Big Emotions

The Parenting Tip You’re Missing to End Power Struggles

It all started with the elevator buttons.

We were leaving the house. I was in a hurry to get my strong willed toddler off to school, and I pushed the elevator button. This was the beginning of toddler power struggle number one.

He wanted to push the elevator button. He was super frustrated. Pushing the button makes him feel useful and independent at an age when he is highly dependent on help from me.

We get down to the car, and he wanted to get in his car seat by himself. But I was in a hurry, so I plopped him in there and buckled him. I didn’t have time for negotiation.

Love this tip to improve toddler behavior and minimize toddler power struggles. Awesome positive parenting tip.

Pulling into school, I run around to the passenger side and get him out of the back seat. I remind him, “Hurry up. We are going to be late.”

There are seven steps from the parking lot to the school entrance. And for seven steps, I held his hand, pulling him along. His little legs desperately trying to keep up with me.

Hug. Kiss. Goodbye. I love you. Have a good day at school.

He cries. I leave.

Six hours later I return to pick him up from school, and he’s beyond thrilled to see me. He smiles so big, it almost looks like his cheeks are stuffed with marshmallows.

“See you, mama. See you, mama!”

Over and over again he repeats this to me, as he wraps his toddler arms snuggly around my leg. We leave a few minutes later, and I remind him that we are going to the store. That he needs to listen and stay close to mommy. We get to the store and he wants to push the kid-sized shopping cart and do all the shopping.

end toddler power struggles 4

I tell him, “Not today, buddy. We don’t have time.” In two seconds flat, he drops to the floor, wailing and flailing around. Of course, he always waits until we are in public to throw a tantrum. I use my 4-step method to minimize the tantrum enough to start shopping.

Do you see what’s really going on here?

We finish shopping, drive home and start walking inside to catch the elevator. My toddler is desperately trying to keep up with me as he carries a shopping bag filled with bread and a bag of chips. It’s almost too big for him to carry, but he insisted I let him help.

I ask him, “You coming, buddy? We gotta hurry up and get inside.”

Thankfully, I remembered to let him push the button to go up to our floor and avoided that meltdown. Hanging onto his shopping bag with his right hand, he reaches on his tippy toes and hits number six.

We get all the groceries inside and he asks for juice.

“Sure buddy. You can have some juice.”

I grab it out of the fridge, start pouring it into a cup, and that’s when he loses it.

“Mama, stop! No mama. Mama, stop!”

At this point, he’s on the floor bawling. It’s intense. His emotions are so fierce, I’m not even sure where to begin. I have absolutely no clue what’s going on. He asked for juice. I got the juice. I poured the juice. And suddenly his world crashed and burn.

Then it dawned on me.

This wasn’t about the juice.

No. This was about something much bigger.

This was about the disconnect.

Yes, he wanted to get the juice out of the fridge and pour the juice. He wanted to do it by himself with me as his trusty standby assistant, but truthfully, it wasn’t about the juice.

It all started with the elevator buttons that morning. That was disconnect numero uno. He wanted to help and push the buttons and I wasn’t patient enough to allow that connection. The connection that translates to a working ebb and flow between a toddler and his parent.

Then buckling him into the car. Hurry. Hurry. Hurry.

Dragging him up seven steps faster than he can keep up. Hurry.

Picking him up from school taking him to the store and not allowing him the opportunity to participate in the grocery shopping because I needed to hurry.

Hurrying into the house as he desperately tried to carry bread and a bag of chips.

With each perpetual hurry, our disconnect grew deeper and deeper until all that remained was an abyss of apple juice and tears. As I stood there holding a bottle of apple juice in one hand and a half-filled cup in another, my throat felt tight.

He laid on the floor with tears pouring from his eyes. I could only think of one thing.

I set down the juice and got down on the floor with him, wrapping my arms around his tiny toddler body. It was time to slow down. It was time to stop the busyness and mend the connection.

We both laid there. He cried. I listened.

Twenty minutes later, his big brown eyes opened and we looked directly at each other. We each said three words.

“See you, mama.”

“See you, son.”

Remembering to slow down.

The disconnect starts when we get caught up in all the busyness of everyday life. That we have to be here and there and hurry up and get it all done.

Because why?

What difference does it make if we are five minutes late for school or take 10 minutes to walk up seven steps? What difference would it make if I took the extra five minutes to let him buckle himself into the car seat because it makes him happy? What difference would it make if I let him take the kid cart and allowed him to help do all the shopping?

A Big Difference.

It’s the difference between nurturing the relationship with my child versus nurturing a relationship with busyness.

It’s the difference between good behavior and poor behavior.

It’s the difference between a meltdown on the floor over apple juice versus avoiding the meltdown altogether.

Minimize power struggles, build connection, slow down.

There are countless ways to incorporate “slow” into your days, but here are a few that come to mind:

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Number 1: Toddlers tend to see the journey as important as the destination. Leaving earlier and improving our own time management skills as parents and caregivers makes a huge difference.

Number 2. Toddlers are happier taking an active role in self-care and daily activities such as calling the elevator, buckling themselves into the car seat, and assisting with grocery shopping.

Number 3. Toddlers notice new things each day in their surroundings. Taking a few minutes to slow down serves as a reminder to appreciate the little things in life. We may see hundreds of dandelions, but we didn’t see this one. Toddlers can help us appreciate each individual dandelion.

Number 4. Toddlers run to the speed of their own clocks. Sometimes their clock runs fast and they won’t sit still for anything. Like when you’re at a restaurant and desperately want your toddler to sit still for five minutes. Other times, their clock is slow as an ant crossing the sidewalk. Your toddler is in the zone and time is standing still.

Learning to slow down is a simple way to nurture the connection with toddlers and prevent meltdowns over juice, elevator buttons, grocery carts and beyond. Because really, it takes less time to slow down than it does to hurry up and quell a meltdown. Parenting epiphany #394.

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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  1. Download the checklist. You’ll get the printable, plus join 37,000+ readers who receive my weekly-ish parenting ideas! Just click here to download and subscribe.
  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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7 Comments

  1. its really fantastic how you captured and summarized the events of that day and their impact on both of you. I have and do go through these moments with my son also. He is now seven so it is a bit different but there is a constant check in my mind about how i am or am not connecting with him and enabling his growth also. thanks for this reminder!!

  2. Too true. Toddlers try so hard. And they want to please and be seen so much. I have a rule for myself that I don’t tell my toddler to “hurry up.” Instead I just try to manage my time better and accept that things take longer with a toddler and sometimes you don’t get everything done.

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