There is no sometimes for a toddler. Conditions are too abstract a concept for them. Adults seem to forget that to see something new for one moment, and to stand five feet away from it and ooh and ahh and otherwise behave appropriately is too much for a two year old. In my house, we solve this by never showing them anything that we think they might like if we cannot give it to them 100 percent. People who do not have two year olds cannot understand. We just look mean. But, really, we are being kind.
Parents of toddlers must be forward-thinking. They must think of every possible future outcome their current decision will have using their best guess at a toddler brain. Otherwise, about 75 percent of their decisions will end in a tantrum. Allowances that seem innocent and fun are hardly ever so.
My husband and I took the babies to visit some friends this past weekend.
"Can they eat applesauce?"
"Can I give them applesauce?"
I wouldn't give them applesauce because to give them applesauce means they will want a bowl and a spoon of their own. Then they will try to balance those bowls properly, while using the spoons and since they are perched precariously on top of three-foot stools there is a good chance they will fall off since they won't be paying attention to their balance - the whole scenario ending in tears and applesauce on your carpet.
"Can they have ice cream?"
"Can I bring them just a little ice cream in there?"
"Oh, you mean in the living room? I wouldn't."
I wouldn't because this would inevitably lead to a sticky mess in the crevices of your nice leather couches, not to mention the exasperated cries for more, the sticky hands and faces, the ice-creamed hair, and the abject misery of it all.
"Oh, is your daughter bringing her ice cream in there?"
"Okay, I change my answer. I would."
I would because you can never show a toddler something and then tell them they can't have the exact same thing you are having.
Our hosts decided to have their daughter eat her ice cream in the kitchen, the babies never saw her or the ice cream, and I am eternally grateful.
Later on in the evening, the two musicians in the group decided to play for us some songs on guitar, but before they did this, and before I could stop them, they showed my obviously interested babies the guitars they were going to play. We then spent the better part of 30 minutes catering to their tantrums as they were told repeatedly that even though they could touch the guitar that one time, they could not touch it again, let alone play with it, shove their fists through the strings, topple it over, or any of the other fun things they had planned for it. All this stress that could have been avoided had we simply not shown them that guitars are objects that babies are allowed to touch.
Like I said, it's always or never with a toddler. So, if you're unsure as to whether or not you should show them something, give them something, allow them to do something - don't. You'll save yourself and everyone around you heartbreak and tears in the long run.