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Strategies on How to Survive Your Toddler's Power Struggles

Marnie Forestieri
Written by Marnie Forestieri


I remember when my son turned two, his temperament and strong will started to emerge. Dressing became a daily struggle; he imposed his sense of fashion early in his life by choosing to wear pajamas or imposing his will to wear a swimsuit to preschool.

What a stressful time!

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As a young mother, I remember fighting with him about his fashion choices. How could I let him wear whatever he wanted?

Not only was I going to be labeled as a “bad mom” but I was also going to lose my parental authority.

My daily struggles with my son were not limited to fashion decisions when he became a toddler. At some point he decided to throw things in his room, and to make matters worse, he thought it was so much fun to run naked around the house.

I needed a strategy to survive the terrible twos! Fast!

The Power of Choice

Then I discovered the power of choice. The alternative solution was to give options.

I tricked my son into choosing between two “approved” choices. Do you want to wear “red” or “blue”?

In the beginning, he struggled to come to terms with my strategy. He didn’t want to have to limit his choices to just two colors!

After all, there were so many colors and patterns in the world! And he enjoyed having me chase him around the house when he was naked! (Which I did for a little while)

Then I learned that I couldn’t take it personally.

So even though I kept facing the same challenges, I decided to change my response to his behavior. I remained calmed and reminded him in a firm but a gentle voice that there were only two choices for him.

It was either “Red or Blue.”

All of a the sudden the power struggle stopped. No more PJs to preschool, and no risk of falling into the worst-dressed child category.

Finally, he started to think that he had things “under control.”

That’s what toddlers do. They challenge you and test your boundaries as they become independent.

They are not intentionally trying to make you crazy. Testing boundaries is a positive sign in his or her developmental growth.

How to Survive

Here are some strategies to survive toddler power struggles:

  • Keep calm and never use the word “No.” If you use it, that’s what they will like to do. To keep your sanity, remind yourself that young toddlers want to explore that newfound freedom and they will act out with the person they feel safest and trust the most.
  • Practice the power of choices. You can use the power of options in any situation. For example, you can tell your child the following. “You can walk, or you can jump to go to your room.” “You can wear red or blue.”  And if they like to run naked like my son did, you can tell him, “You can wear the blue pajama or the red one, but you can’t run naked around the house." And if he ends up running, Don’t chase him! That will only reinforce the behavior!
  • Reinforce good behavior when appropriate. Praise him and give him lots of love. Remember that a toddler’s job is to explore the world. They want to touch everything, run, and they don’t want to sit still. They want to put things in their mouth and put their fingers everywhere. Our job is to make sure they are safe to explore the environment and allow them to experiment and learn.

And then, relax.

DarmouthI survived my son’s terrible twos. Time flew by, and my stubborn toddler became a wonderful young man, leaving me with the following lessons on raising and teaching toddlers:

  • Never to take it personally
  • Don’t stress out
  • Respect a toddler’s desire to explore the world around

 

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