Your toddler just chased after your cat and then full-on hit your cat with her toy.
Your 4 and a half-year old just went up to his baby sister and pulled her hair.
You walk in on your 3-year-old twins with everything in the kitchen thrown everywhere.
Your first response?
“Why did you just do that?”
There’s really no point to this question even though we ask it all the time.
“Why did you just do that?”
This question looks to find out the reason behind the behavior, but we already know the reason. Just look online for toddler behavior and you’ll hear about children throwing their food, hitting their sibling, drawing on the couch. Why did they do it? Because they are toddler’s that’s why. What is the answer that we are looking for when we ask that question?
The reason so many parents ask this question is because they want to start the problem solving process by asking this question. When we ask, “Why did you do that?!?” we want the child to say, “Well, I hit my sister because we both wanted the same toy, and I figured that I could get the toy if I hit her and she started crying.” Then, in this ideal world, we say, “So you both wanted the same toy and so you hit your sister, however, hitting is not ok. What are some other solutions if you both want the same toy?” Funny enough, I don’t think this scenario has ever actually happened in real life.
Instead of asking this silly question that has no answer; start the problem solving process right away. What are the steps to problem solving?
First, Identify the problem:
“Uh oh! Your sister is crying… What is the problem?”
“Did you both want the same toy? Is that the problem?”
Then, brainstorm some solutions:
“What are some solutions? You could both take a break from the toy. We could find a different toy to play with. Or you can give your sister a turn for two minutes and then you can have a turn with the toy. Or do you have another idea?”
Then, choose a solution:
“Which solution works best for you?” Depending on your child’s age, you may have to choose for her or you can offer to choose it they are not sure. I usually choose the worst solution which is putting the toy away.
Finally, see if the problem was solved:
“Did that work? Did you both get a turn?”
Sometimes the last step is the one that falls apart since toddlers tend to forget things and parents will use that to their advantage, but it is actually really important to follow through and at least check in (“your sister is done with the toy, did you still want your turn?”) because you want to build these skills so that your children are problem solving on their own in a couple of years.
This will drastically improve your children’s behavior as well as create more harmony in the house.
So change your one question from “Why did you just do that?” To “What is the problem?” for better behavior today!