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Yes, Let Your 3-Year-Old Decide Certain Things on Her Own (and Learn to Live With It!)
  • The terrible twos and threes stage can be challenging for both parent and child because of the child's increasing independence. It may be construed as defiance or disobedience, but it's your little one asserting his independence and testing his limits.

    What happens when you allow your child to make choices apart from avoiding tantrums

    You've heard experts say this to parents of toddlers all the time: give your child the freedom to choose so he won't throw a fit. Will it always keep tantrums at bay? Probably not, but it CAN work. Offering your toddler options means you're developing life skills such as decision-making apart from independence.

    A word of caution: don't present a choice that you cannot follow through, or you'll end up dealing with an even bigger meltdown. Want your 2-year-old to leave the playground? Ask him, "Do you want to leave now or after five minutes?" At bedtime, ask your toddler, "What do you want to do first, take a sponge bath or brush your teeth?" Your little one will make his choice, and he feels in control. It also means no tantrums.

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    You boost your child's confidence and he feels valued

    "Kids this age are realizing that they can assert themselves and arguing with you is one way they gain confidence,” explains child psychiatrist Dr. John Sargent. For toddlers, making decisions even if it's just between a red or blue shirt is a significant accomplishment, and it empowers and fuels their self-esteem. Just make sure the options you present to your little one are limited (not too many) and start simple (read: try not to overwhelm them).


    Having your tot make his own decisions also sends him a message that he is valued. When you give your toddler options, you're indirectly asking them what they love and what they don't like. Letting your little one's voice be heard is a great way to affirm to him that he matters.

    Your child learns about consequences and responsibility

    "Making choices teaches self-discipline, prioritizing, and organization," explains educator Editha Buluran. Letting your toddler make their choices should also involve allowing them to deal with the consequences and being responsible for their decisions. This teaches kids that decision-making requires careful thought and consideration of other people.

    If you ask your toddler if she wants to wear a sweater or a shirt during the cold weather, and she chooses the latter, then let her. When she complains about being cold, don't give her the jacket (that you secretly brought for him because you're a mom!) right away. Seize the opportunity to teach her about the consequence of her decisions.

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    You develop your child's creativity and problem-solving skills

    Not all decisions lead to good outcomes, and when that happens, resist the urge to rescue your little one. If you give her time to figure things out, you're putting your child's brain to work. Developing problem-solving skills is not learned in books but in real life. It's best to start early, but also start small.

    Eventually, as you give your toddler more complex choices and he gets used to making decisions, he'll be faced with situations and opportunities that require creativity. If parents always make decisions for their kids, it deprives the young ones of developing abstract thinking, which helps foster creativity.

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    So, what are you waiting for? Go over your toddler's daily routine and identify your non-negotiables versus opportunities where your child can practice his decision-making skills. Ask him to help you solve a few tasks, so you can guide him in making decisions. Before you go out with your tot in tow, make up choices based on what you may encounter, be it at the playground or in the supermarket.

    Letting toddlers make decisions and having them reap the rewards that come with it is all about being consistent in giving them opportunities to decide on their own and respecting their choices. Some decisions should be left to the grownups, but giving your toddler the power to be in control can go a long way.

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