Do you have power struggles with your child and argue about everything? Here’s why you should pick your battles with your kids and when to do so.
Our pediatrician gave us advice when my toddler was entering his defiant, independent age. “Pick your battles,” she said. “If he’s not hurting anyone, just let him be. If it’s not necessary, let it go.”
The other day he was fussing about his diaper. “Itches,” he complained, scratching at the diaper where the flaps were taped. Every time I suggested changing his diaper, he’d scream, “No!”
Okay, fine. Live with your itchy diaper then.
But he whined about it again so I picked him up and tried to lay him down on his changing table. “No—get down!” he yelled.
He ran to his bed and cried for a few seconds. I just looked at him exasperated. He calmed down after a few more seconds so that his cries died to sniffles. Then he even attempted small talk: “How many blankets?” My face softened as I gave a small smile and responded, “You have three.”
Finally he gave me a look and whispered, “Want diaper change.” I was surprised at his change of mind, especially because it didn’t seem like he was testing me. I said, “Okay, let’s get you up on the changing pad.” And he climbed out of bed and allowed me to change him.
Another time, we were having breakfast when he wanted to eat but didn’t want to part with his book. “You can put it on the couch,” we told him. “You can have it after you’re done eating.” This, after all, abides by our efforts not to have toys or books on the table while we’re eating.
“No,” he replied. He started getting fussy. Then my husband suggested, “Do we really want to start the day fighting over a book?”
We picked our battle and let him have his book.
Pick your battles with your kids
It’s easy to wonder whether you’re letting your kids undermine your authority by letting them “win.” You always hear about the importance of staying consistent with rules.
I would wonder, What if he now thinks he can bring a toy or book with him to the dining table all the time? What if he starts being rebellious? Will he listen next time if we ask him to put his toys and books on the couch before going to eat?
The answer? Yes. He still listens.
Just this afternoon, he headed to the dining table for a snack. Not only did he put his toy on the couch before sitting down, he did so without us asking.
Picking your battles doesn’t mean letting your child get away with every misbehavior.
My son had been following the rules and knew what’s expected. But maybe just today he wanted to have a book in his hands. We all have “off days” where we don’t follow the rules to a T.
Nagging doesn’t work for the long-term
Think about all the effort it takes to nag and fight: you nag someone who doesn’t want to listen to you right now because he has his own agenda in mind.
Nagging involves telling, telling, telling without putting ourselves into the other person’s perspective. We forget what it’s like to be on the receiving end of constant instructions.
And if you’re honest, I’m sure your child is almost always obedient and a self-starter. Do we need to bug our about the rare times they bend the rules? Probably not.
If I had to fight with my toddler—someone I love beyond this world—then it better be for a good reason. There are the obvious offenses, like running to the street instead of staying on the sidewalk. But pick your battles because some things aren’t worth fighting about.
Take the mornings you have to leave the house at a certain time, despite any protests or tears, such as to go to work or school. Strict deadlines mean you might have to be stern with direction and make sure your child follows instructions.
But let’s say you’re going to the park just to hang out, but he’s still fixated on a toy. You don’t need to go right this minute—you can wait until he’s done playing before suggesting you head outdoors.
Prevention is key
I write often about my toddler’s tantrums and our temperamental differences, but most of our days are good and we don’t argue often. One tactic we’ve used is prevention: avoid the battle before it even begins. If the situation isn’t conducive to a toddler, you might as well welcome a battle right then and there.
If we want to leave the house by 8:20, we don’t introduce a new toy or even go to a new room when it’s 8:15. That’s just not fair. Why offer him this new activity only to tell him five minutes later that he now has to stop playing with it? Don’t introduce the new toy: battle averted.
Letting me win?
I wondered about that day when my toddler changed his mind and let himself get a diaper change. Maybe he finally realized that the diaper did itch and he wanted to take it off.
Or maybe… he learned to pick his own battles. Maybe he realized that this is silly and we don’t ruin the wonderful day spending the rest of it crying or yelling. Who knows. But when my toddler I looked at each other, I felt as if we were saying to one another, “This is unnecessary.”
Want even more tips? I’d love to share with you my FREE PDF, 5 Tips to Raising a Strong-Willed Child! Discover 5 ways to nurture and work with—not against—your child’s inner spirit and strong personality:
Get more tips:
- Consistent Rules or Pick Your Battles?
- How to Get Rid of Picky Eating Once and For All
- How to End Bedtime Battles and Get Your Child to Finally Sleep
- It’s Not Too Late: How to Unspoil Your Child
- Battles Not Worth Fighting
How do you pick your battles? How do you resolve conflict with your kids? When do you pick your battles?