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 –

Brushing:
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.
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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.
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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 – – –
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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.
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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.
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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!
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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’?
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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!
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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! 😉

NEXT:

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

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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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Identifying your own triggers before you tend to your child’s

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Thought Series : Raising a HAPPIE Toddler

Day 4

From the moment, I’ve experienced ‘being a parent’ – I can say with all my heart & might that ‘Parenting is not for the faint-hearted.’

The cuteness, the excitement – everything wears off, and then you’re left squandering in the muck with your toddler, his/her struggles plus the tantrums, your chores, office stress, the guilt and the nagging thought that “you’re not doing enough!”.

With all the physical, mental and emotional weariness – it’s no surprise that we often lose it, and end up venting out our frustrations on our children. Sadly, they often become easy targets, because we know we can’t safely vent out by hitting or yelling at another adult in the family!

What’s worse, is the guilt-trip that ensues later!! Driving us into a deeper pit!

Let me tell you – this is not how motherhood or parenting a toddler is meant to be. It can be far more civil, peaceful and fun – if only we achieve two things:

  1. Understand our toddler better (especially his/her needs)
  2. Understand ourselves better ( our needs, priorities & triggers)

Throughout this thought series ‘Raising a HAPPIE Toddler’ – we will delve much deeper into your toddler’s needs. But I want to take a day or two out to help us sort ourselves first – as mothers, as human beings – so that we can serve our best selves to our children, when they need us the most.

Today, in specific, I’d like to focus on OUR TRIGGERS.

We’ve cursorily discussed before that ‘Unmet needs lead to Misbehavior’ in toddlers, which means that misbehavior is always triggered.

The same holds true for you, Momma!

If you’ve misbehaved – by yelling, scolding or hitting your child (when you know you could have handled it better, often as an after-thought) – it’s important to acknowledge that you were triggered!

What could those triggers be?

  • Office stress, bad boss, bitching colleagues, office politics…….
  • A family member saying something
  • Your spouse not saying something, when you wanted or expected
  • Physical weariness
  • Not feeling good about yourself – for not spending the day, the way you had planned or wished
  • Your child did something!!

A BIG FAT NOTE : You might often feel your child’s misbehavior was the trigger for your misbehavior. But if you dig deeper into your own heart & mind, you will know – that the REAL trigger was hidden deep within. Your child just pushed you off the edge.

“When little people are overwhelmed by big emotions, it’s our job to share our calm, not join their chaos.”

L.R. Knost

How can we share our calm with our child, if our inner self – our mind and heart – is in chaos?

A little step we can take today is to at least identify our triggers. Becoming aware of our triggers, will help us identify when we must be careful with our actions, especially towards our child.

And next time, you realize a hidden trigger which can potentially harm your child (through words/actions) – it’s best to ‘LEAVE’.

Leave your child with another caring adult, and
Leave the scene to take care of your own self first!
Come back renewed, and share your peace, calm and joy with your child!

THOUGHT for TODAY

What are your triggers? Identify & list them down.
Next time, you feel triggered, you know what to do (and what NOT to do!)

Reminder: Are you keeping your self-care promise from Day2?

TOMORROW:

We take a quick look at our PRIORITIES, and are we really living up to them.
That will mark the end of our focus on ‘Physical Well Being /Health’ – Ours & Our Child’s.

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

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Meeting your toddler’s physical needs

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Thought Series : Raising a HAPPIE Toddler

Day 3

It’s never very challenging for a mother to judge and provide for her toddler’s physical needs.

With the experience of heeding to her infant’s needs with almost 100% accuracy, even when the baby could not say a single word – mothers are often masters at watching out for cues of hunger, thirst, sleep and pee/poop.

Besides this, it’s also worthwhile to check if your toddler gets a regular dose of :

  • touch & warmth: that provides a sense of safety & security
  • physical movement/exercise: indoor & outdoor (with daylight exposure)
Universal Human Needs – For Physical Well Being

All of the above are pretty much taken care of by most parents. But, there’s one mostly unexplored territory of physical needs.

Often parents notice their toddler to be excessively clingy or cranky for no apparent reason. Here’s when you might be dealing with a – Growth Spurt

What is a Growth Spurt?

A growth spurt is a sudden peak in your child’s physical or cognitive development.

Signs of Growth Spurt in Toddlers

A growth spurt can last for a few days during which your toddler will show one or more of the below signs:

  • Your child eats more or becomes ‘unusually’ fussy about food.
  • Sleeps more or has ‘unusual’ trouble sleeping
  • Is more cranky than usual (often because of growth pains)
  • Is more clingy than usual and demands more attention
  • Could be shyer with strangers
  • Younger toddlers demand more breastfeeds.

In short, your toddler behaves ‘unusually’ – they are going through something they don’t / can’t understand, and you can expect the unease to be expressed in any of the above extremes.

The best help you can be for your child during a growth spurt, is to ‘Be Present‘.

If your child is (unusually) super clingy / cranky for a few days – it’s best to tick off any other basic needs of hunger/sleep – and then understand that this could be a growth spurt.

During this phase, provide your child your warmth and presence, nothing heals their bodies and minds better.

The brighter side to a growth spurt

The brighter side to a growth spurt is that – at the end of it – you will find your toddler having gained a little weight,
or added a few inches in height or ,
or a new tooth in younger toddlers,
or your toddler would have mastered a skill that she had been trying for sometime – like starting to speak using more words.

THOUGHT for TODAY

Have you noticed any signs of growth spurt in your toddler?

What were they?

Reminder: Have you created your self-care promise from Day2, and are you keeping it?

TOMORROW:

Before we delve deeper into the other needs for a HAPPIE Toddler, there are two things we need to deal with as parents – Our Triggers & Our Priorities.

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

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Healthy Parent = HAPPIE Child

Sharing is Caring!

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Thought Series : Raising a HAPPIE Toddler

Day 1

This week, we’re focusing on the most basic and fundamental human need : Health / Physical well-being.

Note that I said ‘human’ need, and not just ‘toddler’ need.

After caring for our infant for a year, we have become experts in judging and providing for our child’s physical needs like hunger, thirst, sleep, sickness, teething, need to pee/ poop, need to be clean after pee/poop … an endless list.

Our expertise continued even as our infant turned into a toddler, and we can still effortlessly identify and fulfill their physical needs.

But, during the 1 year of infancy, we also progressively lost the ability to sense & care for our OWN physical needs –

  • Losing sleep for several nights back to back
  • Skipping meals to make space for our kids needs, needs of everyone else in the family, office work and household chores
  • ME-time is non-existent
  • Working at full potential even during our own sickness & weakness.

These are just a few scenarios where we’ve so easily forgotten to cater to our OWN need for PHYSICAL WELL-BEING, while ensuring that for our child and family members.

I know, we feel good about being able to do so much for our loved ones; but:

  • How many times have you felt sorry for being so self-sacrificial?
  • How many times have you missed your long-forgotten hobbies?
  • How many times have you wished you had some more time to yourself?
  • Worst of all, how many times have you lost it (because of stress / tiredness) and taken out your frustration on your child by yelling / hitting, and then feeling guilty about it?

Here’s what we need to remember :

When a needy person comes to us for help, can we help that person if our own pockets are empty?

When your child becomes clingy / throws a tantrum – that’s your child asking for help. But if you are completely drained mentally, physically & emotionally – will you be able to offer help to your child in a meaningful way?

THOUGHT for TODAY

  1. Are you WELL – physically / mentally / emotionally – everyday, so that you can cater to your child’s needs in your BEST capacity?
  2. If not, how do you think it’s affecting the way you care for your child, and deal with his/her needs?
  3. Tell us, ONE thing that you’d like to do – which takes only 15 mins – DAILY – that can help you stay WELL – physically, mentally, emotionally.

TOMORROW

How you can fulfill your child’s needs better – by making A HABIT of self-love and self-care – (Point 3 above), so that your child experiences the BEST of you – EVERYDAY!

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Access Previous Days In This Series:

Day 0

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Raising a HAPPIE Toddler

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DAY 0

Hello & Welcome to my Thought Series on ‘Raising a HAPPIE Toddler’.

Starting today, we embark on a journey to understand our toddler’s unsaid needs and learn how to fulfill them consistently, in the best way possible.

All humans have a set of needs. As long as these needs are met, we feel content. However, if a crucial need remains unfulfilled for a reasonable period of time – we will SEEK to fulfil the need, by hook or by crook.

As parents, we never realized how our little baby who was content as long as his need for food, water, sleep, warmth (& a clean diaper) was met, turned into a little ‘human’, soon after her 1st birthday. We never realized how his needs expanded much beyond the physical realm. Well, even if we did, it was difficult to know for sure what our little tot was ‘SEEKING’.

This series is to help every parent here – understand your toddler’s unsaid needs, so that she does not have to SEEK them through negative / undesirable behavior.

Unmet needs lead to undesirable behavior.

As a Toddler Mom myself, I decided to delve deeper into understanding ‘UNIVERSAL HUMAN NEEDS’ and finally arrived at SIX of them.

Health | Attention (Connection) | Power | Predictability | Inclusion (Participation) | Evolution (Progress)

Fulfilling these needs consistently, makes a Toddler HAPPIE!

(I have seen that 1st hand)

How did I arrive at these SIX out of a massive list of documented ‘Universal Human Needs’?

  • These SIX are relevant to a Toddler’s life.
  • These SIX encompass several other smaller needs from the ‘Universal list’.
  • Parents report behavioral issues when one or more of these needs are unmet for reasonably long periods, often because they never realized the need.

Today, I want you to mull over this list of ‘UNIVERSAL HUMAN NEEDS’ – image below:

THOUGHT for TODAY

Do you think there are more needs from this list that are relevant for a toddler – other than:

Health | Attention (Connection) | Power | Predictability | Inclusion (Participation) | Evolution (Progress)

TOMORROW:

We begin with the 1st need : Health / Physical well being, and explore how it is relevant & valuable for both the parent & the child.

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