Did I do the wrong thing by bribing my 2 year old daughter with chocolate? A reader writes in

Kris writes: I came home from working tonight and my toddler daughter had a rough day. Her older sister had been “too loud” and “push me”. Most of all I think she missed me. I spent 10 minutes playing in the sandpit before it was time to come in. Lily really didn’t want to come in. But it was time, and I bribed her with a chocolate. It worked, but as soon as I started changing her dirty nappy and dressing her in onesie, I noticed that she became more and more distraught. It occurred to me that I might have ‘pushed’ her too far myself. As in, I made her do what I wanted to do on my timeframes. Is that right? My partner thinks it’s normal toddler behaviour and I would like to be sure.

Hi Kris,

Thanks for writing in. I love reader letters! This happens in our house too, I have two boys roughly the same age as your girls. It sounds as though Lily didn’t have quite enough time to fill up her attachment tank with you, whilst playing in the sandpit. This meant it was hard for her to transition into doing more of the daily routine. Her buckets were too low. Typically if we can allow the child to ‘fill up’ first, usually no more than 20 minutes, we can move more smoothly about the day. Children typically need 5-10 minutes of one on time a day with their primary care givers, and more if the primary care giver has been away at work etc.

I also noticed that named Lily’s feelings about getting her nappy changed and being dressed in her onesie as ‘distraught’. To me that indicates Lily still had some big feelings she was working through from her day – and these feelings hadn’t completed their ‘cycle’. Emotions that haven’t been fully experienced, for whatever reason, tend to come back up when it is safe to do so. You are her safe place, and she needed to ‘finish’ those emotional cycles. It could be to do with the interactions with her sister being too loud and pushing her, and it could be as simple as she missed you. It could also be other things that happened in her day that were unprocessed for whatever reason. Allowing Lily the opportunity to release those emotions safely with you, will likely mean a better nights sleep, which will then likely mean a better day tomorrow.

As for your hypothesis that you may have ‘pushed’ Lily too far yourself, it seems to me you are asking whether you behaved in a respectful way to Lily by bringing her in from the sandpit on your timeframes and using chocolate to bribe her. Its tricky to answer this without direct observation of the interaction, but I would hypothesise that you could have approached this interaction more slowly, and given Lily some extra time to come with you. Based on the information that I have, it’s likely that Lily would have still had some big feelings at the end of the day whether you spent more time filling up her buckets in the sand pit or not. I think those feelings came from other events in the day, and you were her safe place to process.

I hope this helps. Thanks so much for writing in Kris, I love hearing from my readers

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