She's cute. But she is also my daughter, which means she is very strong willed. Lately, the park, a place we visit on a regular basis, has become the site of a power struggle. In a nutshell: I'm ready to go; she's not. I make to leave, and she runs away as fast as she can, for as long as she can. Often, this ends with me grabbing her, and then struggling to carry her, my two-year-old, and a large diaper bag to the car. By the time I make it into the driver's seat, I'm exhausted.
This isn't our only opportunity for a power struggle. There's also meal time and play time with her younger sister (but that's another post). Because I needed a refresher on RIE (Resources for Infant Educarers), and because I was curious about whether I was handling these situations correctly (i.e., avoiding a power struggle), I reached out to Janet Lansbury, parent educator and author, for a consultation.
First, Violet is doing exactly what most, if not all, four-year-olds do. Janet explained that four is the last big push of the toddler years. Violet's agenda is to grow up and be independent, so, as her parent, I should just expect defiance.
As far as leaving the park goes, I made a few missteps. For one, whenever it was time to go, I became anxious. I knew what was coming, that Violet was going to take off, and I wasn't looking forward to having to wrangle her out of there. Also, when she would run, I would sometimes charge after her. Janet suggested that I expect Violet might run away, but that I remain calm and confident. If Violet sees that I'm angry, it becomes a game. She suggested that I give the warning that she can do one more thing before it is time to go (which I always do) and that I grab my younger daughter's hand and move close to Violet while she is doing her last activity. When it is time to leave, I should just take her hand and say, "Okay, it's time to go." If Violet pulls away, just say, "Oops. Looks like I lost someone. We'll be here waiting for you when you decide to come back." I should try my best to act nonchalant. If she can't get a rise out of me, the game is over. When she is close by again, attempt once again to hold her hand and leave the park.
Janet also suggested that, if she does run away at the park and I end up waiting a long time for her to come back so we can leave, I tell her very honestly the next time that I won't be taking her because I am not up to the chase or to waiting. Don't say it to be punitive or to teach her a lesson. Just say it because that is truly how I feel and I am just being honest. That kind of honesty is respectful, not manipulative. Once a week, we should go to the park just the two of us. Violet needs that special time every day (maybe she hasn't been getting enough of it), and I can let her know that I am really looking forward to our time together.
What was reassuring was that Janet said it is perfectly fine to pick her up and leave the park if I really need to. Toddlers are testing that boundary. They want to know if you can or will stop them. The key is to do it long before you get angry.
Having a resource available is always helpful to me, and I feel like I needed to be reminded to slow down and take a deep breath. With these strategies, I'm hopeful that we'll stop having a showdown at the park and that, from now on, it can be only what it's supposed to be: fun.