When Your Toddler is Stalling

Some of the fondest memories I have from my oldest daughter’s toddler years are the almost daily visits we’d make to our neighbor’s vegetable garden a short distance from our home. As we’d meander down the road, my tiny tour director would guide us to stop along the way and smell jasmine, pick up rocks and leaves, notice shadows, listen to birds, savor a taste of honeysuckle.

After several minutes, we’d finally enter our neighbor’s garden through her creaky metal gate and linger there, relishing small samples of her basil leaves, green beans and crunchy snap peas. Invariably, this trip would take the whole morning, because we were inhabiting an alternate time zone: toddler time.

In toddler time we’re fully present each moment, yet blissfully ignorant of the moments passing. Toddler time is all the time in the world.

But sometimes our young children can seem to intentionally slow down and stall in a manner that can drive even the most patient parent batty. A parent asked about this phenomenon in an online RIE parenting discussion group and found my response helpful, so I thought I’d share it here:

CARA:  My daughter is 2.75 years old (32 months) and has started taking forever to do things. How can I handle this respectfully? For example, when it’s time for her nap she will walk so slowly, stop at every chance (“What’s this dot on the floor; I need a different toy; I’m thirsty (then won’t drink water)…). She seems to be doing this with most activities- getting ready to eat, washing hands, cleaning up, diaper changes and getting dressed, going to nap, etc. I give her plenty of time and warnings but I can’t wait forever! This is especially frustrating when we are trying to get somewhere and she suddenly becomes a snail. Thanks!

Other parents offered C some valid suggestions…

TAMMY:  Do you have lots of one-on-one special time together? She may be asking for more attention?

MELANIE:  I try to acknowledge what they see from their world. They are exploring and discovering. Remember they have no concept of time. Start things a few minutes earlier. For example, if stalling before nap, start 5-10 minutes earlier. Best case you will have extra snuggle time, and that is a win-win for everyone.

Then I chimed in…

ME:  I have a couple of thoughts, Cara. She is definitely exploring her power in these situations… and I imagine she senses your annoyance, which makes this even more of an interesting experiment for her. So, I would differentiate for yourself between the times it doesn’t matter to you and the times when you don’t want to wait for her. When it’s something you don’t mind waiting for, totally let it go… and say something like, “Just let me know when you’re ready (to change her diaper, get dressed, take a bath, etc.), I’ll be here with my book (or in the kitchen, etc.)” Or you could decide to tag along with her while she dawdles, while letting go of your agenda completely. Either way, you will be very relaxed waiting, which will disempower the stalling and also give her the chance to be the one to say “I’m ready”.

Then when she is obviously stalling…and you don’t feel relaxed about it, give her a helping hand. “You are having difficulties making it to the bedroom, shall we hold hands and walk together or do you want me to swoop you up in my arms?” If she says no, no, no, I would either say, “Okay, then I’m making the choice to swoop with you”…and do it confidently, or call her bluff and say, “Okay, then I’ll wait for you in the bedroom. Looking forward to our book if you can get there in time.” If she says “look at the spot, or I’m thirsty”, etc., you might reply, “We won’t be doing that now because it’s bedtime, but please show me the spot when you wake up. I’ll look forward to seeing it”.

In short, be confident, unruffled and unafraid to insist and follow-through if you need to. Sometimes childrenneed to know that we care enough to insist. This is quality time.

CARA:  Whenever she is taking a long time to do something and I don’t need her to go faster, I’ll say exactly what you said (“I’ll be doing xyz. Let me know when you’re ready”) and she actually is ready faster than I expect. It’s just worse when we don’t have a ton of time to wait (even if I allow an extra 10-15 min) and she definitely knows that I want her to move faster. Like bedtime. Ugh! I really think that I just need to be firm and confident (like you said) and not allow her to let it take over an hour. Thanks for confirming my thoughts!

ME:  Yes! She is probing for a leader in those situations, so be that loving person she needs.

Then another mom, M, joined the discussion and shared insights…

MEG:  The concepts you explained in your answer above have been some of the most helpful points I have gained from your posts here and on your blog. I see that many of us who aim for “gentle parenting” end up, in our quest to be gentle, as passive and permissive instead. We let ourselves get annoyed and our kids get an unhealthy sense of too much power, then they spin out of control. Then we end up turning to authoritarian, punitive responses out of our frustration. This is what I love so much about the RIE approach of firm, empathetic limits. It allows us to bypass permissive and authoritarian parenting and be the confident yet kind leaders our kids need.

Also I have a side question–how would you apply that approach to an older child that you can’t just “swoop up”? I usually ask my olders (5 and 7)–“Would you like to walk by yourself or shall I escort you?” Is there any other approach that can be used?

ME:  “Escorting” sounds good. All that really matters is your confident attitude, which means facing the resistance and other feelings that come your way with fearlessness, and conviction in your leadership.

MEG:  Thanks for the input. I have seen that it’s not that the child needs to be “forced” into doing something, it’s more that she needs to see that the parent is calmly taking the reins. So many times they are simply, through their behavior begging for a limit!

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s