Positive Discipline to Minimize Power Struggles With Your Toddler

Sometimes a little creativity goes a long way in avoiding a battle.

If you are a parent of a toddler, I’m sure you’ve heard someone remark, “You better  watch out, she’s going to be even worse as a teenager!”

That comment has always baffled me. It doesn’t feel particularly helpful in the moment of dealing with an oppositional toddler.

I won’t lie about the trepidation I feel about raising a teenager, but I also know principles that are taught now will carry through her childhood and adolescence.

Our toddlers and preschoolers are developing their voice and their will, as they should. I want my daughter to be strong and assertive, but I also desire to teach her the importance of respect and compliance.

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There are definitely times when I do expect obedience, but those times are not as often as I’d like to think. Sometimes creative, positive discipline techniques are what are necessary.

I’ve found a few strategies to minimize those power struggles that every parent can benefit from:

Recognize your child’s personality

My little girl certainly acts like a first-born with a strong personality and a propensity to push back if I dig in. I’m learning to pick my battles, although I still find myself in situations where I realize too late that I picked the wrong battle. 

For as strong as she is, she is also very tender-hearted and can often be reasoned with if I get down to her level, hold her on my lap and speak softly. When I insist—instead of reason—we often have a battle. 

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Maximize your child’s independence 

My sweet one is naturally competitive and social. She wants to be near me and likes to have my help when cleaning up her toys. By making a game out of it, I avoid a power struggle. 

Who can clean up the dolls the fastest?
I’m going to pick up the red blocks; what color are you going to pick up?
I’m going to pick up 3 books; how many are you going to pick up?
You’re so strong, can you pick up all the books?
Anything to make that competitive nature kick in!

Incorporate fun into completing tasks 

We’ve discovered a freeze dance on Spotify where instructions for a certain movement are given and then when the music stops, you freeze. 

When the (inevitable) bedtime power struggle began with getting pajamas on one night, I had an idea to freeze dance our way into the PJs. In a sing-songy voice I chanted “jammies on, jammies on, jammies on and freeze!” Her face went from mischief to delight in no time and she came right over to get her pajamas on.

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Another night after the magic of “brush your teeth and freeze” had worn off, I told her I needed to get all the blueberries out of her teeth. She willingly opened her mouth as I started looking for others things we had to eat that day. She started giggling (and drooling profusely) when I found dirt, spider legs and pillows in there too!

Additionally, when asking her favorite stuffed animal to help her clean up or get dressed, I was able to shift the focus off of her need to be in control. Simply saying, “Puppy, can you help take the toys into the bedroom?” puts a smile on her face and gets her moving in the right direction.

The more often I practice creativity in my parenting, the more natural it becomes for me.  When I slow down and seek to interact with my daughter in a positive way, my daughter is more likely to be obedient and I am able to minimize power struggles.

How do you creatively avoid power struggles?

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Annie Wiesman

Annie Wiesman

Annie Wiesman is the co-author of “Education Begins at Birth: A Parent’s Guide to Preparing Infants, Toddlers, and Preschoolers for Kindergarten.” She is a former kindergarten teacher turned stay-at-home mom who enjoys traveling, hiking in the mountains, and creating memories together with her husband and little girl.

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