How to end Power Struggles with your toddler

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Thought Series : Raising a HAPPIE Toddler

Day 10

Well, with the previous post and the deep-dive that we did, we could identify the most common daily activities that end up as ‘power struggles’ with our toddler.

And the ones that top the list are:
1. Screen time
2. Food Struggles
3. Bath Time
4. Brushing
5. Dress changes
5. Diaper changes (God help us with this one!!)

In this post, we’ll explore some tried and tested tips that can help you end the power struggles (99%.. or let’s say… 95% of the times!!)

The TWO RULES to remember to end power struggles, even before they begin:

1. MAKE IT FUN! – Kids cannot, they just CANNOT – resist FUN!
Yes, it’s demanding and frustrating when you have to strain your creative muscles, and find a way to giggle your way through a diaper change when all you want is to GET DONE WITH IT!
But, from my own experience, you get better at being creative and funny with some practice!!

2. GIVE THEM THE POWER – Well, that’s what they’re seeking, right? Power? Control? When we try to pull our end of the rope as hard as they’re pulling it – that’s when the struggle begins. When you leave your end of the rope, or refuse to even pick it up – what happens? There is no struggle. Period.
One of the simplest ways to give your toddler ‘Power’ is by offering simple choices / options – where you’re OK with whichever option your toddler chooses.

Let’s explore some examples that will help you understand this better –

Make it fun – Sing a song while or before brushing, brush a doll’s teeth before you brush your child’s.
Give her control – “Do you want to put the paste on?” “You can show Dolly how to brush, and then I’ll do the same for you.” “Do you want Mumma to brush for you or Pappa?”
What works for us – For a long time, singing a song while we brushed helped. But then it got boring. And then each time I’d say “Let’s brush”, my daughter (now 2y7m) would say, “No, I don’t want to brush”. So, somehow one day, I just said, “Ok! Today we’ll not brush, we’ll CRUSH”. That seemed to excite her, and I invented a funny way to brush and we were done. So we continued with that – inventing a new name and way everyday! Nowadays, she invents the name & the way to do it, then I do it for her. So far, so good. Let’s see how long this works!

Bath time:
Make it fun – Get some bath toys / water balloons, allow some time for supervised water play – kids love playing with water!
Give her control – “Do you want to put on the soap?” “Do you want to use the red mug or the blue mug?”
What works for us – Water play!! All the way!
Yes! Shampooing is scary for them, with water coming on their face, shampoo going into their eyes. It’s really upon us to make it less scary for them with the right technique / mild shampoo or I’ve seen these hat-like shower caps that’s open in the hair portion – that prevents the shampoo from coming on the face. You can check that out, if it helps!

Dress changes:
Make it fun – Bring the soft toys to life and dress them up, if it helps!
Give her control – “Do you want to wear the red dress or the pink dress?” “You can keep your clothes out from this drawer, we can wear them after bathing.”
What works for us – Offering choices worked for sometime, but then we stumbled upon “Neither A nor B”. So, then we had to go back to storytelling, explaining how some kids don’t have the luxury of so many choices, and everyday while we are saying all of this – we dress her up in something that we’ve chosen. (Hoping this continues to work!)

Diaper changes: (Can I skip this please!!!)
Make it fun – Well, I can’t think of how you can make it fun – except that singing to my daughter while changing the diaper really helped calm her down and co-operate in the process. Looking into their eyes, and engaging them in a story can help too.
Give her control – “Let’s get the diaper from the drawer.” As your toddler grows, you can help her wear her own pull-ups.

Food Struggles:
Make it fun – Involving them in the cooking process does help. I wouldn’t recommend going the extra mile everytime to make food look fancy, as it’s unnecessary and not setting the right expectations for your child – also increasing your workload with no proven benefits.
Give her control – Frankly, this is an area where you cannot and should not control. Our job as parents is to PROVIDE, the kid can choose WHAT to eat and HOW MUCH to eat. Yes, this can sound scary to a lot of parents – but this is the healthiest approach for your child & your family in the long run.
It requires patience, it demands you to observe and adapt, it needs you to not offer ‘one more bite’ when your child says she’s full. This is an area where you want your child to learn to listen to her body, know her hunger cues and when she’s full – because frankly, we can’t know that.
As long as your child is active and meeting milestones, you don’t have to stress about food.

Screen-time struggles:
Make it fun – Well, it’s fun already, that’s why they’re demanding more and more of it. So, what’s a healthy limit here?
Quoting from the AAP website – “Avoid digital media for toddlers younger than 18 to 24 months other than video chatting. For children 18 to 24 months, watch digital media with them because they learn from watching and talking with you. Limit screen use for preschool children, ages 2 to 5, to just 1 hour a day of high-quality programming.”
Now, coming to the more difficult part – HOW do you exercise this limit and get your child to co-operate? The answer is – – –
Give her control – Yes, you’ll be surprised at how well your toddler uses power if you couple it with the right strategies. This is something that has worked beautifully for us, and I’d encourage you to try and adapt this to your child & family as well.
What works for us – So, till my daughter turned 2, she had zero screentime – except some instances with grandparents or relatives, and video calls. Later, once we introduced her to screens – we noticed the demands would always keep increasing.
So we decided this must stop and we told her, “Yes, you can watch, but after ONE song – you must switch off the phone by yourself, will you?” She agreed. We helped her out the first few times, reminding her that the song is over, now she must shut the phone (as in ‘sleep mode’) and we showed her how she could do that. Roughly, after the 1oth time – she became a Pro at controlling herself, and shutting the phone after 1 song – and she really enjoyed the ‘power’ she had over the whole thing!
But then, we hit another roadblock – the request to watch would prop up anytime during the day, whenever she felt bored. Saying No each time would lead to meltdowns, and I realized it was quite vague – like – when do we say ‘Yes’ and when do we say ‘No’?
So, once again we laid out a plan and told her, “Ok, from today, you can watch one song after every meal.” Note that – we’ve set the limit based on things that she can relate to and understand – Like she can count ONE song, and she knows when she’s had a meal. It’s been working very well so far, and she’s been surprising us with her self-control and mature use of power!
Try this out with your toddler, and let me know if it works for you. Make sure you try this with an experimentative approach and adapt based on how your child responds, also giving your child TIME to soak in the limit and adapt to it.

Last, but an important piece:
Handling transitions: Often it’s not the act of eating breakfast or dressing up that’s being resisted by your child – but the transition from one activity to the next. Yes, toddlers (and adults, too!) have a tough time transitioning.

A good way to handle transitions is to PREP – telling them in advance about the next activity and talking about how FUN it will be. It works!
Say, “Now, once we’re done with our bath, we’ll go to our bedroom and wear your favorite red dress, and then I’ll tell you a funny story. Yayyy!!”
Or, “Once we’re done brushing, will you give Mumma your pink plate, we’ll have your favorite (food) in it.”

Well…well…well – If you’ve read this far, I hope you’re feeling enlightened, and not overwhelmed!

Thought for Today:

I’d love to hear about your success stories with these strategies, and if they FLOP – do let me know what worked instead, so I can add that to my own repository of ideas – to pull out from when the usual ones don’t work! 😉


We move to the next need for a HAPPIE Toddler i.e. Predictability.


Access Previous Days In This Series: Raising a HAPPIE Toddler

Day 0 : Laying out Universal Human Needs
Day 1 : Healthy Parent = HAPPIE Child
Day 2 : Making Self-Care A Habit
Day 3 : Meeting your toddler’s physical needs
Day 4: Identifying your own triggers before you tend to your child’s
Day 5: Dealing with feelings of guilt & inadequacy (Moms!)
Day 6: Attention v/s Connection Parenting
Day 7: Ways to connect with your Toddler
Day 8: Making way for ‘special time’
Day 9: Identifying Power Struggles


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