Minimizing Power Struggles

No matter how compliant a child, there will be times when he does not want to put on his socks or when she refuses to pick up her toys. As young children develop, they begin to understand that they can make their own decisions. And occasionally they make a power play at an inconvenient time.

While a power play can be frustrating for the adult who is trying to get the child to do something, it is a healthy part of children’s social/emotional development. These incidents help children develop a stronger sense of self and the capability to set their own limits.

We adults need to react appropriately. In many instances, trying to force the child to do what he has said he will not do escalates the situation into a full-blown power struggle.

Try offering assistance instead. For example, you might say, “You can put on your socks by yourself or I can help you this morning.” Or, “I could help you put away your toys. Would you like that?”

Or offer choices. “OK, you don’t want to wear these socks today. Would you rather wear the blue ones or green ones?” “Let’s see. Which would it be easier to start with: putting the blocks in this tub or putting the cars back in their case?”

Power plays are simply a part of growing up. When handled by adults in a calm manner, they offer opportunities for children to develop self-esteem and self-control.

Family Friendly Communication for Early Childhood Programs
National Education for the Education of Young Children
Deborah Diffily and Kathy Morrison, editors; 1996; pg 94