Big Emotions

4 Ridiculously Easy Ways to End a Power Struggle

“No. No. No bath!”

This is my son on bath night. We are in the middle of a toddler power struggle. I’m desperately trying to figure out how to make my kid listen so we can get on with the bedtime already.

“Do you want to play with cars or letters in the bath tonight?”

“No. NO. NO BATH!”

He used to love baths, but in the past two months, my son decided baths are the equivalent to walking on nails with bare feet: pure torture.

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To be honest, I’m still confused. I can’t tell if he simply doesn’t like the bath or if he doesn’t like baths because it means bedtime is imminent. Or because I told him to take a bath. Or something completely mysterious and different.

The jury is still out.

But one thing is certain…when bath time happens in our house a few times per week, we are served a heaping dose of power struggle, accompanied by a piping hot side of meltdown.

If I am creative enough with my toddler listening strategies, I can get him into the bath and avoid the power struggle. It takes a bit of work, but it can be done. Then in a bizarre twist, he refuses to get out of the bathtub.

Toddler mystery #563.

Fifteen minutes ago he was yelling “No bath!” at me. Now it’s time to get out of the bath and he yells, “No dry!”

Fun times.

After trying a handful of listening phrases and avoiding phrases that discourage listening, nothing worked. So I picked him up, wrapped him in the towel and carried him to his room.

Me: “It’s time to get your pajamas on.”

Him: “NO DRY. NO TOWEL.”

I knew exactly what I needed to do.

4 Steps to End a Toddler Power Struggle or Tantrum

“When little people experience big emotions, it is our job to bring the calm, not join the chaos.” –L.R. Knost

Step 1: Do not panic.

When kids are fuming with intense emotion and chaotic feelings, stay calm even when you’re desperately want to flail your hands around and scream, “Why are you acting crazy?!”

Repeat: Calm on the outside, even if you’re crazy on the inside.

Step 2: Hug snug.

I sat on my son’s bed, pulled him and all the rage running through his body on top of my lap. I wrapped my arms around him, hugging him as lovingly and snuggly as I could.

He screamed louder, “NO DRY! NO TOWEL!”

Which if you’re trying to stay positive, this is simply your child feeling safe enough to let all the emotion out. It’s seems bad, but it’s actually good.

Step 3: Speak low and slow.

Using a low voice, repeat and reflect your child’s words back to them. This is key to helping kids process their intense emotion and move forward.

Me: “No dry. No towel. I understand.”

I said it again, just a little differently.

Me: “No dry. No towel. You didn’t want to get out of the bathtub.”

Step 4: Voice a feeling, start healing.

Kids–especially the youngest kids–experience incredibly INTENSE feelings but they don’t know what they are called or how to process them. Naming your child’s feeling for him can help him start to process the emotion, as well as feel validated.

I said it again one more time.

Me: “No dry. No towel. You’re angry. It’s hard for you.”

Him: (silence)

Here’s the cool part.

He got quiet.

He took a deep breath.

It was so weird.

It was as if that was all he needed…for me to tell him that I understood what he was telling me.

That I understood that he was super angry about getting out of the bath and the towel and not having control over his life and anything and everything that built up that day.

Is it really that simple to end a major toddler power struggle?

I asked him to turn around and give me a hug. He did.

I asked him to get his pajamas on. He did.

I still have no idea if he hates baths or bedtime or yellow towels. Quite frankly, I don’t think he does either. Sometimes it’s not really about the towel or the bath. Sometimes kids just want to feel heard and important.

Deep down, we all feel the exact same way our kids do.

We all want to feel heard and important.

When the days are hard and I just want to scream, that’s what I remember. He wants to feel heard as much as I do. It’s not about the towel. It’s about feeling like what you have to say matters to someone else.

This post comes with a Free Printable Checklist

Power struggles are challenging! Use this simple printable to give yourself a ten quick parenting wins throughout the day when power struggles hit. Print it out and keep it on your fridge. Parenting doesn’t have to be complicated! Let’s simplify!

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  2. Print. Any paper will do the trick, but card stock would be ideal.
  3. Place it on your refrigerator. Check things off as you go and don’t forget a thing!

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14 Comments

  1. My first child was a dream toddler! So, this strong-willed almost three year old is teaching me a lot!! Thanks for your wise words! I will be reading more!!

  2. Okay, but what next??? I pull my almost-4-year-old into a hug and validate his feelings. He settles down, takes a few breath. Eventually I have to move forward with the night time routine? I have to put pajamas on him. And no matter how validated he feels, no matter how long I hug him- he fights pajamas. The screaming returns, the crying returns. Right now my son fights everything I have to enforce as a parent. It’s a power struggle. Brushing teeth, bed time, eating dinner, getting dressed, wearing shoes, staying buckled in the car seat. If I tell him to stop doing something (playing with the thermostat, for example) he will go to his room and DESTROY it. Throw toys, flip his table. Just this whole show of aggression. If I stop him before and hug him and validate his feelings, he will then calmly walk into his room 20 minutes later and throw toys and flip a table. The behavior seems inevitable. So what AFTER? After validating and hugs, what do I do when it continues???

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