Power Struggles & Helpful Phrases

It’s time to leave for an appointment. “Please get your shoes on and get in your car seat.” Tantrum ensues. 

It’s dinnertime. “You need to eat a few more bites before you can go back to playing.” Cue whining.

It’s bedtime. “Please put away your toys and get your pajamas.” Commence exhausting power struggle that leaves both you and your child emotionally spent.

Sound familiar?

We are acting in our child’s best interest: they need to see the dentist. You need to go grocery shopping to feed your family. They need to consume something containing nutrients. But why does doing the right thing for them have to be so hard?

Young children have a challenging time with transitions, particularly if they have to stop doing something they are enjoying. It makes sense. You don’t like being interrupted when you are doing something important, do you? Children are the same way. Remember, their play is their work: it’s how they learn, how their brains develop, how they come to understand the world, and how they learn to interact with others. When you interrupt their work in order to get to meet your schedule’s demands, you are cutting short your child’s serious learning. Of course they’re going to push back.

What your child needs to ease this transition is not an ultimatum or threat of a negative consequence; what they need is empathy. You know what it’s like to be interrupted. It is unpleasant to cut short something you are enjoying in order to do something you do not want to do. Remember that feeling. You have learned through time and maturity to cope with that negative emotion, but your child hasn’t. So show them that you get it.

This is where helpful phrases come in handy. Helpful phrases are an extra tool in your parenting tool-box. They can help defuse a tense situation, ease a transition, and lessen a power struggle. 

Your little one doesn’t want to stop playing to put on shoes? Instead of raising your voice and counting to three and ending the whole exchange with tears, try “you wish you could.” “You wish you could keep playing. I know. I wish you could too.” You still gently insist your child gets on their shoes and heads to the door, but you express understanding for their feelings.

Your child doesn’t want to eat dinner? Instead of telling them they cannot leave the table until they clear their plate, try you don’t like that.” “You don’t like this dinner and wish you could have something else.” Nod your head. Continue eating your own dinner. They feel validated but see through your modeling that no other food will be offered. Maybe they’ll give it another shot.

When it’s time to clean up and get ready for bed, and your child starts pushing back, try this is hard for you. “It is time to put away your game. I see you want to keep playing and stay up late. This is hard for you. I will help you.” 

Look over the helpful phrases cheat sheet that we gave you, if you haven’t already. Memorize a few. Try them out. Let us know if they help. 


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