Prevent and stop a toddler power struggle from even happening when you try these 5 tips to turn things around (many parents miss these!).
Toddler power struggles are enough to make any mom feel exhausted and lose her patience.
Perhaps your child fights you about everything, throwing anything within arm’s reach when she’s upset. Getting ready for school or bed have now become a long, frustrating ordeal. You’re sick of the tantrums every time you tell her “no,” and it feels like she runs the house. And forget about getting her to listen.
Nowadays, any time she doesn’t get what she wants, an argument always ensues.
You realize you need new ideas on how to encourage good behavior—or at least make it through your daily routines without a fight. Time outs don’t work, and you refuse to spank, but you have no idea how to rein in your out-of-control toddler.
How to handle a toddler power struggle
If this is you, rest assured you’re not alone, friend. These struggles have at times broken me as a parent, leaving me in tears because of how hard of a time I was having with this change in behavior in my kids.
From kicking and screaming to getting upset at me about everything, I know what it feels like to not have a single moment when we weren’t butting heads. I was especially sick of the arguments about things we always need to do, like cleaning up, taking a bath, and heading to bed.
The problem is, typical parenting advice doesn’t take into account the relationship between parent and child. It’s all about the quick fix, which can work in the moment, but proves ineffective in the long run.
I’ve learned that diffusing a toddler power struggle was less about getting them to do what I say and more about better communicating. Other parents seem to resonate with what I share in this article:
So, how do you handle a toddler power struggle that makes you lose your temper? Take a look at these tips that will reduce the arguments and resolve them quicker:
1. See the situation from your toddler’s perspective
Most of the orders we bark come automatically, from telling them to brush their teeth and even to stop hitting their brother. Then, when they don’t start or stop, we react just as automatically, losing our tempers along the way.
But what if you saw the situation from your toddler’s perspective before you got upset?
Let’s say he brushes his teeth every night after he watches 30 minutes of television. Except tonight, he refuses to budge.
From your perspective, he’s being defiant and making things harder than it has to be. But from his perspective, he’s feeling sluggish after having just watched 30 minutes of television.
Or maybe he wasn’t hitting his brother to be mean, but because he’d had enough of his brother constantly taking the crayons he was using. Hitting becomes a sign that he needs to learn how to better communicate his frustration.
But we don’t see this when we only consider our perspective. The minute we shift gears and see what they must be feeling and thinking, we can then present the instructions differently.
Maybe you make it a “race” to go to the bathroom, or spend a minute or two talking about the show before mentioning brushing his teeth. Perhaps you don’t overreact when he hits, but rather explain how others get hurt, and that he can say “I’m getting mad!” instead of hitting.
And seeing things from his perspective makes you more understanding and compassionate, which rubs off on him.
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2. Give your toddler a choice
The toddler stage is when kids are first learning that they have their own will, their own sense of identity. As obvious as this seems to us, this concept can feel overwhelming and even exciting to kids, and they’ll often exercise this newfound ability.
For instance, my son was pounding on the table loudly before I finally asked him to stop. Rather than stop right away like I hoped he would, he kept pounding, but slightly quieter.
This irritated me until I remembered that this was his toddler brain in action, like he was conducting experiments. He was “testing” to see if pounding lighter would elicit the same response as when he was pounding loudly.
One of the best ways to work with your toddler’s development is to give him a choice, especially about things he typically fights you about. Rather than telling him to put on a jacket, ask him to choose between the red or the green ones. When offering choices…
- Only offer two choices. Anything more than that will only overwhelm him, making him stall or not choose anything at all.
- Stick to parent-approved choices. You have to be okay with either choice he picks, committing to following through with whatever he decides.
- Don’t offer choices for everything. Be intentional when offering choices, and do so only when needed or appropriate. Otherwise, he’ll feel like he has a choice when he may not have one, or when it doesn’t make sense to have one.
3. “Factor in” the power struggles
A toddler power struggle can stem from simple logistics, especially when it comes to schedules and routines. How many times have you butted heads because your child insisted on putting on her own shoes when you’re already late for school?
Rather than fighting the cause, factor the power struggles into your day instead.
Maybe that means giving yourselves five extra minutes before leaving so she has enough time to put on her shoes. Perhaps you show her how to set the table so she feels responsible and less likely to resist eating dinner.
Or maybe it means letting her bring a favorite toy to the grocery store so she doesn’t insist on buying the ones she sees in the store.
In short, you’re addressing the causes of the power struggles to avoid them, rather than assuming you have to fight them when they come.
4. Don’t react to your toddler’s antics
Does it seem like you lose your temper out of nowhere? That’s because that’s exactly what’s happening: you’re reacting automatically instead of being intentional with your response. It’s not your fault, either—these are habits that have developed over the years and can be difficult to replace.
But one of the best ways to break this habit is to pause and not react to your toddler’s behavior. As intense and outrageous as his antics might be, don’t “feed the fire” by reacting just as irrationally. No tantrum has ever resolved itself well when the parent throws one herself.
This doesn’t mean you have to be unrealistically happy. Often, not saying anything at all is better than losing your cool. But it does mean trying to remain calm and composed so he knows his behavior doesn’t warrant a reaction from you.
5. Recognize your toddler as a different person from you
It’s easy to forget that our kids are not an extension of ourselves, or that they’re a “mini” version of us. They’re not people we control, especially when it comes to their personalities, choices, and who they are.
Even though we raise our kids, they are their own selves, completely separate from us. They’re not for us to own, but rather people who come through us to define their own lives.
This is especially important to remember when they don’t do as we say, or do the opposite of what we asked. We get upset because they didn’t do what we would do, forgetting that they’re actually not us to begin with.
A gentle reminder I tell myself is this: Would I treat another person this same way? Would you use the same tone of voice or choice of words with your spouse, a friend, or even a stranger? Your toddler is just as much a separate human being as anyone else in your life.
A toddler power struggle can disrupt your day, whether it comes out of nowhere or has been an exhausting daily routine. And when typical parenting advice doesn’t seem to work, it’s easy to lose hope.
But practice the five tips I list above, and I’m certain you’ll see a shift. Start by seeing the situation from your toddler’s perspective to understand her motives and draw more compassion from you. Offer choices to honor her desire to exercise her will while getting her to follow instructions.
Factor in the power struggles by working around them, such as allowing more time to leave the house so she can put on her own shoes.
Avoid reacting to her crazy antics so as not to feed the fire and provide even more motivation to continue throwing a fit. And finally, remind yourself that she’s separate from you, rather than an extension or even a part of you.
Perhaps then you truly can get ready to leave the house or head to bed—all without a single argument or fight.
Get more tips:
- The Most Powerful Way to Respond When You Feel Angry
- 7 Simple (But Genius!) Ways to Stop Diaper Change Tantrums
- Unique Ways to Meet the Emotional Needs of Your Child
- Positive Parenting Skills All Moms Need to Have
- 7 Proven Strategies to Handle Bedtime Tantrums
Don’t forget: Grab your copy of The Power of Empathy below—at no cost to you: