Last updated on August 26, 2021.
Getting through the day with a child whose favorite word is “no” requires the patience of a saint. For those of us who are a little less saintly, we asked parenting expert Marie Marchand to share some tips on how to deal with day-to-day power struggles.
Power struggles: When Your Child Says ‘No’
Most parents first experience their child’s emerging sense of autonomy at about age two. At this age, parent and child are trying to find a balance between the child’s newfound desire for independence and parents trying to maintain boundaries; creating a power struggle between parent and child. A power struggle begins when either parent or child says “no”. The child’s motive is “I want to be my own boss” or “you’re not the boss of me” and they are often described or perceived as headstrong, rebellious, stubborn and frustrating.
The power of choice
A tried-and-true parenting tactic is to give choices, not orders. Choices should be realistic and acceptable to both parent and child. Some parents think that they already provide choices, but the options are so narrow that both options feel like a punishment to the child: “you can eat or go to bed right now”, or “tidy up or you’re not coming with us.”
If your child is pushing for independence, instead try options that will empower the child, while retaining control of the situation: “it is time to get out of the bath. Would you like the blue towel or the one with the froggy on? You decide.”, or “it is time to go home in 5 minutes. Would you like to try the swing one more time or the slide? Your choice.” In these situations, the parent states what needs to be done first, followed by two acceptable choices.
Adding, “you decide” or “your choice” after several options is very empowering, emphasizing the fact that the child does have a choice.
Choices can be adjusted according to the age of the child. For instance, when getting ready for school, younger children might be given the choice of putting on their shoes before we leave in 5 minutes or putting them on in the car. Older children might be given the choice of being ready in 5 minutes or riding their bike. Either way, the parent is leaving in 5 minutes.
I am often asked, “what if they don’t want either choice and want to do something else?” If the something else is acceptable to you, fine. If it is not, the parent can say, “That isn’t one of the choices.” And, then repeat the choices and, “you decide.”
When giving children choices, parents must be sure that all choices are acceptable. Don’t give your child the choice of “sitting down quietly or leaving the restaurant” if you have no intention of leaving.
What choices could you give for someone who does not want to get dressed? Does not want to practice piano? Is ignoring you as they watch TV? Think ahead and be prepared with choices in advance if you come across the same power struggles daily!