Choose Your Battles
To stop the strife
You have three choices to deal with any power struggle: back off, lay down the law, or negotiate. The trick is figuring out when to use which.
This might be the smartest choice when the control your child wants is appropriate for her age and skill level and it ultimately doesn't matter. Knowing that you want to cede some control to your child can help you simply step away from some fights before they happen.
It may be easier to do this with second and third children rather than firstborns because with experience, parents learn that some issues simply aren't worth the battle. With my younger two, for instance, I was more likely to let them veg out in front of cartoons or leave the beans on their plate, knowing that over time they'd get tired of TV and make healthier eating choices.
It also makes sense to back off over issues you're not going to win on, no matter what you say or do. Ultimately, you can't force your kids to eat, sleep, go to the bathroom, speak, or think according to your wishes. So just set safe, healthy rules and back off. Won't sleep? Fine, just lie there. Won't eat any dinner? Fine, but no cookies, either.
Lay down the law
Insisting your child follow your orders works only if you aren't wishy-washy about it and don't get lured into a lengthy debate about your decision. So dig in only on truly important things, where the lesson a child might learn from disregarding your advice isn't as important as the danger in doing so: "You're wearing your shoes because there's broken glass here, and that's final." Then don't give in.
"Saying 'You're doing it my way because I'm the parent and I said so' works best with health, safety, and value issues," says Faull. Those things are clearly the parent's choice. "With other things, children need to be able to slowly grasp the reins of life and even learn from mistakes. The best route is usually to offer choices and decisions appropriate to the child's age."
Negotiate, compromise, give options
These are all ways to meet a fighter halfway. But don't feel you have to provide unlimited choices -- your child can't choose candy for breakfast, after all: "You don't want to leave the playground? Okay, we can stay twenty more minutes, but then we won't have time to go to the video store, so you'll have to decide which you want more."
Whichever path you choose in dealing with the power struggle, it's vital to downshift the emotional intensity. If you can step back from the emotions on your end, chances are your child will follow.
Let your first step be to pause. Stopping your agitated response encourages your child to stop, too, because there's no argument going on. Then you can decide which of the three resolution tactics -- backing off, laying down the law, or negotiating -- you're going to take.