“NO!” Do you remember how you felt the first time your child dead-eyed defied you? As a parent of very strong-willed sons, I remember the first time my oldest said, “NO!” when I asked him to pick up his toys in the living room. I was so taken aback I said to myself, “I must have misheard him.” I repeated, “Please pick up your toys.” He matter-of-factly repeated, “NO.” 

As a parent, I had just entered the Wild West. Gone was my compliant, sweet child. He was replaced with this toddler-gunslinger who shot down everything I said. 

How do I make sure I keep my sheriff’s badge during a power struggle with my child?

Remember, you are in charge.

As a parent, you have the authority in your home. You wear the badge. Remember, you also have the life experience and emotional control that your child doesn’t have. Engaging in a “power struggle” with a child gives the power to the one who can least handle it. To remain in charge, you have to keep your cool. Take a few deep breaths and relax that trigger finger. 

No one knows how to push your buttons like your child. It may feel like they are trying to wrestle control from you. (And they are.) But they are also trying to become their own little person. This is an ongoing and sometimes painfully frustrating process, but keep in mind, you are laying the foundation for those tween and teen years when the stakes are much higher. 

Choose your battles wisely.

Everything is not a big deal. Stop. Say that with me. Everything is not a big deal. Keeping your child safe and healthy as they grow is the priority. Worrying that their clothes are not color-coordinated is just wasted worry. A friend of mine created stickers that said, “She dressed herself.” She placed them on her child’s back so she wouldn’t feel judged as a terrible parent whose child didn’t have on a matching outfit. (But why are we even worrying about what other parents think about us?) Ask yourself, “Is my child safe, healthy, and happy? Then, is this the hill I want to die on?

Give your child choices.

The non-negotiable might be getting dressed, but you can say, “Would you like to wear this outfit or this one?” You just shifted the issue from “getting dressed vs. staying in jammies” to “this outfit vs. this outfit.” Your child gets to exert their little will, but only within the options you gave them. 

As your child grows, they are trying to figure out who they are. Allow them to make age-appropriate choices and decisions. You end up with a win-win situation. Your child feels empowered, and the job gets done with little to no conflict. You’re running this town, but the on-the-job stress is manageable.

Be specific and make it fun!

You have to be specific when giving your child a task. They might not be ready to process, “Clean your room.” Break the job down into smaller tasks. Pick up all your books and place them on your bookshelf and report back to me when you’re done. Make chores a game when you can. Use a hula-hoop and place it on their floor; then grab a kitchen timer. Let’s see how fast you can put away everything in the hoop! Then move the hoop to another section of their floor. Can you beat your last time? You no longer have a power struggle with your child. Instead, you have created a fun game!

Don’t be afraid to deputize the universe.

You read that right. Use natural and logical consequences with your child. Let the universe do the heavy lifting. Consider the following:

Parent: Hey, it’s chilly out. You might want to put a hat on.

Child: No, it’ll mess up my hair. I don’t want to.

Parent: Okay, that’s your choice.

✦ Now, one of two things is gonna happen, but neither involves a power struggle with your child. Either your child will be chilly and will want a hat next time, or your child will be completely comfortable without a cap. Either way, you get to sit back and watch your child interact with the universe and learn a life lesson. You avoided conflict with your child. You were the guide to the side, letting your child learn about choices and consequences while the stakes were small.

This “growing-up” process for your child may feel like a roller coaster for you. The ups, downs, and loopty-loops can take your breath away and stress you out. That badge is a privilege and a responsibility. If you are upset and yelling—you’re losing. As the parent, you are the law in these here parts.

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