What to do:
Self-talk. When you are demanding control over your child and are thinking that you must get cooperation from him, say to yourself, “I can only control myself; what I think and what I do. I can’t control another person, no matter how small. Self-control is my power.”
Empathy. Ask yourself: I wonder why she is suddenly demanding to control everything and is refusing to cooperate? Could it be that I’ve become more demanding and less loving and supportive?
Teach. Sometimes your young child appears to go to war with you by refusing to eat what he asked for; throwing the toast when you put it in front of him (even though that was his choice for breakfast, for example); refusing to put on the shirt she requested; or refusing to get in the car to go to daycare or preschool. You get the picture. Your child is demanding control over her life. We all want power and control in our lives, and you and your child can learn appropriate ways to gain them.
Teach him to accept your control by approaching it in a loving, caring way. Setting up a battle of wills can only teach him to be defiant and combative.
Begin with a hug. To prevent battles over control, begin the day by filling it with love and support. Early morning hugs and kisses give good feelings and send the message of caring.
Limit choices. Offer only two choices at a time. For example, offering waffles or cereal keeps decision making simple. Assurance of support is given by saying, “I know you’re such a big boy that you will make and stick with a good choice.” Praise the choice he makes by saying, “Good choice. I know you will like what you chose.”
Support rejection. If he rejects the choice he made, simply say, “It’s okay that you decided you didn’t want that choice today. Maybe later you will want it,” and give him a hug of assurance as you take the choice away.
Use distraction. Redirect your child from the choice conflict by asking questions, reciting favorite poems, or talking about events from yesterday. For example, while starting to dress in the clothing she chose for the day, ask what she thinks the activity will be today at preschool, what the activity was yesterday, or who she wants to play with at school. These distractions keep her from focusing on the issue of control and shifts her attention to fun activities.
Involve your child. When the demand for control begins to interfere with your relationship with your child, ask him for his help to resolve the conflict. Say, “We seem to be having problems getting things done that we need to. Help me think of ways we can do better. What do you think we can do about breakfast, dressing, getting in the car, staying in your car seat?
Use Grandma’s Rule. Set up choices by saying, “When you’ve chosen what to wear and gotten dressed, then you may have a story or we can play a game.” This shifts the focus away from control issues and to fun activities.
Praise. Offer praise for making choices by saying, “That was a good choice. I’m sure you’re going to like your choice.”
Give your attention. Power struggles are often about getting and keeping attention, so when your child makes a choice, stick around and talk to her. This keeps her from engaging in a power struggle to get your attention.
What not to do:
Don’t upset yourself. Don’t get upset when your child demands control. Understand that she needs to have a sense of control just as much as you do. You can avoid your anger by saying to yourself, “I can help her have some control while giving her the love and support she needs.
Don’t punish. Punishing your child with Calm Time won’t resolve the power struggle but will only alienate her further. What she needs right now is loving support as she works to understand and navigate her world.
Don’t take it personally. When your child engages in a power struggle, he is wanting control of his life. It’s not a rejection of you. You regain power by giving him love and support as he struggles with figuring out what wins for him.