If you are the parent of a toddler, you are all too familiar with power struggles. Your two-year-old daughter doesn’t want to leave the park and she throws her body onto the floor in protest. or your 3-year-old son refuses to put on the shirt you just picked out for him. The struggle is real. and in this case, it’s a power struggle.
In this episode, we are going to go over why we experience power struggles with toddlers and I’ll offer some tips on how you can avoid them.
Let’s first understand some common reasons why we have power struggles with toddlers. Just keep in mind, power struggles will most likely continue even as your child gets older, there are just different ways of dealing with it based on the child’s age.
Power struggles are common in our personal relationships too. Anytime we or the other person is trying to assert control or authority over someone else, you can be faced with a power struggle.
So for a toddler power struggle, this is usually the case. Your toddler doesn’t like that she is being told what to do, so as a result, she may whine, get angry, throw a tantrum. She’s experiencing emotions but doesn’t understand how to communicate what she is experiencing or how she feels.
Think about this for a second. Your child is 2 years old. They have no clue how to handle their emotions. You want to leave the park and they don’t want to leave. They don’t know how to say that. They just know that the last time you wanted to leave, they cried really loud and you let them stay 10 more minutes.
Or the shirt you picked out for your 3-year-old isn’t what they want to wear. The last time this happened he threw a fit so you let him wear the same blue shirt he wants to wear every day.
Him throwing a fit worked. He got to wear his favorite shirt. You were in a hurry to leave and didn’t want to deal with it. But this time, no way on the blue shirt. You are getting family pictures done and he has to wear a white shirt.
The truth is that most adults don’t even know how to handle their emotions. But for toddlers, this comes out as defiance and the power struggle with your toddler begins. Good times.
A toddler is also beginning to understand their limits. Pushing boundaries is part of your child’s growth process. This is totally normal behavior. It sucks, but it’s totally normal.
So how can we avoid the toddler power struggles? Here are a few tips to keep in mind:
1) Don’t take it personally – Your 3-year-old is not out to ruin your life. They aren’t really even trying to battle you in most cases. They just want something different than you are offering or don’t want to be told what to do. Stay calm and don’t take it personally.
2) Do not reward bad behavior – when your child engages in the power struggle, you getting upset and grabbing them, or yelling, is giving them attention. That is actually rewarding them for their behavior. It’s negative attention, but it is still a reward.
Do not reward bad behavior. Let them know that you will be happy to talk with them when they are calm or you will wait until they are done. If that doesn’t work, ignore the behavior. Do not reward them.
3) Pick your battles – Was it so horrible letting him wear his favorite blue shirt again? As parents, we are overtired, overworked. There are bigger things to worry about than his blue shirt. Avoid the power struggle and let it go. In fact, you should be letting him choose his clothes (maybe not for the family photoshoot) but that can be for another video.
Sometimes you will need to battle and it will be important to you. Just try to reduce the battles and struggles to the important ones. Pick your battles.
4) Give them choices – Give them 2 choices. This allows them to assert some independence and feel like they have a say. You will be ok with either choice you offer. Example: Do you want to walk to the car or have me to carry you. Either way, you are leaving the park, but you are allowing her to make a decision and feel more in control.
5) Be empathetic – Put yourself in your toddler’s place. They are 2 or 3 years old. They are just learning about the world. They have no idea how to handle situations. When you look at situations from their perspective, the end result may turn out very differently. You will be more calm and understanding.
For me, toddler power struggles were some of the most difficult parenting times I faced. No joke. A toddler can take down even the most powerful negotiators. They are ruthless.
We would love to hear from you. Are you dealing with power struggles with your toddler?