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Conquering Power Struggles with Toddlers

Aug 01, 2014

Just as it is the parents’ job to help teach children new skills, it is the toddler’s job to begin to separate from the parents and develop some independence. Toddlers like to say “no” because it gives them a sense of power and autonomy. They are just learning their limitations and what they can get away with. So enforcing rules, even with toddler-aged children, is a good idea.

It’s important for parents to set limits and be consistent. Even though toddlers like to push back against limitations, they also need the structure of rules and boundaries. Family therapist Allison LaTona suggests that toddlers are driven towards power, so giving them some choice in the decisions being made can help avoid a power struggle. If a toddler says “no” to something, give them the choice of completing the task in one of two ways. Let the toddler choose HOW he will complete the task, but don’t let them get out of completing the task. This will redirect the toddler from the power struggle to the choice they are able to make on their own, which feels like power to them.

Some children are just strong-willed by nature and will push boundaries more than others. These children need consistency the most. Setting limits and sticking to them is the best way to conquer power struggles with a strong-willed toddler. Don’t give in, no matter how many times the toddler pushes back, because that will send the message that power struggles will be won by the child and not the parent. Stay calm while enforcing rules, but don’t bend or give in, no matter how upset the child gets. Coach Geoff Wells had a very strong-willed son who would not sleep in his own room no matter how hard Wells tried. However, Wells was consistent and reinforced the same rule every day for four months. This consistency benefitted his son by creating a structured environment.

Toddlers tend to act out when their rules are too harsh or too lenient. It’s important to communicate with the child to know which is true for them. Finding the balance for each individual child is key. Different kids will need different rules, and some toddlers will push boundaries more than others. Showing consistency from an early age will teach the child that the power struggle will not result in him getting the upper hand, and eventually the child will respect the limitations put in place.


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