If I had to pick the top reason kids throw tantrums, it would come down to power struggles. Sometimes it is as clear and simple as saying no and then watching the tantrum begin. Other times it is subtler, but the fact is, that there is almost always going to be a power struggle present when it comes to tantrums.
As a parent, it can be perplexing to try to figure out how to navigate the tricky road of teaching our children responsibility, respect, and other good behaviors. We don’t want to push our children so hard that they feel like we are constantly nagging, saying no, or just not listening or understanding them. Walking this parenting tightrope often leaves us smack dab in the middle of a power struggle.
Before you find yourself looking at a child who is yelling, angry, throwing a tantrum, melting down, and/or fighting, what can you do? Well, first of all, you want to download this handy CHEAT SHEET to keep with you as a reminder of all of the solutions that we have been discussing in this 5 Solutions to Stop Tantrums Series. Enter your email below for login instructions to access and download the Cheat Sheet in the Parenting Resource Library!
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Now that you have your cheat sheet, let’s move on to today’s solution: Using Choices to deal with the Power Struggles.
The single best way to address power struggles with kids is to bring in choices. Let’s face it, no one likes to be told what to do, especially older kids who are trying to learn how to navigate independence and responsibility. As a parent, you will, of course, have to tell your children what to do. BUT, if you are able to give them choices, you will find that power struggles become a thing of the past.
The thing about choices, though, is that it can be hard to figure out how to incorporate them when you find yourself already in the middle of a battle or tantrum. Finding creative and meaningful ways that work can feel like looking for a needle in the haystack! Here are 3 of my favorite ways to incorporate choices that actually work in the middle of a tantrum.
Option 1: Switch Roles to End Tantrums Fast
Giving your child the ability to feel like they have power in the middle of a power struggle can be a powerful tool.
Here’s an example of how it works.
Recently my son was upset that he was being asked to help get lunch ready. It was the middle of the day and we had nowhere to be, so I decided to try out this method. First, I got his attention by getting down to eye level with him and asking him if I could make a suggestion. I then said, “You know, I can see that we are both getting really upset right now. You don’t want to help with lunch and I am feeling frustrated because it is a lot of work for me to do on my own. I am not really sure how to solve this problem. Would you be willing to switch roles with me and take on being the problem solver? Can you come up with a solution that will be fair to both of us and make you feel better?” Once he agreed, I sat down on the floor so that he was standing taller than me and looked at him and waited for him to direct our next move.
Letting him take control of the situation immediately diffused it. He was able to use his creativity in coming up with solutions. Giving him power in this situation allowed him to rise up and enjoy taking responsibility rather than being forced to do so.
How to Employ Switching Roles to End a Power Struggle:
Step 1: Get the child’s attention by getting on their eye level and calmly asking if you can make a suggestion
Step 2: Quickly state the situation naming their frustration/desire as well as your frustration/desire.
Step 3: Ask them to switch roles with you so that they take charge of the moment and become the Problem Solver. Make sure to state that the role of Problem Solver means that they come up with a solution that feels fair to everyone and solves the problem.
Step 4: Lower yourself so that they are taller than you. (This symbolic gesture really helps to provide that level of power that your child is seeking.)
Step 5: Stop talking, listen, be open to creative suggestions.
Side note: if your child suggests something that isn’t fair – like if my son had suggested that I just make the lunch and he sits and watches, calmly state, “this doesn’t feel fair and the problem hasn’t been solved yet, so is there something else that you could suggest?” Then, repeat Step 5 and allow them to take charge of finding a solution.
Option 2: Give Open-Ended Choices
Open-ended choices work great both in the middle of a power struggle as well as just during the regular course of the day. If you are trying to use this technique during a power struggle/tantrum, I would suggest using one of the last two methods to halt the tantrum first. (Using distraction or Bringing Playfulness into the situation.)
Once you have your child’s attention, here are some examples of open-ended choices that will help eliminate the tantrum for good.
It’s time to go to bed – what do you need to do to be ready to come to bed within the next 5 minutes?
It’s really cold outside. Do you want to wear a coat, or do you have a different idea for how you will keep warm?
The bathroom needs to be cleaned today, sometimes listening to music while I do my chores helps them feel more fun for me, what could we do to make this chore more fun for you?
Option 3 : Let Your Child Have A Win to End the Power Struggle
Ask yourself honestly, Is the current power struggle you are in a battle that you could allow your child to win? Let’s face it, some battles just aren’t worth fighting and we all like to win sometimes. So… ask yourself, is whatever your child is throwing a tantrum over, something that you can give them this time? Can they have a win?
Obviously, this strategy doesn’t work all of the time, but if you are able to utilize it occasionally, you will find that power struggles decrease overall.
Here is how to allow your child to win:
“You know, we are really stuck right now arguing about you cleaning your room. I do need it clean by Wednesday, but really, it is your room, so for right now, I would be okay with you choosing when you clean it. I guess it doesn’t really have to be right now like I have been saying. Do you think we could call a truce? I don’t want to fight with you.”
This article is part of a 6 part series on Stopping Tantrums. Next up on the blog, we are going to be looking closer at Using Exercise to calm down a child. If you haven’t already, make sure to download the complete Cheat Sheet in the Parenting Resource Library that walks you through all 5 Solutions for Stopping Tantrums! Sign up below for access.