Friday, April 13, 2012

Strategies for Handling Children's Power Struggles

What to Do When They Want Something From You:
Here’s a technique to use in situations where your child begins to sound like a broken record, asking for something over and over until you cave and give in, and usually one that happens on a regular basis.  It might be wanting a cookie right before mealtime, a toy they want you to buy them while in the store, something they want to play with, or a place they want you to take them.  It’s one of my favorites that I’ve used for years with my children, from the preschool years all the way into the teens, and now I’m watching my oldest daughter use it with my grandchildren with much success. 

When he asks the first time for the item you don’t want him to have, be firm and loving with a statement such as, “I’m not willing for you to have that right now.”  Avoid using the word NO because it’s sometimes an invitation to try and make you say YES.  When he continues to ask, get to his eye level, DO NOT talk, rub his back gently (if he will allow you), and give him a loving look that expresses sympathy for his desire that won’t be met.  Continue to do all of this until he caves and gives in.  The secret is YOU demonstrating more strength in standing your position longer than he can, AND doing it without speaking or getting mad.  (Children who throw fits, to get what they want, have been taught to do this by the adults around them eventually giving in to their demands.)  If he drops to the floor and goes into a meltdown, let it happen.  It indicates that YOU are winning and he is simply using another technique to get you to crack.  If you can learn to do this on a regular basis, you will actually teach your child that you mean what you say.  He may throw more fits in the beginning as a way of saying, “I don’t like this new thing you’re doing,” but he will eventually learn to respect you for your boundaries.  The most valuable lesson he will learn from your actions is creating respectful boundaries with others.

What to Do When You Need Their Cooperation:
Solutions to stopping a power struggle when you want something from them is much different.  I suggest replacing commands or orders with clear and appropriate choices.  For example, as an alternative to saying, “Its time to take your bath,” instead, give them a choice by saying, “Would you like mommy to give you your bath or grandma?”  I remember picking up my granddaughter from the day care center one day, and I could sense that she was over tired and wasn’t going to respond cooperatively to my command for her to get into her car seat, so I used a choice.  I said to her in a cheerful voice, “would you like for grandpa to put you in your seat or would you like to do it yourself?”  Immediately she declared she would do it herself and strapped herself in.  Giving your child choices makes them feel powerful and creates less need for them to struggle with you.  Another suggestion I have is to ignore the backtalk and let them have the last word in a struggle.  While this is very difficult to do, you will find struggles easier to manage when you don’t let the things they say bother you.  Similar to the meltdown technique I mentioned earlier, this too is a just another attempt to win the struggle with you.

Finally, there might be times when you don’t have the time, energy, or stamina to use any of these techniques at the moment; you’re late for work, you’re feeling embarrassed in a grocery store, or you’re just too tired to think.  The solution is to stop talking and take your child to where you need to go.  Be as gentle as possible and just get to your destination.  Keeping from talking is a success in itself because sometimes we end up saying things we wished we hadn’t.

Bill Corbett is the author of the award winning book “Love, Limits, & Lessons: A Parent’s Guide to Raising Cooperative Kids” in English and in Spanish, and the founder and president of Cooperative Kids.  You can watch his new TV show CREATING COOPERATIVE KIDS at  He has three grown children, three step children, two grandchildren, and lives with his wife Elizabeth near Hartford, CT.  You can visit his Web site for further information and parenting advice.


  1. Great post! Thank you! I've got a little one who does this all the time... I'm going to add these techniques to my tool box.

  2. Great suggestions, Bill! I love using techniques such as giving choices whenever possible. I pinned your post to my Discipline Pinterest board at


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