I wrote to you last fall with a question about my then-1-year-old and our issues with bath time. Your advice was great, and we got over that hurdle, but I’m hoping you can share your experience and insight with me in another area.
My daughter is now close to 2 and a half, and a daily vitamin has always been a part of our routine without any problems. For the past few months, she refuses to take the vitamin, and after a period of several days without her taking it, we gave it to her while holding her down and trying to get it into her mouth. It’s awful for everyone involved. We try giving choices about when and how she drinks it and offering her a “treat” if she drinks it on her own, but none of that works.
Recently, we took a break from the vitamin — I figured we were in a rut and she had such negative associations with it, plus I felt that a few weeks off wouldn’t hurt. We tried reintroducing it this week, and it’s the same scenario: complete refusal, pleas from her father and me to do it on her own, and a really awful time forcing it on her. She’s now on an antibiotic, and we’re in the same predicament. The antibiotic is necessary, so we (her father and I) really feel like we’re out of options.
It breaks my heart to have to do something so against her will every day — any advice on what to try?
Here are my thoughts…
The vitamins and the antibiotics are different in that one is a “soft rule” — you’d like her to take them but it’s not vital (correct?) — and the other is a necessity. I would not force her to take the vitamin.
In both cases, our emotions, especially worries, frustration, fear, anger or panic, can only get in the way and make matters worse. Be careful not to plead. Pleading makes children feel uncomfortably powerful and creates guilt. Instead, project confidence and remember that you and your husband are the leaders.
With soft rules it helps to let go of our agenda, which is acutely perceived by our child and the reason bribes, treats and distractions don’t usually work, at least not for long. Children are much smarter and more aware than we give them credit for. So try backing off and giving her more autonomy. Sometimes it’s just about opening our minds a little to new things our child might be capable of doing. There are such a wide variety of fun, child-friendly multi-vitamins in all different colors and shapes. Could she go to the store with you and pick out her vitamins? Then you might ask her in a very relaxed manner each morning, “What color vitamin would you like today?” Hand her the one she chooses, and leave it at that. If you back off she will have “room” to decide to take her vitamin.
Do you give her desserts? If so, the only respectful and logical consequence you might consider would be to say in a calm, honest, matter-of-fact (never scolding) manner, “I won’t be able to give you dessert today if you can’t take your vitamin”. Since sweets weaken the body, that would make perfect sense to you and to her (although she’ll still complain about it).
The antibiotics fall into the “insist upon” category, and your issue presents an important idea for parents to understand. It’s a parenting scenario most of us have to work hard to feel comfortable with…a pill to swallow (as it were).
Parents were invented because we know better and can therefore guide and care for our children. Acting with our experienced adult judgment will mean doing things against our child’s will. This is especially true during the toddler years, because our children are deeply involved in the healthy and thrilling process of discovering their will for the very first time. They begin to realize that they have a “self” that is separate and different from ours, and they are figuring out all that means and how it works. So when you see situations like yours from the child’s perspective, allowing a child to have her way all the time is…well…letting her down, because to fully explore and understand her will she has to want something different from what you want.
So, rather than feel heartbroken, embrace a positive mindset. Project calm, complete conviction and say to yourself (and maybe even to your child): “I have an extremely special and wonderful child, so I must be the very best parent. That means gently forcing certain issues even though my child cries. It means being empathetic and supportive of my child’s upset feelings, but not feeling guilty or heartbroken, because I’m being an awesome, brave and loving mom.”
This mindset actually prevents us from reaching our “breaking point” and losing our temper, because we are coming from a place of strength, love and honesty. It’s when we try to force the issue from a tense, fearful place or use up our energy and patience on fruitless efforts like coaxing, distracting, pleading or otherwise dancing around the issue that puts us over the edge.
Give her choices about how and when to take her medicine if you can, but if she still refuses you’ll have to insist as gently as possible. Hold her close afterwards if she wants you to and tell her you’re sorry she had to do something she didn’t want to do. But don’t pity her. You’ve just given your daughter a precious gift and she knows it…the assurance that she matters so much that you’ll risk bearing the brunt of her feelings to kindly do what’s best for her.
(I share more about encouraging cooperation in No Bad Kids: Toddler Discipline Without Shame)
(Photo by rreihm on Flickr)