According to psychologist Erik Erikson, this developmentally appropriate period of conflict (psychosocial stage 2; Autonomy vs. Shame and Doubt) lasts from approximately 18 months to 3 years of age and is not to be feared because the toddler is still developing their personality, their individuality, and their sense of identity and they want to experience everything.
How often do toddlers think things out? Do they? Toddlers are impulsive little creatures, and their first answer may not be thought out.
Their little brains are still developing, and they don’t possess the higher-level functioning necessary to contemplate many choices and consequences.
Most times, parenting a toddler feels like navigating a field full of landmines while balancing an egg tray on the one hand and another tray full of champagne glasses on the other, all the while wearing boots three times your size with your eyes closed.
Before you know it, the sky is coming down fast.
There are two questions to ask yourself when faced with this dilemma. First, why do toddlers act like this? And secondly, what is the best way to respond to this constant change of mind?
Why are toddlers indecisive?
Toddlers inability to comprehend decision making becomes impaired for these main reasons:
- Lots of data must be processed in their brains to get to an applicable decision that might be too big or quite vague and the toddler can’t hold all that information in their Working Memory.
- The options are open-ended. There are simply too many choices to pick from and the toddler’s brain just can’t process all the choices at once leading to the back and forth.
- Decisions require prioritization and sequencing which a toddler’s young brain has a hard time doing, which means they might have a tough time prioritizing duties because all options have the same level of importance.
- They fear making the wrong decisions, and even worse, regretting past impulsive decisions that went wrong.
How to help your toddler navigate their indecisiveness
All said and done, what is the best way to respond when faced with a toddler’s brain malfunction of indecision?
How can you escape the situation with your sanity intact without shaming your child in the process? Every situation is different, but here, we give you tips to not only survive but to use the experience as a learning process.
1. Think ahead
When providing your toddler with a choice, try to speak to them proactively about the consequences of their choices to encourage that thought process as choices always have consequences.
For example, explain to them that by choosing the banana, they will not also get the guava fruit, but they can always choose the guava tomorrow.
2. Remain calm
Whereas talking softly in a conversational tone promotes a rational conclusion, some people can tolerate yelling, making it a form of communication within their household.
I, however, try so hard not to embrace the inclination to raise my voice in frustrating situations because it makes my insides shrivel and my shoulders shatter.
3. Practice empathy
Rather than be agitated with your toddler’s behavior, try and fit yourself in their shoes. Imagine that you are the one with minimal verbal skills, that you possess a few coping mechanisms for difficult situations, and you are constantly being told what to do.
When you think of it this way, it becomes easier to immediately engage your little one in a more soothing voice as you try to help them increase their understanding of the scenario rather than merely get her to stop throwing tantrums.
4. Validate their difficulty
Learning to make decisions is legitimately hard work, isn’t it? And so is seeing something you wanted but chose not to have at that moment.
It happens to us grown-ups too. Imagine going out to dinner, then your partner orders a delicious-looking feast, and you are stuck there with your impulse decision of scallops…again!!!
So acknowledge to your toddler that you understand that making choices is hard sometimes and offer assistance to work through the challenge together.
5. Encourage a decision but know when to ultimately make it
One of the hardest aspects of parenting is letting kids make their own decisions when you know the consequences, even when they are just toddlers.
“Oooh Lilly, I know you’ll not eat that banana once I peel it, and you’ll immediately ask for guava”!.
Isn’t it the same as in 15 years? “Lilly, I know that boy is no good, and will he break your heart.”
This one is so hard to pinpoint, and the caregiver is the only person that knows when to stamp their foot and say enough is enough.
When can a child make their own decisions?
From a legal perspective, a child can make their own decisions at 18 years old in most states. Still, developmentally, parents should let a child make the appropriate decisions as they demonstrate capacity, judgment, and maturity to leverage the power of responsibility to ensure the child’s healthy development.
Can shouting damage my child?
Effects of harsh physical and verbal discipline were found to be frighteningly similar, with research showing that yelling at kids can be just as harmful as hitting them.
So if you are a parent who frequently yells at your kids, please stop because a child who is yelled at is more likely to exhibit problematic behavior, thereby eliciting more yelling, making it a sad cycle because yelling never feels good for anyone.
I’m certain that we all have that one adult in the family who could use a lesson or two in decision-making because their indecisiveness drives everyone else around them b-a-n-a-n-a-s!
The ability to make decisions independently and confidently is an amazing skill to possess from an early age. When a toddler has traveled too far down the dungeon of brain malfunction of indecision, a parent has to step in and put an end to that particular meltdown.
Let us know your tips for surviving the toddler brain malfunction of indecision in the comments section below.