Hi Dr. Nelsen,We seem to be having morning issues with my three-year-old daughter. She wanted to wear a dress this morning even though it was a little chilly out. My husband put pants and a shirt on her and she was practically convulsing on the floor in anger. Do you think a three year old should be able to choose her clothes for the day? Thanks for any help that you can offer.
Oh my goodness, you are going to be in big trouble if you don't start letting her use her personal power in useful ways—unless you enjoy power struggles. Sounds like you are making the mistake many parents make in the name of love—over parenting.
Have you thought about what you want for your daughter? Do you want her to feel capable? Do you want her to develop life skills? Do you want her to be responsible? Do you want her to learn problem-solving skills?
What does she learn when you choose her clothes? That she is not capable; she isn't responsible--you are; she can't learn problem-solving skills. If she gets cold, I'll bet she can figure out how to solve that problem--if you let her. It would not be effective to tell her what to do, but to ask her what she thinks she could do to solve the problem. By asking curiosity questions, you provide her with the opportunity to think, to figure it out, and to feel capable.
Let me give you a few more examples of how curiosity questions could help your child feel capable and develop problem-solving skills. You could ask, "What will happen if you are wearing a dress and it is cold?" What can you do if you want to be warm?" Suppose she still wants to wear a dress and does get cold? This is not the time for the "I told you so," lecture. It is time for validation and faith in her. When she complains about being cold you can respond, "I'll bet you are, and I'll bet you can figure out why and what you need to do to solve that problem."
I hope you will read Positive Discipline for Preschoolers for many more ideas on how to help your daughter use her power in useful ways and to help her develop a sense of her own capability and other valuable social and life skills for good character.