The scene plays out many mornings in homes everywhere! A head-strong child is refusing to put on the clothes you picked out for them and you spend 30 minutes demanding, pleading and fighting with them to get dressed so that you won’t be late. Eventually, you give in just to get out the door. They feel victorious because they wore you down, and you feel like a failure because you let them. You’re both exhausted by the time you drop them off and chances are you will spend the day replaying the morning in your head and wondering how it could’ve gone better. Here are three important words to remember — “Pick your battles!”
To be clear, you can’t give in to everything. Children need rules and guidelines to keep them safe, to teach them right and wrong and to help them develop responsibility. Children feel safe when they have clear boundaries. But if you think about it, most of the really heated power struggles you’ve had with your child probably aren’t even about one of those important rules. After all, when you know you’re standing by a command you’ve made because it will keep your child safe or teach them right and wrong, you are a lot less likely to give in and your child knows that. The power struggles come when we decide to dig our heels in over something we didn’t need to say “no” to in the first place, and it’s a lot easier for our child to wear us down in those situations. Going back to the example of getting dressed, how much does it matter in the grand scheme of life what your preschooler wears to school?
“Pick battles big enough to matter, small enough to win.” – Jonathan Kozol
One good thing to practice is to try not to let “no” be your automatic answer. Save that for the things that truly matter and that you’re less likely to give in to. Stop and think about it first. Remember – there are a lot of things your preschooler has no control over, so when you give them opportunities to practice independence in the small choices, you will help them to gain confidence for when they’re faced with bigger choices. Try not to say “no” unless you really mean it and then be prepared to stick to it.
Another important thing to remember is not to ask your child to do something if you don’t want to hear them say “no”. There can be a fine line between a request and a command, and your child is ready to blur that line if you’re not clear. — “Can you come over here and put your shoes on?” Now that you’ve you posed it as a question, you’ve left them the option to say “no” and you’re sure to end up in a power struggle. Instead, try allowing them to choose between a couple of options that will get you the desired result either way. — “Do you want to sit in this chair or that chair to put your shoes on?” (And don’t get too worked up if the shoes end up on the wrong feet. At least they put them on!)
Learning to pick your battles isn’t easy, but it helps to keep your focus on the important things that teach life lessons. Next time you sense a power struggle coming on and are ready to suit up for battle, stop and think about what you’re really fighting for. Remember, your child doesn’t see things the same way you do. Instead of expecting them to see things from your perspective, try to see things from theirs. Show your child that you respect them enough to give them some age appropriate choices while at the same time teaching them that sometimes they may not have a choice. You might not get rid of the power struggles completely, but you will see a lot less of them!