My 2 year old isn't making good choices

Mar 31
I was leaving the kids drop off zone this morning when I saw a fellow mumma walking in with a cranky toddler in tow. I overheard her tell the child “You’re not making good choices right now”.

I’m not sure its a toddler’s job to make good choices.

They’re barely in control of their BMs yet, but hey, lets expect more from the new generation.Perhaps she has one of those child prodigies.
Congrats Mumma. But for the rest of us, lets look at the concept of decision making in terms of typical development.

Making ‘good decisions’ is actually complicated. The process involves taking into account values, expectations, know right from wrong, consequences, balancing likeliness of positive outcomes for everyone concerned. Young children are still developing many of their social and emotional learning skills. Because of this they are more likely to:

• focus on one aspect of a situation
• focus on their own position
• look for immediate benefits
• want things now
• act without thinking first
• make simple distinctions between good and bad, right and wrong
• make decisions based on a whim.

So what does this look like IRL? Scenario; Sally not wanting to put down the iPad and get out of the car so mum can drop off older sibling to school. The parent’s idea of a favourable outcome / good choice; Sally says “Sure mum, I’d be happy to do that for you right now, as I understand time is of the essence right now”. The skills and processes that Sally would have to undergo for this consideration; Reflect on the values of others (mum really values time management and being punctual), reflect and weigh in on her own values (I really value playing finger painting on my iPad for hours and hours. This conflicts with mum’s value of being punctual), comprehending the expectations and consequences (If I don’t get out the car now, we will be late, this will make mum late for work, she might get in trouble at work) and finding a resolution that leads to a positive outcome for all involved (We’ll get out of the car right now for mum, and then when we return I will be able to enjoy my game in peace).

So maybe you can see now, why, in many cases, you’d have noticed your toddler not making a lot of ‘good choices’. Don’t be frustrated, don’t feel like you’ve failed parenting in some way. You haven't got a dud. No refunds. Is there any point to getting upset and telling the child they’re not making good choices? Doesn't seem fair really does it, to be upset someone can’t do what they can’t do yet. A toddler is certainly capable of following your requests and instructions to put away the iPad but whether or not that's a result of her ‘good choices’ I’m not too sure. Can I encourage you that its OK to be where its at right now and perhaps energy is better spent focusing on praising any positive behaviour we notice, rather than focusing on what's not happening yet, those skills will come.

So what can we expect from children around this age?   We can expect they can make simple choices and begin developing social and emotional skills that will lead to good decision making. How to help?;

Offer the child two choices. Too many choices or leaving the choice blank is overwhelming.

Model problem solving out loud. Verbalize your own thinking when you are planning simple tasks and decisions. “Hmm I could leave these socks on the floor. But, I’m going to need clean socks tomorrow for work so I will put these in the wash now, because if I leave them on the floor, they will stay dirty”.

Walk them through it and be prepared to make the decision for them. Sometimes a young child will need your support to take action for them.

Play. Games where choices need to be made like Simon Says helps develop their self control and quick thinking.

Reflect on the outcome of a good choice and why it was good.

Sources; Beyond Blue’s Factsheet Decision Making- Early Childhood
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