Toddler stand-offs

From washing hair to keeping clothes on, here’s how to get your toddler do the things he refuses to do.

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Rachel Waddilove – mum, parenting expert, author of The Toddler Book (Lion Books) and former nanny with 30 years of experience – looks at key stand-offs between you and your toddler, and what you can do.

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Hair washing

Most toddlers reach the stage when they don’t want their hair washed. They can be fine with it for ages then suddenly change their minds. One of my own children hated it.

What to do

Distraction and speed are key. Try to get it done as quickly as possible. Give him a rolled-up flannel to hold over his eyes if he’s afraid of water going in them.

Then, while you’re washing his hair, tell him a story. I’ve found that making up stories about what I’m finding in his hair can work. Try little animals. “Ooh, I’ve found a squirrel behind your ear,” always goes down well.

Have a plastic cup close by to rinse away the shampoo, as children tend to be scared of the shower nozzle. As your child gets bigger you can kneel him at the side of the bath with his head over it. Persevere. Hating hair washing is a tricky phase but it will pass.

Hair cuts

You don’t need to rush to get a haircut, so never attempt to take your toddler to the hairdresser when he’s poorly, tired or hungry.

What to do

Explain in advance where you’re going and try to make a day of it – tell him all about the treat that you’re planning for him afterwards.

If you can’t get him in the chair or sitting still once he’s there, try sitting him on your lap in the chair. You can tell him a story while the barber’s doing his work. And, if you don’t manage to get quite as much as you’d planned taken off at the first cut, don’t worry. Even just a tiny bit is a breakthrough and it will make things easier next time.

If your child really won’t let the hairdresser anywhere near him, you’ll have to do some snipping yourself at home!

Keeping clothes on

It’s not a problem if toddlers occasionally whip all their clothes off, as long as they’re not getting cold. But you don’t want it to become too much of a habit.

What to do

Be firm, saying, “You can do that for a minute and then we’ll get dressed.” For toddlers who want to go naked at the most inappropriate moments just say, “We’re not doing that now darling, but maybe when we get home we can undress before we get into the bath.”

Wiping runny noses

Some toddlers seem to have perpetual runny noses, so don’t forget to carry around a supply of tissues, wherever you go.

What to do

Speed is important with nose wiping, so swoop in and get the job done quickly, holding your toddler’s head with one hand.

The first time you wipe it, explain what you’re doing and then give him a tissue to keep in his pocket to get him to start wiping himself. Encourage him, saying, “Come on, blow,” as you wipe. And make sure you demonstrate on your own nose by having a good old blow and wipe in front of him.

Putting a bib on

Bibs or aprons are a must for toddlers, particularly at mealtimes.

What to do

Make wearing a bib part of the eating process, explaining that you don’t start dinner until it’s on. Start early and it’ll soon be a habit.

Having injections

Having inoculations is one situation where it’s best not to prepare your toddler and talk about what’s going to happen.

What to do

Sit him on your lap in preparation. He’ll shout when the needle goes in, but he’ll soon recover and forget. Take him for a treat afterwards. I’m a great believer in giving children treats, as long as you’re careful it doesn’t happen too often and he starts to expect it.

Washing hands

I’m a real stickler for hand washing and don’t let children eat if their hands aren’t clean.

What to do

To get toddlers in the habit of washing their hands, it’s a good idea to start doing this before they’re even walking. Take your toddler to the basin and explain what you’re doing, or, if you feel happy to risk it, you can take a small bowl of water to the high chair and do it there.

When he’s old enough to do it for himself, make it into a ritual. Don’t just tell him to go and wash his hands and leave him to it, because chances are he won’t do it.

Lots of houses now have second bathrooms with those dinky little basins that toddlers love. Invest in a plastic step, so your child can reach the basin and he’ll start to think washing his hands is great fun.

Getting out of the bath

You finally get your toddler in the bath, and then you can’t get him out!

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What to do

The key is to prepare your toddler. Tell him that he has a few more minutes to play and then he has to come out. If he makes a fuss, pick him up quickly, wrap him in a towel, put him on your lap and cuddle him. He’ll soon forget his paddy.

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