. Then we talk about how she should remember that for next time so she can make better decision.
Yesterday it was about not wearing shoes outside in the cold, today it was about food, and tomorrow it may be about taking a bath. They are small things in the grand picture of her life, but they are teaching her real skills about decision making and consequences.
They are little incidences that build big character.
So when she is faced with the really tough stuff as she gets older, she has already experienced both good and bad decision making. She knows she has to think it through and that she has to weigh consequences- both good and bad.
But why is teaching toddlers consequences important?
When she is older and she has to make hard decisions, I pray that she can make them confidently. I pray that she will not waver because she is afraid of consequences, but that she will have learned to make bold choices after careful thought. I pray that teaching her consequences now will better her in the future and enable her to feel more confident in who she is.
- When she experiences failure or disappointment, I hope she can handle it with stability and not feel like it’s the end of the world.
- When her friends are doing something that she feels is not right, my hope is that she will not blindly follow, but she will have the forethought to see what consequence may be ahead of her.
- When she encounters pre-marital sex, I pray that she will not feel pressured, but confident to stand by her decisions.
- When she has a big decision and makes it and then it doesn’t turn out as planned, I hope she has the emotional stamina to pull herself up and not feel defeated.
- When she is faced with defending what she believes and her faith, my desire for her is that she will not hesitate or be ashamed in any circumstance.
- When she experiences rejection, I pray that she knows that was not her choice and it will just inspire her to be even better and more confident.
Most importantly… when she gets older and experiences pains, heartaches, and consequences… and when she makes poor decisions… and when I am disappointed in any of the choices she has made… my prayer is that she knows I will be there for her, that I will talk her through it, and that I will stand beside her.
So today I may have had to coach her through eating a green bean because of a choice she made, but in the future I may have to help her through something much bigger and more important. In any incidence, despite any disappointment or frustration on my part, the message to my daughter is that actions have consequences, but I am always there and she is always loved and supported.
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Kara is an author and advocate for positive, grace-filled parenting. She is homeschooler to her 5 children living on a farm in New England. She believes in creative educational approaches to help kids dive deeper into a rich learning experience and has her degree in Secondary Education & Adolescent Childhood Development. She is passionate about connecting with and helping other parents on their journey to raise awesome kids!