Putting an End to Power Struggles with Our Kids

With the knowledge that it almost certainly takes two to tango, it should be easy for us to avoid engaging in power struggles with our kids, right? Um… not always. Here are some of the understandable reasons we might get caught in a battle of wills:

We want our kids to be well-behaved, respect our wishes, do as we ask. (And, by the way, there’s nothing wrong with any of that, so don’t ever let anyone make you feel guilty for wanting those things.)

Our kids can be willful, stubborn, defiant, and unreasonable. When they behave in a manner that they know is wrong or just won’t listen, it can be infuriating.

We believe that by using the “right” tools or tactics or by saying the “right” words, we can convince our kids to give in and comply with our directions rather than continue to hold their ground.

Problem is, most of the concerning behavior young children engage in is driven by emotions and impulses rather than reason. So using reason to convince children to do what we’ve asked after they’ve already said or implied “no” is, more often than not, a losing proposition from the start that becomes frustrating for both of us.

This isn’t to say that our kids aren’t aware they’re displeasing us. On at least some level, they’re fully aware that we don’t want them hitting the dog or refusing to brush their teeth. What they don’t know is why they have these impulses or where the need to dig in their heels is coming from. As adults, we will tend to understand more about these impulses than our child does, and we’re likely to realize at some point (usually after the power struggle is over): Oh, shoot, she’s overtired or has low blood sugar or I’ve been gone on a business trip for two days and she has feelings about that, etc.

There are a plethora of healthy, developmentally appropriate reasons kids push limits in the early years (more about that HERE), so to put an end to power struggles, the first guideline is to:

  1. Expect them

When we accept and normalize these experiences for ourselves – we perceive them as typical, age-appropriate scenarios — we’ll be far less likely to approach them as surprising, offensive, or deadly serious. Then it will be easier not to take the bait and engage.  Refusals to follow directions aren’t a sign that we have an ill-mannered child, or one who has it out for us. In these early years, especially, our child’s impulses will often get the better of them – they’ll periodically seem to lose their minds. So, it’s actually unreasonable not to expect the unreasonable and wise to do as the Boy Scouts suggest: “Be prepared.”

Alternatively, if we get caught off guard and our child’s defiance feels like a surprise “attack,” we’re more likely to falter or “fight back” with anger, which can create the discord and discomfort that leads to even more limit-pushing behavior, struggles and stand-offs. This is bound to happen occasionally, of course. We’re human.

  1. An ounce of prevention

There are power struggles that can be prevented by understanding our children’s developmental needs and sensitivities. For example, infants, toddlers, and preschoolers learn through free play and active exploration. A 100% safe “YES” place (which means free of forbidden objects and activities) meets their needs as explorers and scientists — testing their surroundings in a healthy manner rather than testing us.

It’s also helpful to keep in mind that young children can become overtired, over-hungry, and overstimulated in the blink of an eye.  As acutely aware and sensitive beings, their comfort level with stimulation cannot be gauged by our own as adults, so activities and outings that we might find enjoyably stimulating can put them over the edge.

  1. Take action immediately, long before getting annoyed

Our most effective responses to imminent struggles will fall into three basic categories:

a) Heading them off at the pass: When our children engage in behavior that could potentially require us to intervene physically (i.e., they’re behaving in an unsafe or resistant manner or using an object inappropriately or against our wishes), we should ideally be prepared to do so, even before we sense any resistance to our verbal directions. This might mean being a calm shadow/buddy/helper to a toddler who has a tendency to lash out with peers, or helping a stalling child move into her car seat. Mostly it means recognizing that children will often need us to follow through with a direction by helping them follow it. For example, we’re ready to help our child put the box of crackers away long before we get the slightest bit annoyed or she dumps the whole box. We’re upbeat, and we lead with genuine empathy or (if we’re not feeling it) at least an acknowledgement of our child’s perspective. “You got those down yourself. Cool! I’m going to help you turn the box over so you can get one. Then we’ll put them away.”

I sometimes describe this kindly-taking-charge-early approach as being Mama or Papa Bear — benevolently strong, confident, unafraid. Mama bear is always at the ready to be the parent in the situation. She doesn’t wait until her patience has worn thin and risk turning into a growling grizzly. She understands that real love sometimes means carrying children into or out of situations against their will or removing items (and maybe even other people or animals) from their grasp. Where others might see “bad, disobedient, disrespectful kids,” she sees “lost in impulse, needs help quick.” But she doesn’t just barrel through. She also makes a point of staying connected and on her child’s “side” by acknowledging feelings, “You don’t like this at all! I hear you.”

(I discuss “Mama and Papa Bear mode” more explicitly in my recent podcast: When Kids are Defiant and “Disobedient”.)

b) Keeping it light and low key: We can’t force cooperative activities. They require willingness. So activities like clearing up toys, tooth brushing, and even using polite language are best handled with subtlety, lots of respect, togetherness, low expectations and a very light touch. One way to demonstrate our respect is by verbally preparing kids for these situations and making them part of a predictable routine. Another is to offer kids as much active participation, autonomy, and choice as possible – exploring the possibilities with them, getting their input, letting them do it by themselves if they can.

We might ask, “Do you want to keep your cars out in the corner of the room, or shall we put them back in the basket?” Or, “Hmmm… now we’ll need to get this soap out of your hair… Would you rather look up at the ceiling with your head near the faucet or look towards me while I use this cup? Or do you have another idea?” With the example of hair washing, I might even ask if the child wants to wash a doll’s hair (or part of my hair!) first. In other words, I would bring him into the experience so that he can participate as actively as possible rather than have the hair washing done to him.

Inviting children to participate requires us to flexible, keep our expectations low, and accept less than perfection (i.e., maybe the hair washing is incomplete, there’s a little soap left in his hair, or we wash it less often than we might wish to). I would do my best to keep this and other cooperative experiences casual, although I would give my child 100% of my attention.

In a Facebook discussion group I suggested to a parent struggling with brushing her toddler’s teeth: “I would keep tooth brushing as light as possible. Let her do it herself; brush teeth together; let her brush your teeth first, etc. I wouldn’t make a big deal about it.”

The next day she replied: “Overnight success! Last night I just got my toothbrush ready, asked my daughter which kind of toothpaste she wanted, handed her toothbrush, and we both brushed our teeth for 2 min (mine is an electric on a timer). After we were done she said, “More!” We brushed again this morning. I know a positive attitude towards brushing is more important now than super clean teeth, and I was feeling very bad about the way things were headed. Thank you for helping me turn it around!”

c) Ducking and letting them roll on by: Let go of losing battles (i.e., against language, bossiness, screaming, whining, etc.) so they lose their power rather than build steam. So, in these instances, our action is actually more like inaction. Brettania’s story illustrates:

My 4-year-old recently started preschool. He came home last week and said “Poopy poop poopy poop” and then “you may die” while looking right at me. (I’m not sure why exactly the kids at school are saying these particular phrases. It is a lovely, outdoor, screen-free school so it just seems like random experimenting with things to say). Anyway, I just said “interesting….” because I truly was not bothered at all. So my son got very attentive and said, “Don’t you not like that??? My teacher doesn’t like it and some of the other children said it all day at school and she didn’t like it.” I said, “No, it doesn’t bother me at all.” My son looked shocked. This was about a week ago and he has never said these things again. It was such a clear example for me of how kids may repeat things (or not repeat them) based on the reaction they get from the parent or caregiver. I could just see/feel my son waiting for my big reaction, and when he didn’t get one he just dropped this behavior immediately. I still find it so amazing to realize how very much my reaction or response may influence my child’s behavior. In hindsight, I can think of so many examples of when I changed my response or approach (rather than trying to get my child to change) and my child’s behavior changed as a result.

We can do this.


For more, please check out my book:
No Bad Kids: Toddler Discipline Without Shame (also available on Audio!)

I also recommend The Secret To Turning A Toddler’s “No!” Into A “Yes!” and What To Say Instead Of “NO!” – Six Ways To Gain Your Child’s Co-operation by Lisa Sunbury, Regarding Baby and

1, 2, 3, The Toddler Years by Irene Van der Zande and the Santa Cruz Infant Toddler Center Staff



Please share your comments and questions. I read them all and respond to as many as time will allow.

  1. I just wanted to say a huge thank you. I discovered your blog when my first son was about 8 months old and have been an avid reader since, I would go so far as to say you are my parenting guru! I don’t always get it right but when I feel that I have lost my balance or sense of perspective I always return to one of your posts (or now the book!) and right away I can feel myself refocusing on what matters and the kind of parent I want to be. And what is more it works! We had our second son 7 months ago and there is only 17 months difference between both boys, a juggling act on my part and a very difficult transition period for my eldest. With yours (& that other fantastic book siblings without rivalry) on hand I prepared as much as I could and have to say that so far we are all navigating this new chapter pretty well. Initially there were a lot of attempted hitting and tantrums from Lorenzo (the older sibling but still so young) and he was very upset with my breast feeding and people holding his brother Matteo, but by accepting his feelings (whilst gently removing the fist), talking to him about the changes as often as I could, never expressing any judgment and not forcing any kind of dynamic between them (also not sweating a bit of toy grabbbing as Matteo never minds), the most amazing thing is to see how they are naturally developing such a lovely bond. Today Matteo dropped his bottle and I walked in to see Lorenzo picking it up and holding it to him to continue feeding. My heart almost burst with pride and love for my two wonderful sons. And I felt like I was doing something right. I appreciate that you are super busy and it takes time and energy to do what you do but it is SO appreciated. Please keep them coming!

    London, UK

    1. Well done, Becky! Thank you for your kind words of support. And also for sharing your process. Your story is bound to be helpful to other parents. You’ve made my week!

  2. Janet, this is helpful, as always! I do wonder if there is any way to set a limit about words. In the example above, Brettania did not mind her son’s words – and clearly, they were silly repetitions and meant only to provoke a reaction. But my son, who is two, is very verbal and has picked up a lot of habits from his older cousins, since my sister in law watches him for me during the day. They say things like, “I’m going to beat you up,” or, “I’m going to kick you, and bite you, and punch you in the nose!” It’s a game, and they don’t actually hit each other (usually – they are 6 and 9, so I won’t say never), but they find it funny and therefore my son thinks it’s funny to say. But I genuinely do not like it. It bothers me that he says things like that – to me or any other person or kid he encounters. But it doesn’t seem like something I can stop. I try to keep it low drama and just say, “I don’t like hearing that,” but then I feel like maybe I’m just drawing attention to it. He certainly doesn’t stop saying it just because I don’t like it. What do you suggest?

    1. Thanks, Kelly. I suggest not saying “I don’t like it” (even though you don’t), because all that will do is give this typical behavior more power. The smartest thing to do is what Brettania did — with the understanding that your boy is processing what he has heard from these other, older boys. It’s healthy for him to get these words out of his system, and being not bothered will make this phase very short-lived.

  3. This is such a great summary of the approach I’ve been learning from your podcasts. You can’t imagine how timely all of this advice has been. My daughter recently became a real toddler (I recognized it when I saw it!) and the need to change my expectations was dire. Things have gotten so much better in just a few days. Thank you.

    1. Wonderful, Monika! Thank you so much for checking in and sharing with me.

  4. Great one. I love the story. Supports the research (Alison Gopnik) that the core reason a child does anything is research. They are scientists building a causal map of the world. “Hmmm, upsets teachers, does it upset parents? Hmmmm.)

    1. Yes! It seems that everything infants and toddlers do is a kind of experiment. That’s how they learn such a great deal in a relatively brief period of time. Always great to hear from you, Rick

  5. Kelly- I have also wondered about this. The technique of saying “I won’t let you hit, etc.” has been effective for physical behaviors. I wonder though if there is a verbal equivalent to the “I won’t let you..” phrase. I suppose not! I allow my son to freely express any emotions and experiment with words. However, as with you, there are some words or phrases that I am also genuinely uncomfortable with and I don’t want him to use, such as calling someone stupid (or using a curse word or even worse, any slur he might pick up). My son hasn’t yet used such a phrase since he’s not around older kids much, but I would like to be prepared when it happens! I think I would try a very low- key, ho-hum response, but say, “that’s not a kind thing to say. Words like that can hurt people’s feelings so we need to be careful with our words.” Maybe even a more direct “I don’t want you to say that.” I do think it requires some sort of correction if the parent is very uncomfortable with the words because no correction may be interpreted as “it’s okay.” I find my son often incorporating my advice at a later point (usually not right away!). I think with RIE parenting, children do truly trust their parents and our words of advice mean a lot!

    1. I would advise something similar to Kate’s suggestion if my child was a bit older than 2 (more like 4) and saying unkind things to a friend or family member… I would lovingly and as discreetly as possible take my child aside and say something like, “I’m sure you didn’t mean it that way, but those words can hurt feelings.” This “coaching” type of response conveys to our children that we are on their side and wanting to be helpful and doesn’t imbue the words with more power.

    2. Janet, I find your methods helpful in many ways. However, I was hoping this article would touch on the power struggles at bedtime. My 3.5 year old daughter has a hard time after lights out which has become frustrating to say the least. She is fine getting ready for bed, story time, and getting into bed but once I start to leave the room, the power struggle begins. She seems to find anything to stall when I’m leaving the room (another kiss, hug, high five, tell me a secret, lay on the blanket over the blanket, 2 blankets, more stuffed animals, etc.). I have tried preparing her for what is going to happen….after the story, I’m going to give you a hug and kiss and leave the room. It seem no matter how I try to handle it, she screams when I leave the room. I know you say there is always an underlying reason for the behavior, but I cannot figure it out. About 6 months ago, my husband and I separated and when she stays with him, he allows her to sleep with him which I feel may be part of the issue although, she’s not saying she wants him or that she wants me to sleep with her which is not something I am willing to do. I welcome any suggestions you have for a peaceful bedtime for all of us.

  6. Janet, thank you very much for this very interesting post. Sometimes in situations like the ones described by Brettania, I have a moment where I instinctively look for what I am “supposed” to do based on how I was raised or some kind of socially acceptable response. Thankfully, your posts and the RIE approach offer a wonderful guideline.

    About the “I will not let you hit me” approach, I often have to look for the right tone. I feel the need to pause for a moment, see my little 4 year old sweetheart as the tiny non-threatening person that he is and then the message goes through. Not always easy of course but again it feels so great to have a guideline.

    Thank you for enlightning our parenting journey!

    1. Sounds like the perfect “pause” to me! Yes, our healthy perception of our children and their behavior is what will guide us to using the “right” words and tone to help them in these situations.

      Thanks for your support!

  7. How do you feel about picking up a toddler and physically placing them where they need to be (highchair for dinner / car seat) when they won’t cooperate and are in a power struggle about getting in themselves ?

    1. I believe eating should be voluntary.. and so my boundary would be “If you would like dinner, please come sit at the table. This is when we are offering it. If not, that’s fine, too.” If you are consistent about these expectations and, at the same time, able to let go and let your child make this choice, you will eliminate power struggles around mealtime.

      1. Hi Janet,
        In the above example, though, you do advocate helping a child get into a car seat when they are resisting (I have read that in a previous article I think).

        I have a comment about mealtimes being optional. We have the expectation that our family sits down to eat meals together. It has been my husband’s family’s custom to do so and when I was a child it was what we did, until as surly preteens and teenagers my brother and I resisted and my parents allowed this to happen, and there was a fairly long
        timeframe (years) where we all ate separately. I regret that that happened and I wish my parents somehow didn’t allow us to call the shots as kids and ruin a time that we could have all been together.

        Anyway, our expectation during meals is that our kids sit with us to chat and hang out, with or without eating. We set the limit lightheartedly and so far it’s not an issue at all. Rarely my 3 year old will look at the food and say he won’t eat it and we will say he doesn’t have to eat but it’s dinner time, this is what we are eating, and we want him to sit and talk with us. Lo and behold, he ends up eating 🙂

        I have a question about “dessert.” We on occasion have dessert but not as a rule. Sometimes when this happens my son will say he’s “full” of dinner but wants dessert after a couple bites of our meal. I don’t want to ever engage in power struggles over eating (and my 3 year old is a pretty diverse eater and enjoys mealtimes), but I am not ok with him having two bites of dinner and having dessert. Is there a solution to this? Eliminating dessert may work but when we are at the grandparents houses they have dessert, and I do occasionally like something sweet after a meal.

      2. Great advice! But, What happens if your child doesn’t come to the table and keeps playing and misses dinner. Then after bathtime says they’re really hungry? I won’t send my child to bed hungry, so I don’t see how to make this work. Please enlighten me! I’m frazzled to say the least 🙂

  8. Hi Janet,
    My son is 2yrs8months and I’m having a really tough time at the moment with him. We’re butting heads over so many things, but particularly teeth brushing & nappy changes. I try giving notice of when it’s going to happen, giving options (where, which tooth brush etc) but he just keeps refusing. I end up infuriated because I feel that tooth brushing is a ‘not negotiable’ & of course, nappy changes need to happen (and so far he’s shown no interested in toilet training). On the worst days I end up yelling at him and then feeling like a complete failure. I have read your book No Bad Kids but am still struggling. Any suggestions would be really appreciated.

  9. Jes Whittet says:

    Hi Janet,

    I love your book and your great advice in No Bad Kids has helped us to get to such a nice place with our kids. I have a 5 year old and a 13 month old. My little guy is a big, adventurous explorer and we’ve made as much of our house into YES! space as I think we possible can. So, that leaves power cords. I have tried to keep a steady, upbeat but firm “no, I can’t let you play with that, its dangerous” and redirect him to another toy but he’s quite persistent and has twice pulled a plug out. He knows I don’t want him to do it. What would you recommend I do to convince him that power cords are off limits?


    Jes Whittet

  10. I’m still not sure how to handle the following situation… I have tried to take the battle (the worst!), i have tried to keep cool… I just feel so powerless when my 2y old daughter insists that her dad brings her to bed, or puts her shoes on, or helps her with whatever just crosses her mind and I am RIGHT THERE with the shoe in my hand! RIE has helped us in so many ways and situations we were dealing with became so clear and easier to deal with, so thank you for all the great articles you have written Janet! I just don’t know how to handle this special situation! Rationally I KNOW that her preference of her father is connected with the birth of our son 10 months ago! She has always been very sweet to her baby brother, being jealous from time to time, taking away toys – all to be expected and age appropriate but all together the transition went amazingly well! But of course she has to show some kind of reaction to it! And I guess it’s better she’s showing it against me rather than against her baby brother! But it has not been just a phase – it’s a constant choosing her father over me and yes, of course, I am jealous and hurt! Again, rationally I know better but emotionally it is killing me inside! Help…?

      1. Thanks for your quick answer!! It is very much appreciated!!

  11. Hi Janet,
    I have been reading your blog for a while and I am so thankful for this post. I have been having a really hard time with my son who is 2 years and 9 months old. It seems like he is having a really hard time with his emotions. Everything i ask of him turns into a battle. The article says to expect refusals. So, what if I ask him, for example, to stop spitting at me and he won’t? Do I ignore the behavior or do I remove myself from the situation?
    Also, the article suggests to help children along (putting the box back in the cupboard). My son absolutely flips out if I try to help him with anything, but he doesn’t do it himself either. For example, I will ask him to put on his shoes because we have to go somewhere (park, store, doctor etc) and he will just refuse to do it. But if I try to help him he will melt down, rip his shoes off, throw himself back on the floor. Then he is crying ‘owie owie’ on top of his meltdown because he hit his head on the floor. I am at my wits end. I communicate with him the entire time and he knows where we are going, he always wants to go,but he doesn’t want to put on his shoes. I will tell him ‘you can do it or mom can help’ and we still have these meltdowns. It’s gotten to the point where I don’t even want to take him anywhere because it is such a struggle. The shoes are only one example but I feel like I deal with this multiple times a day. I will ask him to do something and if I help him because he refuses to do it himself he will flip out. And these meltdowns last for 15-20 min and it’s like he cannot calm down. He just cries and cries. And the things I ask him to do are things he is capable of (shoes, put his plate in the sink when he is done eating, etc)

    1. Hi Lisa, I never comment on blogs, but felt compelled, because I was in your shoes, no pun intended.

      After my daughter head butted my chin, while I was trying to put her shoes on, I left my daughter in a puddle on the floor and went upstairs and fell into a puddle myself, crying about what a useless mother I am. Quote: I am HORRIBLE at this!!!

      And then, it was as though my own mother, who passed 2 years ago, widowed with 6 kids under the age of 12, said to me in her most pragmatic voice, “She doesn’t need to wear shoes to the car.”

      Lightbulb moment.

      I now just put the energy into getting her into the car, rather than even try to have her dressed. If there is the slightest resistance to dressing, I move on. I get everything together to go and in a happy voice say, Let’s go! She has nothing to resist…until she does 🙂

      When we get to our destination she is calm and happy to get dressed, chatting about whatever. Then I get to have the park, or whatever, right in front of her, the “carrot” and she’s not into focusing on me.

      The MAIN thing, I am not worn out and frazzled by the time I get in the car. If I don’t be careful about what needs to get done, then important things go by the wayside, simply because I have used all of my energy up.

      For example, I need to conserve energy for toothbrushing.

      She is near 3, now, and I am thankful everyday for the heightened emotional maturity …. On my part 🙂 I use less words, I get quiet when she gets loud…I read outstanding blogs, such as this one, and I don’t end up in a puddle as often.

      The Internet has filled in for my mother, for child raising advice, and I am eternally grateful.

    2. You are not alone. I could have written this post.

  12. Wonderful article! Thank you for sharing. How would this change with an older child? Mine is 6.

    1. Thanks, Sabrina! I wouldn’t change this with an older child, but if you have a specific example I’d be happy to try to illustrate this approach for you.

  13. Sue Field says:

    Hi Janet, this is timely and helpful since I seem to be going through a lot of power struggles with my now 3 and 1/2 year old boy. Developmentally he is probably about 2. He has special needs, is just learning to walk as a result of his handicaps and is non-verbal also just learning about his feelings. The frustration for me is that he whinges and whines a lot when we won’t give him what he wants straight away. He always wants me to hold his hand so he can practise walking places or to be near so he can practise his standing balance, he engages in power struggles over nappy changes as he is not yet toilet trained and still is fearful of the toilet and then will not sit down for focussed periods of play to learn fine motor skills, colours, numbers, opposites, etc. I have tried the language of expectation by adding thankyou to the end of a request, visual scheduling (which his father doesn’t agree with), first/then language and choice boards as suggested by disability consultants. Due to his lack of motor skills and muscle tone and the level of difficulty everything poses his attention span is that of a gnat also. So, so, so frustrating. My father thinks he is “bored” by everything, despite his toys being rotated etc. He has incredible receptive language and understanding. So he thinks that my son may know a lot more than he is able to let on. Have you any tips here?

    1. Hi Sue. That sounds very challenging. One thing that stands out for me is that it seems you are reacting to the whining instead of working on allowing his “complaints” to roll off your back. It’s fine for him to ask you to hold his hand to help him walk, etc., but I would only do that if and when you really need or want to. I’m also wondering if that’s even necessary… Is it not better for him to work on balancing himself independent of your assistance? Regardless, I would not feel like you need to jump to please him. It’s okay for him to whine while you calmly acknowledge, “I hear you wanting me to walk with you. I’ll do that in a few minutes after I ___” Or whatever. In short, I would stop trying to fix everything that’s going on with him (the short attention span, boredom, etc.) and allow him to express his feelings, accept and trust him a bit more.

  14. I am going through a similar thing as Natalie with my 2.5 year old. Diaper changes are horrendous when he has poop. He will not stay still and tries kicking me and trying to get away while I am trying to wipe him. The other big issue we have is him getting out of the car seat while we are driving. I will pull over to put him back in but then it just gives it more attention and now when we talk about our favorite parts of the day he has been saying ‘getting out of my car seat’. I’m no longer taking him out more than I need to. It really scares me and I have ended up yelling at him a few times, which really didn’t help either of us. Also, as far as helping him get into the car seat when he wont get in (before we leave places), once I try start to help him, he starts throwing a huge screaming fit that he wants to do it himself. I tell him that he showed me he needed my help and try to give him opportunities to do some part of it (do you want to help buckle it?) but he doesn’t calm down. And when he is hitting and I block him, he will become more aggressive and I don’t know how to keep him and myself safe in those situations. He will drop himself out of my arms if I try to hold him (he is large height for his age and I am small), pull away from me, throw his head on the floor, bite pinch and head butt me if I try to sit with him on the floor and hold his hands to prevent the hitting/ pulling dogs hair/ etc. I’m getting frustrated because I feel like it had been a lot better but now us getting so much worse. And he is not safe around other kids, especially girls about 12-24 mos old. I can’t really take him anywhere and I know our extended family all thing he is a brat and look down on me as a mother. He is a spirited kid and I definitely set limits. I feel like I a working so much harder at it than everyone else and I constantly feel criticized for my child’s behavior. I really feel out of control and unhappy with our situation. I feel like he and I are just constantly butting heads. I give him 1:1 time each day, and he gets plenty from his caregivers (grandparents) while I am at work.

  15. Hi Janet,

    We had a power struggle this evening with our 2 yr 4 mo old.
    She had a busy afternoon making lots of mess but then we initiated cleaning up before dinner. Dad and I gave her a few minutes heads up, and then when it came time, we asked her if she preferred to clean X, Y or Z area. She just repeated “No, I want to play” and we said “Yes, playing would be fun right now. But it’s clean up time. We can play again after dinner.” Since she didn’t want to choose an area, we asked her to clean a certain cluster of toys back into the bin she dumped them from. She repeated “No” and kept finding other toys to play with, and refusing to put them away.

    Dad and I would say something like “it looks like you are finding lots of toys but not putting any of them away. Right now it’s time to put them all away so that we don’t step on anything. Remember yesterday we had that owie on our foot from stepping on messy toys on the floor? That was a good reminder that we should clean when things get messy, and boy, right now things sure are messy. That’s okay, we were having fun, and we just need to clean them up again. Wow, Dad’s done a great job cleaning area X, let’s help him.”
    Etc etc
    Finally Dad lost his cool and slammed the bin down and our daughter got scared and cried. I said her “Oh that was scary. Dad is really frustrated but it wasn’t okay to slam that down like that. That was too rough and scary. Dad, can you come give her a hug? She needs to feel reassured from you” And he did, apologizing.
    Then she returned to the “I want to play” theme. Finally, we sat her on Dad’s lap in front of the toys and bin. I held the bin. I emphasized that in our family, we are helpful, we are all here together to clean and help, isn’t that nice. But we can’t play or have our dinner or move on until this cluster is cleaned.
    She refused but her eyes searched mine, very much in “testing mode”.
    So I said “I think you’re wondering what I will say or do now in response. I’m just going to keep sitting with you until you clean this cluster of toys. I don’t know about you but Dad and I would love to be doing other things, like having dinner, but we are going to have to wait a while longer. That’s okay, sometimes we get stuck, and it seems like you’re stuck. ” and then she suddenly started tossing toys into the bin.

    I am baffled and drained. How do we encourage prosocial, helpful behavior and enforce limits without locking horns?

  16. Ayse Koymen says:

    First of all, I’d like to thank you for offering such insight to toddler behavior. You have been such a guidance for our family. My 2-year-old daughter is generally good-natured child. But especially today maybe because she was overtired, we were in a power struggle. She loves jumping but on the couch! And today she was holding a snack cup of grapes. I told her calmly that I can’t let her do that because it is dangerous and that she either has to sit down and eat or i will have to take the grapes from her. I paid particular attention to being calm and confident while talking to her. However, she kept doing it multiple times, finally I took the grapes from her, she cried and I told her ‘I know you want to jump and eat but I cannot let you do that. It is ok if you are sad. I am right next to you. Oh, look what I have found? ‘ and i held a stuffed animal and play peek a boo and she was fine. What do you think of my approach? Also, when we go out to eat, I would like to try seating her in a regular chair with a booster but when we tried, she again started jumping. Do you think it is early to transition to regular seating? Thank you for your time!!

  17. Brian Hamilton says:

    I have tried everything with the teeth brushing. Brushing teeth together worked for like three days, he doesn’t want to brush my teeth, he wants to use the toothbrush but only to brush his tongue, I give him the choice of doing it himself or me doing it (he usually chooses me and then fights me), I make it into a plane and he just swats it away thinking that’s funny.

    Most days, I don’t care. Other days I’m ready to run my head into a wall.

    We give him a lot of autonomy to run around and explore. He cooks with us, cleans with us, goes to the store, chooses activities. We don’t yell and he has never been exposed to corporal punishment. I really don’t know what the problem is. Days like today, it is just exhausting.

    1. Catherine says:

      I had a great bit of advice for my 2 yr old who hated brushing her teeth. It’s taken a little while but she likes to play the game now of pretending there is an animal in her mouth which I have to get out with the toothbrush. This week it is a Cat so when I’m brushing I’ll say ‘Meow’ ‘oh naughty meow, he’s right at the back, let me get him!’ She finds it really funny now and if I Use a different animal sound she tells me off and corrects me that it’s a meow. An electric toothbrush also helped. She’s 2.5 now and brushes teeth no problem x

  18. oceanasb@gmail.com says:

    Hi there, I have a 9 year old nephew and it drives me crazy that he will refuses to say please or thank you, pretty much ever. We have had some deep discussions about it he claims it is “embarrassing” far too embarrassing to do apparently. Sometimes if I remind him gently that I will be happy to get him x, y, z, help him, play with him etc, if he asks me kindly, he will course correct and ask kindly and politely. Other days, it becomes a power struggle that I don’t want. (And it isn’t just lack of please and thank you, it is horribly demanding tone, sometime screaming, eye rolls, etc). And honestly even asking for something without saying please, it just really is a pet peeve of mine. I don’t at all mind providing the gentle reminder to say please since it may not be a habit, but after that I mean. He will literally sit there and argue with me for hours that it is too embarrassing for him to ask nicely or to use please or thank you and say things like “WHY CAN”T YOU JUST DO IT” etc. I stay calm and just gently remind him how I’d love to help as soon as he can ask in me in a kind way. Sometimes I take space and let him know I’m just gonna take some space until you feel ready to talk more kindly to me..I don’ t know if I’m handling any of the exactly right so wanted to ask your advice! Feel stuck on this one. In many other situations I find that I intuitively am using your techniques anyhow. Would love to hear what you have to say about this!

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