For starters, this article is not to be confused with 10 ways to win a power struggle. I know, I'm disappointed too, but there is no way to win a power struggle with a 3-year-old. They can refuse to put on their shoes all day—they have nowhere better to be!
More importantly, you don't necessarily want to win a power struggle. Sure, you may occasionally triumph in a battle of the wills with your child, but I doubt either of you will emerge from the experience feeling good about yourselves or your relationship.
Plus, as nice as it would be to have our children just do what we ask without argument, our goal isn't to raise little people who blindly follow orders. Rather, we want to raise children who are able to compromise, accept advice and guidance and follow a trusted authority.
What we can think about is how to make the most of the inevitable power struggles we find ourselves in with young children, and how to come out of them with our relationship intact.
Here are 10 ways to turn power struggles with your toddler into a win:
1. Demonstrate how to compromise
One of the best ways to teach children how to be kind and reasonable in their interactions with others is through modeling. I know, no pressure, right?
Instead of standing over them and yelling at them to pick up their toys while they sit there with their arms crossed giving you the evil eye, try offering to put away the blocks while they put away the dolls. Or, try offering them five more minutes before clean up time. Extend the olive branch and see if you can gain their cooperation rather than their obedience.
In time, you can involve your child more in coming up with the solution. Say something like, "I want you to clean up your toys and you don't want to. What's a compromise we could use here?"
2. Model empathy
It can be really hard to show empathy for something that seems completely ridiculous to us. Can you really have empathy for someone refusing to eat their breakfast because you gave them the blue spoon? Maybe not.
But you can show empathy for how hard it is to not get what you want, or to not have the control you wish you had over your own life. You can say something like, "I know the red spoon is your favorite. It's hard for you when it isn't clean."
This shows our children that we see and care about how they're feeling, and it is often enough to help them move on.
3. Show the strength of your relationship
Perhaps the most important win that can come out of a power struggle is a stronger relationship. Power struggles are incredibly draining for us and for our children, and it can be hard not to emerge from it angry and tired.
Once you've recovered, spend some time repairing your relationship and let your child know that, no matter what, you still love them for exactly who they are.
4. Model how to apologize
At some point you will inevitably lose your temper over a power struggle you have with your child. It's almost impossible not to. When this happens, it is a great opportunity to show your child how to apologize.
While making children say "I'm sorry," doesn't teach them remorse, when we apologize it teaches the importance of admitting when we do something wrong.
You might say something like, "I'm sorry I yelled at you earlier. I was so frustrated when you wouldn't put on your shoes and we needed to leave, but yelling wasn't a good choice. May I give you a hug?"
5. Teach them to read their bodies
Children frequently become argumentative when they're tired, hungry or thirsty. They are not good at reading their own body's signals, yet the way they feel physically dramatically affects their behavior.
When you find your child buckling down and refusing everything you ask them to do, teach them how to pause and scan their body. Explain to them that when they are feeling this way, it is sometimes because they haven't eaten or rested in a while.
Teaching your child to be in tune with their body is a lesson that will last well beyond the stage of power struggles.
6. Let them learn from natural consequences
Many power struggles center around things we ask our children to do for their own good. We ask them to bring a coat so they won't be cold. We ask them to use the potty so they'll be comfortable. We ask them to do their homework so they don't get in trouble at school.
Next time you feel a power struggle coming on, ask yourself what would happen if your child didn't do what you asked. Is there a natural consequence that would be meaningful, but not harmful? If so, let the situation unfold.
You might say something like, "I think you should wear a coat so that you're not cold, but it's your body, you can decide."
Later, when they're too cold and have to leave the park, you can talk about what happened. Sure, your child will be mildly uncomfortable for a while, but you will avoid a daily power struggle about coats.
7. Show them it's okay to change your mind
Some rules are really important and we simply cannot back down. Other times, you may make a minor request in passing, only to set off a monumental power struggle. Do you have to stick to what you said simply to avoid backing down to your unreasonable child?
No, of course not, what message would that send?
If something isn't important to you, simply tell your child that you've changed your mind, not out of exasperation, but simply because it's not important to you.
Say something like, "Wow, I can see this is really important to you. You know what, now that I think about it, I'm okay with it if you wear your princess dress to the park, if you're okay with it getting dirty."
This demonstrates that it's okay to give in to what someone else wants sometimes, we don't have to be in a power struggle just to avoid backing down at all costs.
8. Teach respectful disagreement
Power struggles can be an excellent opportunity to teach our children how to disagree, respectfully. After all, there is nothing wrong with our children having a different opinion, we just don't want them to express it by flat out refusal or laying on the floor screaming. You can explain this to your child, offering them an alternative way of expressing their opinion.
Say something like, "Wow, I asked you to get dressed and you really don't want to. You could say 'I'm not ready Mom, may I wait five minutes?'" If your child is already emotional, try having this discussion later when they've calmed down.
9. Practice problem solving skills
Involve your child in coming up with a solution for ongoing power struggles. Do they argue every day about what's for breakfast? Invite them to look through a healthy cookbook with you and choose a new recipe to try.
Do they say no and run away every time it's time to leave the park? Sit down with a pen and paper and involve them in coming up with a good solution for when it's time to go.
This is a great exercise in creative problem solving and children are far more likely to go along with a solution they helped create.
10. Show them they can trust you
In the midst of a battle of wills, it is generally useless to use logic, to explain your reasoning to a child who has already decided that they are, under no circumstances, backing down.
Later though, when all is calm and you have both recovered, sit down with your child and explain why you were asking them to do something.
Explain that you asked them to get in their car seat because it's so important for safety and you care about them. Explain that you asked them to put their toys away because it's important for your family to have a nice and tidy home to live in.
Explain to them that you always, always, have their best interests at heart, that they can trust you.