Unfortunately, kids have total control over these 3 things….
I’ll give you a hint – it’s the three things you probably have the most battles with when it comes to parenting young children.
Getting your kids to eat
Getting your kids to go to the bathroom
Getting your kids to go to sleep
If you haven’t figured it out yet, we literally cannot force them to do any of these. The struggle is real, the POWER STRUGGLE that is.
But perhaps by understanding a child’s need for power – we can make these issues, and others, less of a struggle.
Every human is born with the (healthy) need for power. Even babies, it’s not easy changing their diaper because they are rolling all around, right? That’s them, having power. Same thing when they are smacking the spoonful of pureed baby food out of your hand.
The need for power is defined as the desire to control or influence others.
That sounds bad though, doesn’t it? “Control others” just sounds harsh – and bossy. Sometimes it can be, but let’s think of the need for power as a positive, healthy, and perfectly human thing. Picture your child having an “invisible power” bucket” over their head. When this bucket is empty or close to, this is when you will have the most power struggles with that child. They feel like they have no control over anything, so they will try to control what they can – and if it’s eating, bathroom, or sleeping – sorry Mama, the ball is in their court.
You have brains in your head,
You have feet in your shoes,
You can steer yourself in any direction you choose.
— Dr. Seuss
Young kids, especially toddlers, lack opportunities for power. They are still learning how to communicate, and therefore can’t explain to you what they’d like to eat, what they’d like to wear, if they just want to stay home and relax, or if they are getting antsy and could really use a run around the playground. They are also still learning the difference between right and wrong, and are constantly trying to push the limit (aka push your buttons!) . Your child will most likely realize that you, the parent, cannot make them eat, pee, or sleep. They have control over those 3 things – and if their control bucket is empty, they will use these 3 opportunities to fill it up. And having control to a toddler means doing the exact opposite of what you want them to do. “Eat your food” NOPE. “Go potty” NOPE. “Go to sleep!” I WILL WHEN I WANT TO.
So what do we do? We need our kids to eat, pee, and sleep – and preferably without us ripping our hair out and wishing we could fast forward through these highly stressful years of parenting!
Keep their control “bucket” filled. Give them choices every day that offer a win-win situation.
- Do you want to wear this shirt, or this one?
- Would you like to go play at the mall or the park?
- Should we have broccoli or green beans with dinner?
- Do you think I should wear these shoes, or these ones?
- Pick out any 3 books for me to read before nap.
- Would you like to put your clothes away, or help me unload the dishwasher?
Do you see how each of these examples lead to a positive result? Yet you are filling their power bucket – which ultimately, believe it or not – will make them more adaptable when you need to control and influence them. They will feel like they have a say in enough situations, and will be more likely to obey without problems when it’s your turn to make the decision.
Giving them choices IS NOT giving in to their demands. It’s not, “OK fine! You can have the candy”, or “UGH, whatever, yes just skip nap today”. You are simply helping them feel like they have control of certain things, this does not make them THE BOSS of everything.
If you find yourself in a power struggle situation, try offering two situations (make sure it’s a win-win for both of you). For example, a child not wanting to walk from the car to the store – you could ask “hey bud, do you want to hold this hand? Or this one?” (your left hand, or right hand). Or, “we are going to walk into the store now – do you want to ride in the cart, or help me push it?”
Let me give some examples that pertain to the three main battles we are talking about:
Getting your kids to eat:
- “Do you want to eat the peas first? Or the chicken?” (I expect you to eat both, but you have control over which one you eat first)
- “Do you want cheese on your eggs? Or plain eggs?” (I expect you to eat your eggs, but you have control over whether you want cheese on them or not)
- “Would you like ranch with the carrots? Or no ranch?” (I expect you to eat your veggies, but you have control whether you want to dip them in ranch or not)
Getting your kids to go to the bathroom:
- “We all need to go potty before we leave, do you want to go in the main bathroom? Or Mom & Dad’s bathroom?”
- “I need you to take a potty break – do you want to skip to the bathroom, or walk backwards to the bathroom?”
- “I need you to go potty before bed, what song would you like me to sing while you’re going to the bathroom?”
Getting your kids to bed :
This is the one situation I honestly don’t use choices with, we’ve always had a good bedtime routine and my kids know I’m not messing around when it comes to bedtime. I’ll read a few books and then Mom clocks out! Here are some examples though if you do feel like choices would help.
- “After we read a book, it’s lights out and time for bed. Would you like to pick out the book for tonight? Or do you want me to pick one?”
- “I need you to lay your body down, do you want your head on the pillow or off the pillow?”
- “I need you to stay in bed, and rest your body so you have energy for tomorrow – do you want to sleep with this teddy bear? Or the brown bunny?”
Best of luck to you Mama, and remember – your child has a healthy need for power, so keep their “invisible power bucket” filled with healthy, positive choices – so they don’t look for other ways to fill it.