We can all agree that dealing with toddler power struggles is not the most exciting part of parenting.

When your little human stomps his feet, screams out loud, rolls on the ground, or even shouts some unpleasant things, you think to yourself, “Dude, all I did was ask you to put on your shoes.”

The good news is that these terrible two’s and three’s are usually a phase. These big feelings inside little bodies need somewhere to go. They don’t know how to clearly articulate all the feels, so as a result, we get these explosive reactions.

Let’s pretend.

You need to hit the road with your little one and so your 3 year-old has to turn off his favorite TV show and put on his shoes. You know there’s a good chance this is going to turn into a power struggle because this has happened 17 times before. What, oh what are you to do?

Here are seven tools to help with toddler power struggles and keep a positive flow in your family & home:

  1. Understand your child’s triggers. This sounds rudimentary, but it is an essential piece to reducing these outbursts. Is he upset because you interrupted something that was bringing him joy and now you’re asking him to put on shoes? Is he frustrated because he doesn’t know how to put them on too well and is feeling overwhelmed by the task? Is he overtired and it was a poor decision to ask him to conduct a task independently at this point? There could be several reasons for these tantrums, but once you are able to identify the triggers before an episode, you can modify the environment to avoid the child from feeling overwhelmed. Do a little homework to avoid the power struggle.
  2. Empathize with your little one. “I can see that you really want to watch TV and it is making you feel upset that we need to turn it off.” By putting his feelings into words, you are not only teaching him how to express his frustration, but you are letting him know that you understand. To feel understood is invaluable. We all want to feel understood and our little toddlers are no different. Kneel down to eye level with your toddler and remain calm. A hug can go a long way. You want to help him calm down and you do this by connecting with him and modeling the behavior you want to see.
  3. Give a fair amount of time and warning. If I was watching my favorite TV show and my husband took the remote and shut it off and told me it was time to put on my shoes, I might quite possibly roll on the ground and scream too. Okay, no I wouldn’t do that, but I wouldn’t be thrilled. The point is, if we are suddenly asked to perform a task that we don’t necessarily like, it can be frustrating. Not to mention it is bad manners too—not the best role-modeling, right? Instead, let your child know that he can watch TV for 5 more minutes and then it’s time to put on his shoes. Pause the show and ask him to repeat this to you so you can confirm he heard you and understands. When you finally ask him to turn off the TV, he will have been expecting it. He may not like it, but you are at least being fair in his eyes.
  4. Give him or her control in the situation. Five minutes are quickly up and now it’s showtime. Maybe the time-warning method worked (are those angel voices you hear in the sky?) or maybe he gets upset that he has to turn off the TV. He wants to watch TV and you are forcing him to do something else which makes him feel like he’s lost control. This is an opportunity to give him back some power. You can teach him how to turn off the TV and do it together or if he’s ready, he can do it himself. You might ask him which shoes he wants to wear and allow him to choose for himself. The idea is to give him control within boundaries that you have set for him.
  5. Be aware of your own needs and simplify. If you are running late to get out the door and you know your little man hates to put on his shoes, now is not the best time to ask him to put them on independently. This is bound to become a power struggle and you don’t have the time or patience for this at the moment. Instead, maybe you divert his attention from the TV to racing you to the garage door. Or you let him pick out a fun snack for the car and you grab his shoes and put them on for him. Structure and boundaries are awesome. But life happens and you need to know how to modify without overhauling a rule—remember consistency is also key.
  6. Switch with the other parent or caregiver. When we are aware of our own feelings and realize that patience is dwindling down, it’s better to tap out than blow up. If kiddo is struggling to listen to Mom in that moment, it’s okay for Dad to takeover. Visa-versa. The key is for the parents to maintain a united front and not to undermine one another. When Dad steps in, he continues where Mom left off. Sometimes, switching off with a refreshed parent is enough to make progress.
  7. Give encouragement, not only praise. You got your little human into the car with shoes on and not a tear was shed. This feels amazing! It’s easy to say, “great job!” or “thank you!” We also don’t want him to think he is doing you a favor by taking responsibility, right? So how about, “I noticed you put on your shoes when it was time to go and I really liked that.” Little kids love to please their parents and feel recognized. When we say “we noticed”, we are telling them that we recognize when they make an effort. We value their initiative and it makes us feel happy. Not only are you giving a constructive compliment, but you are connecting with him. Encouragement is so powerful and feeling a two-way connection is priceless.

Power struggles are a normal part of our toddler’s development and journey of growth. I understand how difficult it can be to stay cool and collected through this season of parenting—I have two toddlers at the moment, so I completely understand.

However, there are tools that make these challenges easier to work through. It’s not black and white.

We can have it all. We just need the right ingredients that work for our family and lifestyle.

To learn more about the Connect-to-Correct (C2C) Coaching package, click here:

Connect-to-Correct (C2C)