Power Struggles

February 8, 2022

If you choose to engage in a power struggle with your child, you will most likely not emerge the winner. Whether you are an Educator, parent or caregiver, you can probably recall an incident. Maybe it was time to sleep, put on a jacket or use the potty. The thing is, children under the age of five have a limited view of the world. So they aren’t satisfied with “just play tomorrow” or “we need to go right now”. When we can understand why a child power struggles, we can then find effective strategies to avoid the behaviour.

We touched on children needing ownership of their day in our previous blog, Transitions Benefit Development – click here. Similar to the need of ownership of their day, children are seeking opportunities to exercise control. But when you are a young child, exploration of control can bring more frustration than joy. Perhaps your child tried to put on a sock, but there were way too many toes to navigate so the sock is now thrown across the room and you have a toddler rolling around yelling at the top of their lungs. So you may offer to put it on for them, anything just to avoid another blow up. But your child insists they want to do it. A power struggle begins when a child and adult adamantly want different outcomes for a situation. Often ending in the adult raising their voice to assert dominance over the behaviour; in hopes of ending the struggle.

Starting around two years old, a child is developing a sense of self. They begin to be cognizant of their thoughts, emotions and actions. So a child who was previously very agreeable, now seems defiant and argumentative. It’s important to understand that their world used to be small and predictable. Now with options, it can be overwhelming to have many choices. Control brings back a sense of security and predictability for their world. So they fight. They fight to make choices and you do your best to set boundaries to make those choices acceptable. But because they are still in an impulse stage, they basically have a superpower to never back down – especially not when you go head-to-head with them.

Instead, try making it fun. If there’s one thing we can agree on with a child, it’s that they always want to have a giggle and some fun. So maybe the sock is a little monster trying to eat toes. Or the sock is a jumping bean and needs an adult hand to guide through the toes. Bringing in a little humor can surprisingly change a mood. Give it a try next time you’re in a power struggle, you may just find that your voice will lower once you see your child mid tantrum crack a smile at your silliness in moments of struggle.

Your partner-in-learning,
Fiona Abbas-Lee

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