How To Deal with Toddler Power Struggles

By Jessica Streit

The “terrible two’s,” you’ve heard of them right? If you’ve been through them you know it’s also the “terrible three’s,” sometimes the “terrible four’s,” and even the “terrible five’s.” Toddler tantrums are a natural part of every child’s life but if they aren’t dealt with early on, the can persist for years.

It is in every parent’s best interest to address toddler power struggles early on. To begin this it is important to know why toddler tantrums begin in the first place.

Toddlers are just beginning to learn about control. They are discovering that they can control what they eat, what they wear or whether they will take a bath or not. As they discover their ability to control situations, they test them and usually quite often.

Tip 1 - If they want control, let them have it. Pick your battles.

When dealing with a toddler who wants to be in control, make sure you give him or her a chance to be in control. When pulling out clothes to wear, provide your child with two options and allowing her to choose which she wants. This allows you to the opportunity to provide appropriate attire and gives her the chance to feel in control. When it’s time for lunch, allow your child to pick between two acceptable items.

There may come a time when your little firefighter wants to wear his rain boots. Every. Single. Day. You’ll have a choice to make but why not let him wear them? We all expect toddlers to walk around in something like that. I always looked forward to the day when my own son would run through the house in cowboy boots, a super hero cape and firefighter boots. It’s a part of development that most children go through. Pick your battles here.

Tip 2 - Provide as much structure as possible.

Another reason toddlers get into power struggles that result in temper tantrums is due to dealing with the unknown. Create routines for the morning so that your child knows after breakfast you brush teeth and get dressed. Do the same for as much of the day as possible. Every morning go over what will happen that day. This way your child knows that after you get through errands they will get to go to the park. And when time at the park is over, your toddler knows it will be time to go home for a nap. Providing this information before-hand may not eliminate all meltdowns but it should decrease them.

Tip 3- Provide time limits. 

While you are at the park, offer time limits throughout your time there. When you get there, provide your child a time limit. State that you will be able to play for 30 minutes and then it will be time to go home. After 15 minutes have passed, give a warning that there is 15 minutes remaining. Repeat this at 5 and 1 minute. Providing time limits gives your child time to prepare for the transition to the next activity.

Tip 4 - Create smooth transitions. 

Transition times are very difficult for toddlers to deal with, especially if they are not sure of what is to come. Providing time limits and warnings will help your child anticipate a change in their activity. Setting a timer may help your child prepare for quitting their play or singing a clean up song may help them complete this less than desirable chore.

If a power struggle begins at transition time, be firm yet reassuring. Remind your child that you gave them a warning about the time limit and now that time is up. State again that they must now follow directions but will have the chance to do something desirable later in the day. Provide feedback that they are doing a good job along the way. Reassuring him will alleviate some of the stress he may be having due to the transition.

Tip 5 - Find times to say “yes.” 

 “No, don’t touch that.”

 “No, you can’t go outside to play.”

 “No, you can’t have ice cream.”

Parents are often telling their toddler children “no.” Toddlers ask a lot of questions and get into predicaments as they explore and learn about their world. Eventually they are going to get tired of hearing “no” so much. Try to find times to say “yes.”

If your child asks to skip their bath one night, say “yes” if they aren’t really that dirty. If they ask for cereal for dinner one night, there’s no reason you can’t say “yes” once in awhile. Saying “yes” gives your toddler a feeling of control. They don’t need to know that the issue they are fighting for isn’t really an issue at all.

I’ll never forget the night my young son asked to sleep in his rain boots. I said, “yes, just let me wipe them down first.” He looked at me and asked “really?” And why not, he went to bed happy and it didn’t hurt a thing.

Finally, remember that toddler tantrums can sometimes come from nowhere but they do eventually pass. Remain firm, consistent and reassuring and eventually this phase will pass on and you’ll have your adorable child back. 

Jessica Streit is an educator, freelance writer and single mom of 2 boys. Her writing can be found on a variety of topics including personal finance, education and parenting. She blogs about overcoming debt and living a royal life on a budget at The Debt Princess.