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Simple Ways to Teach the Tough Stuff to Your Preschooler

Simple Ways to Teach the Tough Stuff to Your Preschooler

“I don’t want to go to {insert place}”. “I don’t like {insert name}.” “I don’t want to wear {insert clothing}.”

Do you see the pattern here?

This is our three and a half year old daughter, most of the time these days. Is she being difficult? Stubborn? Spirited? I don’t know. What I do know is that she’s just being a three and a half year old, little girl.

Wanting to test her independence, exercise her choices, explore what she can do with her own free will.

It tries my patience. Oh boy, it does. But I have to remind myself that this testing, exploring and exercising is an important part of her overall learning and development.

Teaching her to deal with this seemingly “tough” behaviour is what will shape her as an adult.


Here are a few gentle, positive discipline and parenting techniques that we are currently practicing:

Learning to Choose

Each time, I’m faced with an “I don’t,” even though I’m tempted to say, “Too bad, you have to,” I pause and where possible offer her a choice.

Her: “I don’t want to wear the pink t-shirt”

Me: “Okay. Do you want to wear the yellow or the blue?”

She learns to choose and I get to dress her in something that won’t have people at the park doubting my mothering skills. Win-win!

Making a Decision

Teaching a toddler to take decisions is not easy. Using gentle discipline requires practice too. However, one can always start early and respecting their decisions goes a big way in showing those little minds that you respect their intelligence. Faced with an “I don’t”, I often kneel down, look her in the eyes and softly ask her, “Well, what do you want to do then?”

Usually it is an answer that is totally toddler-like. Something fun, something simple or something that involves just the two of us. Totally doable.

When it isn’t, I use the offering-a-choice tactics and that works well.

Respecting Others

There will be times when you just can’t offer a choice or let them decide, that is when your little one will learn all about respecting others and learning to compromise and adjust.

Her: I don’t want to share.

Me: Do you like when {insert name} shares their toys with you?

Her: Head nodding.

Me: Great. Then would you want her to feel bad that you don’t let her play with your toys?

Her: Head shaking.

Me: Perfect. Let’s share our toys then, okay?

It isn’t always this easy but the pattern is pretty much the same. We let her understand why something needs to be done and why it isn’t negotiable.

Setting an Example

However, at the end of the day, I’ve noticed that our little girl really is a mirror of who we are. She has her individuality but she is like a sponge soaking up everything that we say and do.

In my book, setting an example is the simplest {and yet toughest} way of teaching a toddler what’s important.

If I want her to respect others’ choices, I need to show her that I do that too by respecting her choices.

If I want her to make good decisions, I need to do that by making healthy, balanced decisions for our family.

If I want her to grow up to be an independent, patient and compassionate adult, I need to be an independent, patient and compassionate grown-up myself.

How do you teach the tough stuff to your toddler?


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  1. Great post Prerna!! My three year old has been really difficult lately. Everything is a battle with him – picking up his toys, putting on his pajamas, brushing his teeth – everything. I got to try the choices thing, though there isn’t much of a choice when it comes to brushing your teeth!! :-)

  2. Great suggestions! It saddens me to see parents “losing it” with toddlers who are simply learning to navigate their world as their biological wiring mandates. You are so right that role modeling is both easy and difficult… but it works!

    • The Mom Writes says:

      Thank you Keyuri! It saddens me too. It really isn’t a toddler’s fault that he’s acting up. He’s just being a toddler. Am so glad to hear that you think I’m on the right track.

      • I was a Montessori teacher for years but then I taught parent/child gymnastics classes. The difference was that as a preschool teacher the children were “dropped off”

        In the gymnastics classes the parents were expected to participate. I created the basic structure of the class but it was up to the parents to work with their own child in that setting, thus becoming their own child’s educator. I simply facilitated. . Mostly they came with the expectation that I was to direct all thirty or so children individually in a very stimulating environment that included trampolines.some of the parents even spent the entire class on their cell phones while their toddler attempted to walk the balance beam. It was interesting for me to see how readily parents handed over authority to me because I was the “designated teacher”. In spite of the fact that it had been made clear that the class was designed with parent participation in mind. Now take that forward a few years as we parents drop our kids off in the carpool lane. Well, fact is, our educators need our help. They don’t need us to help them design the class. They just need tp know we parents are there.

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