Every day feels like a power struggle.  Every day, you tell your kid to do something and no matter what, they refuse.  They scream.  They tantrum.

This is a common scenario.  You won’t see it happen in other families because it usually happens at home so you feel like you are the only one going through this, but in reality, this is happening in homes across the country. 

You can get rid of power struggles completely but you can have fewer.

Let’s start here: Power struggles are born from a place where either the parent has too much power or the child has too much power.  Then power struggles are fuel when there is inconsistency and insecurity.

Ok.  Let’s break that down.  

Power struggles are born from a place where either the parent has too much power or the kid has too much power. 

The parent having too much power is when an order or directive is given.  A common one is “Eat your dinner.”  There is no input from the child on how hungry they are, what kind of food they have already this week, what kind of food they prefer, how they are feeling, when did they last eat, etc. 

The kid having too much power is when they tell the parents that they only want this certain kind of food.  But they don’t want it touching other food, they don’t like the texture this time, they don’t want it on the red plate, they only want the one part and not the other part etc.  

balance of power is where a parent makes a boundary with input from the child. 

So the parent would make the same food for the whole family with at least one item that they know the child has like in the past and then the child has the input of what they eat from that plate.   But just because you have a balance of power in this situation, it doesn’t mean that you will get rid of the power struggle. 

If the child has gotten their way in the past by screaming longer and tantruming more, then they will try that strategy again to see if they can get the upper hand.

So the child will keep making demands about them meal and the food and the parent will hold the boundary and not give in.  The child will cry and scream and tantrum and if the parent is consistent, then the child will start to feel more secure, they will know what to expect and the power struggles will slowly start to go away.

Kids need consistency.  Kids need security.  Kids need to know what is going to happen.

So after a period of time where you have found the balance of power and you have been consistent on your part of holding the line while asking for input, the child will approach these difficult situations (taking a bath, mealtimes, bedtime) with the security of knowing exactly what is going to happen.  

When we wake up in the morning, we aren’t thinking, “Hey, I’d love to pay the bills today!”  Same thing with toddlers.  They aren’t consciously thinking, “Hey, I’m gonna scream for 20 minutes today to get my way!”

But just like paying the bills is our job, throwing a tantrum is a toddler’s job.  They have to do it.  So we can wake up hoping that maybe today, they won’t tantrum, but that would be like waking up and hoping that maybe we won’t have to pay the bills.

Don’t dread the tantrums, and don’t get angry either.  I would love to see someone getting angry at the bank because we have to pay our mortgage (people do, by the way).  But it doesn’t make sense.

We want to get so angry when they start to tantrum.  We want to yell and scream back and we want to tell them to stop.  But it is their job to do tantrum, so let them do it and just be there for them when they are done.

So WHY do toddlers tantrum.  Why is this something that every child does?  When kids are born, they aren’t given instructions for what is allowed and how things work.  So they are constantly trying to find out that information.  They want to know if it is OK to stay up and not go to sleep.  They trying to figure out, “Am I allowed to pull the cat’s hair?”  and “Should I throw this bowl across the room?”  The answer may sometimes be yes, but more often than not, the answer is no.  So then they tantrum and cry and that is ok!

I was watching a family in the library last weekend and they had a toddler and the mom kept saying that it was time to go.  Every single time that she tried to get him away from the trains, the smallest whine and the first little twinklings of a tantrum would appear.  The mom would immediately back off and let him play more.  She forgot that the kid’s job is to tantrum. She was trying to avoid him doing his job and therefore, he was learning that all he has to do is tantrum a little bit more and he’ll get to stay even longer next time.  Let them tantrum!  It’s OK!

Do you want a quick fix to help behavior?

Try this!  Be curious!

How does this work?  Ask a lot of questions; in your head and out loud.

Most behavior problems are learning opportunities so it will help minimize anger, frustration and short fuses if you start asking questions and start being curious.

Here’s a scenario:

Your child smeared poop all over the bathroom walls.

If you are not curious at all, you would get mad and start yelling and punish your ridiculous child for smearing poop everywhere. Why in the world would he do such a thing?!?

But then if you are curious, you would actually ask; Why would he do that? You can ask your child directly if they are verbal and say, “Hmmm.  That is interesting. How did poop get on the walls?”  Or you can be curious, look for clues, try and see what might have inspired him to do art with poop.  Did he have poop on his hands and didn’t know what to do?  Was he trying to be independent and didn’t have the motor skills to do things on his own and therefore accidentally got poop on the walls?  Was he wondering what would happen?  Did he just see some cool art and wanted to recreate it?

Chances are that he didn’t do it with the intention to make you mad (although that option does exist and shouldn’t be ruled out in all cases) but that he did it in a way to learn something.

So talking with your child and having him help you find a solution (“We can’t have poop on our walls- how should we clean it?”) will help immensely with behavior.  When children feel heard, when they have some part of problem solving and when they have a little bit of control, they don’t need to take control through temper tantrums.

I just read a post this morning about asking people to “Guess the Good Reasons” and it was in reference to rude people out in the world.  It was talking about the back story of why someone cut you off in traffic or why their child was melting down in the checkout aisle.  We don’t know what is happening in their life and we shouldn’t judge.

It is the same with our children.  We need to Guess the Good Reasons for their behavior.  What is their back story?  Being curious will not only help our children’s behavior but it will also help us manage our frustration with them.

Picture this:

Your toddler just chased after your cat and then full-on hit your cat with her toy.

Or:

Your 4 and a half-year old just went up to his baby sister and pulled her hair.

Or:

You walk in on your 3-year-old twins with everything in the kitchen thrown everywhere.

Your first response?

“Why did you just do that?”

There’s really no point to this question even though we ask it all the time.

“Why did you just do that?”

This question looks to find out the reason behind the behavior, but we already know the reason.  Just look online for toddler behavior and you’ll hear about children throwing their food, hitting their sibling, drawing on the couch.  Why did they do it?  Because they are toddler’s that’s why.  What is the answer that we are looking for when we ask that question?

The reason so many parents ask this question is because they want to start the problem solving process by asking this question.  When we ask, “Why did you do that?!?” we want the child to say, “Well, I hit my sister because we both wanted the same toy, and I figured that I could get the toy if I hit her and she started crying.”  Then, in this ideal world, we say, “So you both wanted the same toy and so you hit your sister, however, hitting is not ok.  What are some other solutions if you both want the same toy?”  Funny enough, I don’t think this scenario has ever actually happened in real life.

Instead of asking this silly question that has no answer; start the problem solving process right away.  What are the steps to problem solving?

First, Identify the problem:

“Uh oh!  Your sister is crying… What is the problem?”

“Did you both want the same toy?  Is that the problem?”

Then, brainstorm some solutions:

“What are some solutions?  You could both take a break from the toy.  We could find a different toy to play with.  Or you can give your sister a turn for two minutes and then you can have a turn with the toy. Or do you have another idea?”

Then, choose a solution:

“Which solution works best for you?”  Depending on your child’s age, you may have to choose for her or you can offer to choose it they are not sure.  I usually choose the worst solution which is putting the toy away.

Finally, see if the problem was solved:

“Did that work?  Did you both get a turn?”

Sometimes the last step is the one that falls apart since toddlers tend to forget things and parents will use that to their advantage, but it is actually really important to follow through and at least check in (“your sister is done with the toy, did you still want your turn?”) because you want to build these skills so that your children are problem solving on their own in a couple of years.

This will drastically improve your children’s behavior as well as create more harmony in the house.

So change your one question from “Why did you just do that?”  To “What is the problem?” for better behavior today!

As very young children get older, they start to become more independent.  But there are two things working against that independence.

1) They don’t fully understand all the implications of independence, (i.e. responsibility, safety and sometimes independence is scary)


2) We aren’t always ready to give them independence because they are still our babies.


Because of these two obstacles, independence often takes the form of defiance. 


My two-year old (almost three-year old) boys are dabbling in defiance.  I am slowly giving them more independence-

  • They can get in and out of bed by themselves
  • They can wash their hands by themselves
  • They can get dressed by themselves
  • They can prepare some of their food by themselves

But really, they don’t have that much independence yet and as they grow older, they will request more.

How do they do this?

By asserting themselves.


This comes across as being defiant.  But a child who has opportunities throughout the day to be independent will be less defiant.


How does this work?  Well, this goes hand in hand with the “giving-children-more-opportunities-for-risk” post.  


It is hard to allow children to fail, fall, hurt, cry, or fumble but we need to give our children those opportunities and it will help with the defiance we see in young children as well as the defiance we see in teenagers. 


We have scares, and like many parents, we have them often.  But instead of shielding and sheltering my children more, I love feeling the confidence of a child who just learned that it is not OK to play behind a truck.  So that if he ever finds himself in a place behind a truck that is starting, he will get out of there and not wait for someone to come get him.

A child who is acting defiant is a child who needs more independence.

What does this look like and what can parents do?

Let’s say you are getting ready for bed and your child starts acting up.

“NOooo!”

or

“I don’t like those pajamas!”

or however it manifests in your household.

These are all signs of defiance that could be turned into independence.

Your child can take control over what pajamas they want to wear.  They can have control over who brushes their teeth.  And of course they have the independence to choose what book to read.

These are all easy ways to give our children more independence that they are craving.

They are asserting themselves as individuals and we need to give them that opportunity.

Here’s another thought:

If we give children more opportunities to assert their Independence throughout the day, will they ultimately be less defiant?

Try it tomorrow and see what happens.

 

Oh my goodness. If you haven’t seen this book yet, go check it out.

The Little Tree by Loren Long is about a tree that wants to hold on to its leaves.

There are a lot of things that we want to hold on to and it shows up in our bodies in a not great way.

The word that Loren Long uses over and over again is, “tight,”

That’s how it feels.  Your back? tight.  Your neck? tight.  Your body? tight.

We know that it isn’t healthy for us to hold on to this and to create this tension so teaching this idea at a young age is genius. We can show our kids how tight feels and how letting go feels.

When you get to the part where little tree lets go, watch your child.  Watch how things float away.  Watch their body and watch how it melts.

It’s magical.

Get this book and read it.  It will help you as well!

 

Have you ever yelled at your children?  Have your children gotten angry and screamed at you or threw things?  You may feel like your family is the only family that ever gets angry, but the truth is that everyone feels anger and that feeling angry is perfectly OK.  But what do we do when we feel angry, or after we feel angry?  We weren’t really ever taught how to deal with it, so it is important that we teach our own kids about this unique emotion.

A lot of parents shy away from showing or talking about strong emotions.  We were brought up to think that emotions should be hidden.  But teaching empathy and talking about our emotions is the healthiest way to take care of our minds and bodies.

So we are going to get angry.  And our children are going to get angry.  And that is perfectly OK.  But we also talk about it and read about it.

My favorite book about anger is When Sophie Gets Angry, Really, Really Angry… By Molly Bang

Here’s why:

It’s the classic kid problem.  Both kids want the same thing.  How often does this happen?  Every. Single. Day. About a hundred times.   The classic kid response to this classic kid problem?  Anger. 

The description of anger is dead on.  She is like a volcano, she is like a tiger.  She wants to roar.  She feels like she is going to explode.  That is exactly how I feel.

How she deals with it.  She runs. She leaves.  She doesn’t hurt anyone. She breathes.  She cries.  She stops and she starts coming back through awareness of her surroundings.  It’s like Buddha wrote this book.  It is so sweet. 

Connection to nature. Being outdoors.  I heard someone say once that it is impossible to be angry while looking at a rainbow.  Sometimes just getting outside will help with our emotions and this is exactly what Sophie does. 

It’s an example of a perfect time out.  Time outs are effective when they are used as a calming down strategy.  The strategy is talked about before the child gets angry and is modeled by the parent.  So when I get angry, I say, “I’m going to take some space like Sophie and take some deep breaths.”  Then later, I can talk about how I calmed myself down and read the book again with my children.  When they get really angry, I can offer, “Do you want to take some time like Sophie?  Do you want to go outside by the tree like Sophie?”

Kids really relate to this book and it is perfect for teaching children about anger, emotions and empathy.

 

 

 

love

Is your child fussing up a storm right now because you told her that she can’t have the one thing that she wants?  That sounds about right.

And as parents, we need to set limits so we keep telling her no.

And that just makes her fuss more so we want to give in so that the fussing can end.  But here’s what you can say,

You can’t have that one thing that you want, but you can have lots and lots of love.

Tonight was tough because everyone was tired and when papa came to give good night kisses, one of my boys refused.  So we said, that’s ok if you don’t want a kiss and a hug, now it’s time to go to bed.

Ten minutes later, when I was laying with the boys, a quiet voice said, “I want a kiss and hug from papa.”  Who in their right mind would refuse that?  Oh man, how sweet.  So there I was, smack in the middle of every parent’s dilemma.  Do I just give in and let him have this that will help him fall asleep? Or do I hold my ground?

I said,

You can’t have a kiss and hug from papa now, but you can have lots and lots of love from me.

Trust me, this wasn’t the first time that this has happened.

My boys are typical toddlers and they fuss about what they want, then they change their mind and then they fuss some more.  And as parents, we need to set limits but we also want to parent in a positive way.   So as soon as we tell them that they can’t have what they want, they start to fuss.  They start to yell, cry, kick, scream and throw themselves on the ground.  We want to follow through and not let them get whatever they ask for, but we also don’t want to yell, kick and scream back at them.

So we hold our ground, follow through, and still give them all the love that they need.

Let’s say that your child wants the green shirt.  So you give him the green shirt.  Then two seconds later, he spills juice on the green shirt.  This is a recipe for disaster.

I probably don’t have to go into describing the following scene which then gives you three choices:

  1. You can clean the juice off the shirt, run it through the dryer, and move on with your day
  2. You can take the shirt, prepare for the tantrum storm, deal with the tantrum in whatever way you can for that day or
  3. You can take the shirt and give a big hug with lots of kisses and snuggles (which probably won’t be taken) and say:

You can’t have that shirt, but you can have lots of love and hugs from mama.

I’ve been talking a lot lately about positive parenting and time outs and this is where we set limits and clear and consistent boundaries in a positive way.

 

Most parents are wondering what to do when their child is having a tantrum, or what to do when they are hitting.   But a lot of parenting challenges can be resolved when everyone is calm.

Sometimes we don’t take advantage of this time because we might forget. But even more often, we don’t want to “rock the boat” when things are good.  We don’t want to lose the good part by bringing up the bad part.

But don’t be afraid!

There are a lot of things you can do when things are calm to help the times that aren’t calm.

Each situation is a little bit different on how to handle the behavior, but here are ten things you can do when everyone is in a good mood:

1) Teach calming down strategies

The best strategy for calming down is to take a deep breath.  It works for kids, it works for adults.  Young children love imagery so you can say, “Smell the flowers. Blow out the candle.”  You may not think that you have to practice, but when everyone is in the heat of the moment, breathing deeper is a lot harder than you’d think.  If you are eating dinner together, you can start the meal with two deep breaths.  That helps your daily practice, as well as setting the stage for a nice meal.  Another strategy for calming down is taking space.  You can talk to your kids about taking space and how it helps calm you down and then actually act it out.  Pretend that you are upset and then go into your room.  Come out a minute later much calmer and talk about how taking space helped.

2) Read a book together

There are many great anger and tantrum books out there that you can read with your children, but the best book that you can use to help your child is one that you wrote about your situation.  Does your child always get upset about their little brother? Write a book about it with real pictures!  Does your child throw things all the time?  Write a book about it!  Then you can discuss the book and the behavior with your child when everyone is calm.

3) Make a plan about a certain behavior

This one is so important.  Don’t wait until the behavior happens to make a plan.  Make a plan in the morning or evening when everyone is calm.  Start by mentioning the unwanted behavior.  “Do you remember what a tough time we had going to bed last night?  You were fussing about not getting enough water (stories/hugs/potty trips/etc). Let’s make a plan so that it doesn’t happen again tonight.”  Then after you mention the problem, you can start coming up with ideas on how to do things differently this time.  Also come up with a plan if things don’t go well again.

4) Talk about how much we take care of each other

Make this part of your daily routine.  Whenever you see someone helping out, mention it.  “I’m taking care of you guys by making breakfast.  You are taking good care of your kitty by being gentle.  Papa takes good care of us by working so hard.  Thank you for taking good care of your toys.  Your hug just made me feel so good- you take good care of me.”  Being part of a family means taking care of each other and it is good to point out each time it happens.

5) Solve a problem

Solving problems can be fun and when you practice the steps of problem solving, you make it easier to problem solve when times are rough.  First, name the problem “What is the problem?  Our spice drawer is really messy.  What are some solutions?  We could organize all the spices; we could build a spice rack; we could move them to a bigger drawer.  What do you guys think?”

top-ten-things-to-do-when-everyone-is-calm (1)

 

6) Let them overhear about what a good listener/ good problem solver/ good helper they are

My favorite quote is “The way we talk to our children becomes their inner voice“.  So if a child hears that they are “crazy monsters”, then they will become a crazy monster.  If a child hears that they are a “good helper”  then they become a good helper.

7) Let them see you handle a conflict/ calm down

Modeling behavior is the best way to teach behavior and if you are a parent, chances are, you have gotten angry, upset or overwhelmed recently.  This gives you the perfect situation for modeling how to get out of that mood and it is by calming our bodies.  Once you are upset, talk about it. “I’m really upset right now. I’m going to take some deep breaths to help me calm down.  *breathe in*  *breathe out*  (pause) OK, I’m feeling a little bit more calm now.”

8) Eat a meal together without devices

The best way to deal with conflicts present and future is to eat a meal together without devices.  Eating a family dinner is one of the best things you can do to help your child’s behavior.  It is the perfect time to bring up situations in a non-threatening way and you can find solutions to help solve future problems.

9) Look at how much sleep your kids are getting

A tired kid is a cranky kid.  Compare your child’s sleep with how much sleep they should be getting.

10) Have a tickle fest!

Have fun together as a family.  Kids are a riot.  Enjoy them as much as you can and you will release a lot of stress and find yourself enjoying each other a lot more!

Right now, I’m reading No Drama Discipline by Daniel J Seigel and Tina Payne Bryson and I can recommend it for all the parents who have a little bit of free time.  For all the parents who don’t have a ton of free time, I will write about some of the most important concepts that I got from the book.

First of all, the authors don’t actually recommend using consequences because positive parenting and attachment parenting have been moving rapidly away from that word. However, they explicitly state that limits need to be set and boundaries need to be made.  So instead of using the word consequence, they talk about problem solving, and natural consequences (which don’t include the parent having power over the child).

Both problem solving and natural consequences are great ways to set limits, but as I talk with many parents, the reality is that they use those when they can and when they can’t, they need another tool that is quick and already at their fingertips.  

This tool would be first connect, then consequence.

This technique allows you to parent in a positive way because you are connecting with your child when they need you.  But you are also setting limits and letting them know that their behavior isn’t OK.  And that is where the balance is.

First connect, then consequence:

There are three main ways to connect:

1. Give an explanation

This is more for younger children who don’t have as much language, but can be for older children as well.  An explanation is more respectful than “Because I said so.”  The explanation shouldn’t be long and drawn out.  You set the limit and then add just a couple words to explain why we are setting the limit.  

2. Ask for input

This is the best technique for keeping a balance of control.  You set the limit and then ask them for a little input.  Would they like to do something instead or would they like to do what they are doing in a place or way that would be appropriate.

3. Check emotions

This is a great technique to teach empathy.  After setting the limit, you can suggest a possible emotion if the child is younger, or you can ask about their state of being if they are older.

Let’s look at a couple of scenarios:

You are making breakfast and your husband is rushing out the door asking for you to help him with something and your child throws something or hits something and starts screaming.

You need to set a limit and let your child know that hitting, throwing and screaming aren’t OK.  You don’t have time to problem solve so to set the limit, you first connect and then consequence.  

  1. Give an explanation

“No hitting or throwing, that isn’t safe.  I need to help your papa and make breakfast now.  If you do that again, I’m going to have to find a place for you where everyone will be safe.”

2. Ask for input

“We don’t hit or throw things. Would you like a soft ball to throw instead? (for younger children)   Do you want to help me make breakfast or what would you like to do instead? (for older children).  If you do that again, I’m going to have to find a place for you where everyone will be safe.”

3. Check emotions

“You may not hit or throw things.  You may be upset that I can’t help you right now. (for younger children)   Are you hungry?  What’s bothering you? (for older children).  If you do that again, however, I will have to find a place for you where everyone will be safe.”

As families move more towards using positive parenting and attachment parenting, setting limits and boundaries becomes increasingly more confusing if you aren’t allowed to use consequences.  So in order to remain positive and build your relationship with your child rather than tear it down, while still setting limits you:

First connect, then consequence.

I love this book, because it is very clear about setting limits and I really feel like that is the part that parents struggle with the most.  But it is also very clear that if you go right into setting the limit and giving a consequence then you are losing out on building your relationship with your child and helping them learn.