Our two year old is at the age of toddlerhood where what we, the parents, say becomes hard and fast rules in his mind. If we identify an object correctly or incorrectly, he’ll repeat our original phrasing and it’s a struggle to convince him to correct this. He’s more likely to tell his sister she’s wrong before a parent, but there are times he will argue a point until he ends up in a meltdown spiral.
To avoid this, we actively work to say what we mean the first time and stick to it. We explain a series of events he should expect, we offer choices, use positive statements (e.g. “Pet the cat gently” instead of “don’t poke the kitty!”), stand firm about an issue, and offer negotiations where possible. One of these negotiation tactics he adores using several times a day is the “three more minutes” request.
If he’s engaged in something he enjoys and doesn’t wish to stop immediately, he can request an extra three minutes to wrap up. And most of the time, we agree to those extra three minutes. I say, “Ok. Three more minutes to play with your cars,” and I wait. At the two and one minute markers, I let him know how much time is left. When it gets toward the end, he especially enjoys to have me count down the last ten seconds. He even tells me to do it if I’ve forgotten, or reminds me at the start of the three minutes to do it at the end.
The moment I get to 3, 2, 1, he pops up on his feet and is ready and excited about what he’s going to do next, whether it’s a diaper change, nap time, or getting ready to go out. It doesn’t matter what, as long as I’m excited in that final ten second countdown and he had his three more minutes, he’s ready to race to the next task.
In part, I think it works because it’s fair to give him a little extra time to prepare himself for transition and he sees it as fair, but also, he gets to have a little control over his time. The enthusiasm we show also helps, as he wants to share in the excitement.
We don’t allow him an additional three minutes (this isn’t a Foamy the Squirrel skit), and I think a longer period would make it harder for him to retain focus on transition and be less excited should we allow him five, seven, or ten minutes more. In fact, he might have even picked the duration himself (and requested it the first time) after I said a meal we had would be done in three more minutes, and he had to wait.
This method might work for you if your toddler isn’t dealing well with ending a task or frustration/disappointment meltdowns are common. Give it a try, and keep a clock or timer handy to help stick to the agreed upon duration (unless your internal clock is as on point as mine).