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Diffusing Bedtime Power Struggles

We've all been there - we're doing our best to move through the bedtime routine anwe're met with near constant resistance. Every single step feels like trudging through the mud. And then, we hit that one triggering step that your child just can't easily move through, and the stalemate begins.


When this happens to me, I try to follow five steps to get us moving again toward our goal of a calm, connected bedtime:


  1. Connect first. Validate the struggle. State what your child is wishing and hold the boundary. This might look like, "You wish you could read more books. It's hard to stop reading because it's so much fun. We'll read more books tomorrow."

  2. Co-regulate! If you and your child are both coming into this interaction at a level 10 emotionally, it will not end well for either of you. Take the time to breathe together and do your best to de-escalate together before moving on.

  3. Offer a choice that empowers the child and moves you toward the goal. For example, "Would you like the bubble gum or fruit punch toothpaste tonight?" This gives your child a sense of control in a situation where they are struggling. Be sure the choice continues moving you toward your goal!

  4. Compliment Their Capability: Start with the phrase, "I see you..." and state what you see. For example, "I see you following directions and brushing those teeth so well. Way to go!"

  5. Choose your battles! At the end of the day, remember that toddlers and preschoolers are constantly playing a game of tug-of-war between autonomy and dependence. This dance will cause age-appropriate tantrums, power struggles, and defiance. Remember that this is all normal and expected behavior! And won't last forever!

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