power struggles with toddlers

4 Steps to End Power Struggles with Toddlers, Plus How to Avoid Them

Last Updated on September 2, 2021.

It is no secret that power struggles with toddlers are a major headache for parents. In this blog post, we will go over 4 steps that you can take to avoid power struggles and how to end them when they happen!

What’s a Power Struggle?

A power struggle is when your child wants to do something that you don’t want them to do. For example, a power struggle could be if they want to wear their hat in the house or refuse to take off their shoes before going inside. They act out because they need attention and mom isn’t giving it!

Why Should We Avoid Power Struggles with Toddlers?

Here’s the short answer: No one wins.

Power struggles send your child’s brain into a frenzy. Their primal fight mode is turned on, and there’s no negotiating or reasoning with a toddler in this state. They lack the brain development to be able to calm themselves and resolve the issue peacefully. This means there are only two possible outcomes: you stand your ground until your toddler is exhausted and gives up, or you give in to your toddler’s demands.

Neither of these situations is ideal.

If you stand your ground, you’re probably in for a long, exhausting fight. You might win that little battle, but the goal is to raise a connected, engaged family. And each power struggle can erode the parent/child relationship. So in the grand scheme of things, you lose.

If you give in to your toddler, you’re setting precedence. This power struggle becomes a habit because you’re rewarding your toddler when they act out. And as we know, habits are difficult to break. So while your child might have gotten their way this time, they’re going to be even more frustrated next time when the tactic doesn’t work.

RELATED: How to handle two toddlers fighting

5 Ways to Avoid Power Struggles with Toddlers

Power struggles are bad situations for everyone, so it’s best to avoid them altogether. Here are four daily habits you can practice to minimize power struggles with toddlers.

End Power Struggles with Toddlers
End Power Struggles with Toddlers

Offer Plenty of Choices

The more choices you offer your toddler, the more power they feel over their lives. If you keep their power bucket full, they’re less likely to pick fights over other little things.

There are two primary ways to offer choices to toddlers:

  • a choice between two items or two activities
  • a choice in the order in which you complete required activities

You can offer thousands of choices a day. Do you want a red cup or a blue cup? Do you want my help or would you rather try yourself? Or do you want to brush your teeth first or brush your hair?

Power struggles happen often when a toddler doesn’t want to do something. When you find an activity that your toddler dislikes (but must do), such as brushing teeth, going to bed, or leaving the playground, you can let your child determine the order in which things happen.

It might sound like this:

  • It’s time to get ready for the day! Do you want to brush your teeth first, or wash your face first?
  • It’s bedtime! Do you want to a book now, then put PJs on and hop into bed, or would you rather do the PJs now and read books while we snuggle in bed?
  • I’m sorry it’s time to leave! I know you’re having fun, so would you rather walk to the car now, or do one more slide and then run to the car with me?

RELATED: How to be a successful stay at home mom.

Connect with Your Tot Daily

One of your toddler’s primary goals is to feel a sense of belonging and significance. They want to be an important part of your life. It’s why toddlers exhibit attention-seeking behavior, like interrupting you on the phone, whining, and being naughty.

One of the best ways to avoid power struggles is by connecting with your toddler each day. It’s a bit difficult when you have multiple young children or are busy, so try these three ideas:

  • Set aside five minutes every morning and evening for one-on-one time with your child.
  • Involve your child in normal daily activities that you both enjoy, such as gardening, cooking, or doing laundry
  • Find a hobby that you can enjoy together on a regular basis, like playing catch or doing puzzles

It’s important to make sure you are truly connecting with your kids. It only takes a few minutes to make them feel seen and heard. Avoid distractions like TV or your phone.

RELATED: 64 Bedtime Games to Make Bedtime Easier!

Encourage Independence

Being independent is important to your toddler. They’re looking for power in this world and you can help them find it! Don’t do tasks for them that they are capable of doing themselves. Teach them how to do simple things like use zippers, fill their own water cup, and clear their own plate after dinner.

Every time they do something independently, they get a hit of power, and you’re less likely to encounter power struggles. As a bonus, encouraging independence also results in confident, capable, self-sufficient children.

Control the Environment

Tailor your home to your toddler’s needs. If there are things toddlers can see and/or reach that will get them into trouble (like markers or scissors), put them away (out of sight). Cabinets should be locked, knives should be in a locked drawer or block, etc. Control the environment to eliminate any potential power struggles.

On the other end of the spectrum, you can also change your environment to encourage your child’s independence. Put plates on a lower shelf so they can set the table themselves. Put a stepstool in the kitchen so they can wash their own plate after dinner. Find easy ways to enable your child to do more things for themselves!

Use Fun Toddler Transitions

Transitions, or when we change from one activity to another, are at high risk for power struggles. If your child is enjoying their current activity, they might put up a fight when it’s time to be done. Or, if your child does not like the next activity, they might also give you problems.

Use fun, engaging transition strategies to minimize these power struggles during these “in-between” times. This is especially easy if your toddler has to get up and move to a new space. It might sound like this:

  • It’s time to get in the car for your dentist’s appointment! Let’s count how many steps it takes to get to the car.
  • It’s time for a bath! Let’s waddle to the bathroom like penguins!
  • Let’s head to bed! We can march like soldiers!
  • It’s time to walk to school! Let’s count how many red cars we see on the way.
  • Dinner time! Get upstairs and wash your hands as slow as a sloth!

RELATED: When kids are struggling, put them in water to calm them down

What to do when you find yourself in the middle of a power struggle?

So you’ve done everything you can to avoid a power struggle. But now you find yourself right in the middle of one. What do you do?

Try these 4 Easy Steps

Stay Calm.

Remember, power struggles are really about your child’s need for power and control in their little world. They’re not trying to be as difficult or naughty as they might seem. Keep your cool. Use calming strategies if necessary!

Find a way to connect

Your child’s brain is not capable of reasoning in this state. But if you can find a way to connect, you might be able to help your child soothe themselves. If you’ve practice breathing strategies with your kids, you can start executing one of these techniques and invite them to join. You could try singing a familiar song. Or you could just try hugging your little one.

Acknowledge feelings & take a break

Your toddler wants to be heard. Sometimes the simple act of acknowledging their feelings will put the whole issue to rest. But at the very least, they’ll know you’re paying attention. They will understand that their feelings matter.

Once you’ve validated their feelings, suggest a break. You might even say “I don’t think we can fix this when we are so upset, let’s take a break and come back to it later.” Again, your child probably isn’t in a state where they can think through all of this, so you might just have to wait.

RELATED: How to be a great stepmom to a toddler

Revisit and Offer Choices

Once tempers have cooled down, quickly revisit the topic and offer two or three acceptable options for your child to choose from. If the power struggle was over something that simply isn’t possible, explain that, and offer an alternative.

The Bottom Line

Power struggles are a normal and natural part of toddlerhood. You can take proactive steps to avoid power struggles with your toddlers, but sometimes you might find yourself right in the middle of one without warning. Use our simple 4 steps to get out of your next power struggle. We hope these tips help your family!

What You Should Do Next…

1. Snag Our Connected Parent Challenge

Are you ready for more activities to build a rock-solid bond with your kids? Try our Connected Parent Challenge! It’s 15 Days of 15 Minute activities that are sure to improve your connection, diminish bad behavior, and create lasting memories. Plus, I’ll deliver more amazing parenting strategies to your inbox weekly (don’t worry, unsubscribe any time!).

2. Join Our Free Online Community

Connect with like-minded moms (and dads!) in our free online community. You’ll find a plethora of resources to help you through your parenting challenges. Plus, you’ll find me there! And I’d love to connect.

3. Take a Free 60-Minute Parenting Webinar

Do you need actionable strategies right now? Register for this free 60-minute webinar titled How to Get Kids to Listen, Without Nagging, Yelling or Losing Control. You’ll walk away with parent-tested tactics to get your kids to listen starting today.

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