I can’t be the only parent who didn’t realize I was in a power struggle until I was firmly in the middle of it, right? I generally practice what I preach and I always say “Don’t get into a power struggle with your toddler.” And that was all well and good, until one day I realized I was already firmly entrenched in one.
Of course, the onset was one of those bigger things that you aren’t supposed to make a big deal out of *facepalm.* Mac was working on toileting and while it generally was going well, there were times that weren’t. Without being too graphic, she simply wouldn’t do her business on the toilet despite the fact that she knew how and had done it before. It wasn’t really an “accident,” it was more of a “don’t care to do what I’m supposed to do.” And honestly, it felt like she was doing it to make me mad.
Now, of course that isn’t true. Part of the problem is that I was pregnant and didn’t like having to get down on the floor to clean up messes that felt so “unnecessary.” So between that and hormones, it became almost a battle of wills. Some days I would look back and think of what a terrible parent I had been to get so angry over an accident. I just couldn’t understand why she would seemingly choose to keep going in her underwear.
But one day I finally stepped back and looked at the entire situation. There are three things a child can control in their lives: toileting, eating, and sleeping. If they feel like they are not allowed control in their life, they will find a way to gain control through one or all of these methods.
Big alarm bells started going off in my head. We had just moved into a new house, I was pregnant with Mac’s little sibling, and she was going to be starting in a new classroom at school soon. There was so much going on in her little life that even though on the outside she was dealing well, she still felt the need to control aspects of her life. And here I was making a huge deal about it. I was doing exactly the thing I caution against.
So what did I do about it? Well, there were two things I did.
As soon as I realized that these “accidents” were a bid for some control, my perspective shifted. I didn’t even have to consciously shift it. I started to see it as less of a thing she would do to make me made and more of something I needed to support her through.
Of course that didn’t mean I automatically became Mrs. Nicey who was happy to clean up bathroom messes from my living room floor. But it did mean that it was easier for me to do this:
Seeing an accident as something other than a personal affront directed at me meant I was able to take a breath and calmly help her clean up instead of losing my cool and stomping around admonishing her to start being a big girl.
Keeping my cool meant I could still have a conversation about where bathroom stuff was supposed to happen, but in a calm way that she might take to heart. And at the end of the day, I think that makes me a better mom, both in my eyes and her eyes.
In general, power struggles are unfair because no matter what, the toddler always loses. And how disheartening is it to always lose, even if your side of the struggle may be perfectly valid? Sometimes adults get so wrapped up in being the adult and therefore always being right, that they forget they are raising a little human who deserves respect and a chance to discuss their thoughts and feelings. (Or at least a chance to work through issues they may be having without also having to fight against an adult.)
One way I try to avoid power struggles is by giving my toddler choices. But did you know there is a specific way you should give choices? Make sure you check out my ebook about giving a toddler choices to help stop tantrums.
Well, as the adult, you simply decide to stop engaging. It doesn’t mean you let them do whatever they want. It also doesn’t mean you don’t correct them.
For toileting, it meant that I kept the conversation after an accident short and sweet: “Where do we go potty?” “The toilet” “And what do you do if you need to go? You tell me and I’ll take you to the toilet.” And that was it.
For eating, this will look differently. I’ve written an entire post about not making food a fight. Take a step back from the struggle and focus on the things your child will eat. Do they like some fruits and vegetables? Don’t force them to try new things, but always offer. Think about ways you could incorporate other healthy foods into their diets: vegetables with a yummy dip, smoothies, etc. Stop making a big deal about what they won’t eat and focus on what they will eat.
For sleeping, try many different ways to get your child to sleep. Have you tried white noise? Music? Perhaps a weighted blanket or just some heavy quilts? Is the room too hot or too cold or even too dark? Try out some things to make sure there isn’t a need that has to be fulfilled to make falling asleep easier.
I put together a kit of products I’ve found that can help lessen these power struggles.