My Toddler Is Driving Me Crazy! Learn to Stop Power Struggles

Raising children is not for the weary. Parenting is a 24-7 job that relentlessly demands our best self and every ounce of energy and love we have to give. What many parents don't realize is that parenting can be much easier and a whole lot more fun! Learning how to redirect children's misbehavior is a life-safer! And adding a few parenting skills to your tool belt infuses a parent with confidence that helps to destress our hectic parenting lives.

My toddler is exhausting usMornings can be hectic especially when working parents need to drop their kids off before heading to work. Often, one of the hardest moments can be simply getting your toddler in their car seat for safety. Which scenario most resembles your morning transition from home into the car with your toddler?

How to Get a Toddler to Sit in Their Carseat?

Unhappy toddler being buckled in a car seat


Do you struggle to get your child into their car seat? Do you sometimes overpower your toddler, holding them down as you buckle them in securely?

Does your child cry on the way to school while you're feeling frustrated or a little guilty? Or do you bribe your toddler with a sweet treat or new toy if they cooperate? Neither scenario creates good feelings in the child or the parent.


Eliminate power struggles with your toddler 

Or this?

Does your toddler willingly climb into their car seat or allow you to lift them in without a single complaint?

Do giggles float into the air as you tickle them? Is the drive to school a pleasant experience? Are you feeling guilty as you drop your child off upset?

How Power Struggles Are Unnecessarily Created

Life with a toddler can be exasperating and challenging. One day your toddler wants to crawl into their car seat "all by themselves!" The next day they're acting helpless or refuse to get in their car seat. One minute they want an apple and as soon as you slice an apple, they beg for a banana. And after receiving a peeled banana, they're crying because you peeled it for them! Laughing can turn to a full-blown battle in seconds!

I feel for you! Power struggles are one of the biggest complaints I hear from parents. After nearly two decades of teaching parenting classes, behavioral consulting, and conducting family home visits, I have some great news for you! When you understand what fuels this behavior, you'll be able to nip power struggles in the bud.

Small toddlers spend much of their time in an adult world staring at kneecaps. Can you imagine a world where you are smaller and slower than most everyone else? It would be a very frustrating and disempowering experience. These little people just need to feel a little power. A human need for all of us is to feel power in our lives, like we have some say-so. A little child is no different. Plus, toddlers have a higher need to feel power consistently because they're busy growing autonomy and independence. So even though it may be frustrating, a toddler's job IS to test and push the limits to develop their self-identity.

So, relax. You're not a bad parent just because your toddler engages in a battle of wills. You're not failing as a parent when your toddler's temper tantrums upset you. And I'll bet you'd like some effective tools to prevent battles and make your life more peaceful, wouldn't you?
Cute toddler trying on sunglasses

How to Turn Battles of Wills to Cooperation

A great way to lessen conflicts with your toddler is by giving him or her an appropriate sense of power. Throughout the day, ask yourself, “How can I give my child power in an appropriate way?” Master this art and your parenting will be filled with a lot more ease and fun.

Below are some great ways to give power appropriately. This actions prevent power struggles from ever getting the best of you! And to redirect resistance when you find yourself in the middle of one of those battles.

Offer Choices to Prevent Power Struggles

Choices help children feel powerful since they get to have some input. Giving choices is especially effective for strong-willed toddlers. One of the reasons that choices are so essential is that children learn that life is about give and take. They learn by experience that every time they say “yes” to something, they are saying “no” to something else. 

So in the morning when you're trying to rush off to work and your toddler won't get in their car seat, offer a choice. For instance: “Would you like to climb into your car seat all by yourself, or do you want daddy to help you?” or “Would you like to be mommy’s co-pilot today? Hop into your car seat and off we’ll go.” It only takes a few seconds but choices make a dramatic difference in how your child feels.

And then there are those times when the only choice we have is to have a good attitude. We can’t always give choices, but if we give them regularly many power struggles can be eliminated.

TIP:  Give choices that you're in agreement with and be sure you're willing to follow through on what your child chooses.

Parents: Use Fewer Words!

Often parents use way too many words. Young children don’t have the vocabulary developed many times to understand much of what we say. Try using one word or fewer words to get your point across.

The key is to request a child to do something once and then follow through with love and firm action. Remember, the less words you use the better. You can even act without words. For a young child who forgets to brush her teeth, just hand her the toothbrush and smile.

Empathize with Your Toddler

Another way to diffuse the emotion of a battling toddler is to empathize. It is easy to forget that small children are at the mercy of our schedules. They are often whisked off at a moment’s notice to go to the grocery store or on errands or to their sibling's little league soccer game. All these unexpected changes can make a toddler feel like they don't have any say-so or power in their lives.

A mother empathizing with her childJust the simple act of empathizing that he or she doesn’t like being in a car seat helps the child feel understood. For example, “You really don’t want to be in your car seat right now, do you!?” or “You sound very upset. You’d like to stay at the park longer, wouldn’t you?”

Once while teaching a parenting class, a woman complained about her toddler screaming at the top of his lungs for 40 minutes as they commuted to work. He hated being in the car seat and fought the confinement. When I suggested she empathize, she scoffed at the simplicity of my suggestion. However, when she returned the following week to the next class, she was excited to report that she tried it and it worked! She was amazed that when she let her son know that she understood his objection sincerely, he immediately stopped crying and nodded his head adamantly in agreement!

So don't underestimate these simple yet powerful suggestions.

Do you want to learn more about empathy, check out our blog, "What Is Empathy and Why Is It Important?" If you'd like to develop and better hone your empathy skills, check out our empathy workbook we developed because we believe so much in its magic.

Do the Unexpected

A great way to interrupt unwanted behavior is by doing something unexpected.  In the middle of a power struggle, ask yourself, “What would be the most unexpected thing to do?” This can be fun and lighten up most conflicts. Just make sure that your response or action doesn't humiliate or make fun of the child.

For example, one mom who homeschooled her children got creative when her son acted helpless and complained that he couldn't do a simple math lesson. The mom pretended very dramatically that she couldn't lift a pencil and acted out the helplessness in such a funny way that her son started to giggle. Her playfulness instantly interrupted his attempt to get attention in a negative way and he went right back to his schoolwork with a smile on his face.

I'll never forget one evening when my daughter was about seven or eight. She and I had just finished a lovely time playing games, and it was nearing bedtime. When I asked her to get ready for bed, she started digging in her heels with combative words. As I walked into the kitchen reflecting how to respond, I spotted some paper towels. I grabbed several off the roll and wet them, flinging them one at a time quickly at my daughter. Before I knew it, she was hurling them right back at me, and I returned fire! Soon we were both laughing so hard that we cried. Then suddenly, she said sweetly, "Goodnight mom!" and went off to get ready for bed willingly.

In a school setting: One preschool teacher gave “forgiveness baths” to her students. Whenever two children would get mad at each other and come tattling, she would say, “It looks like you two need to hop in a forgiveness bath.” Then she would put them both on her knees and say to one child, “Okay you turn on the water” and to the other, “you add the soap.” She would then move them around in her arms, bouncing them on her knees like an agitating washing machine. They would laugh and pretty soon the whole class would be lining up for a forgiveness bath.

So much more fun than a battle of the wills! Toddler discipline doesn't need to be unpleasant or end in time-out.

Make the Task Fun

One last tool to put in your parenting toolbelt is to simply make tasks more fun. Children are all about exploration and fun and really aren't trying to make your life difficult. 

A mom making the task funOne family set a timer for 15 minutes every night and they all dashed around cleaning up the house as fast as they could using a different tune each night. When the timer went off they stopped.

Another example we used by a very ingenious mother. She handled her son's messiness in a unique way. Her young son kept forgetting to pick up his dirty clothes. She knew how much he loved playing basketball so she hung a lightweight clothes basket on a hook of his closet door. He shot hoops using his clothes and totally solved the problem!

Brain research has proven that children learn faster and retain more when they are having fun.

Now I know that life isn't always fun. And our children can't always get their way. Sometimes we need to be loving and firm by setting appropriate limits and following up with consequences that teach important lessons. However, if you follow these parenting tips and strategies regularly, you will be pleasantly surprised just how quickly your relationship will shift and how power struggles will decrease.

Many times these actions seem so simple that we tend to dismiss them. Do not underestimate the power of a friendly smile and sparkling eyes. Do not underestimate the power of choices or the magic of fun.

Yet, nothing works all the time. Our results depend on many factors: how old the child is, if our relationship is strained or not, if we respond with frustration or kindness, if we are consistent with our follow through, how our actions are perceived by the child, whether our child is tired or hungry—whether WE are tired and hungry!

Pick just one suggestion that resonates with you and try it out. When you build strong bridges with the your children by respecting their needs, emotions, and desires, you'll find an incredible freedom and ease unfolding.

Parenting is a difficult, complex, and often challenging job. Parenting is also amazing, fulfilling, and rewarding. The best parenting advice is to keep your eye on the target of your long-term goals for your children. Stay attuned to your deep love for your children! Remember, they are not adults in small bodies.

And you're not just parenting, you're creating fertile ground for the budding of incredible human beings that will grow up and become productive, loving, and contributing members of our communitiesor not.

Related reading: "Visionary Parenting Is the Key to Capable and Happy Children."

NOTE: The principles shared in this blog are taken directly from the Redirecting Children's Behavior parenting class that is taught by Heartmanity. For parenting support, more positive discipline ideas, and proven tools for conscious parenting, sign up now for one of our parenting classes or parent coaching.

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Jennifer A. Williams / Parent CoachJennifer A. Williams / Parent Coach
Jennifer is the Heartmanity Founder and a parent coach and behavioral consultant with two decades of experience. She is a Parent Instructor and Instructor Trainer for the International Network of Children and Families and author of several parenting courses, including How to Bully-Proof Your Child and Hacking the Teen Brain. Jennifer is happily married and a mother to 3 fantastic grown children.

Posted in Perfectly Imperfect Parenting

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