It’s 5 o’clock and you’re standing over the stove with a kid wrapped around your ankles. The potatoes are simmering on the stove and taking forever to finally get to the point of mashing, and the smell from the chicken roasting in the oven is making your stomach grumble. And in the microwave is the separate meal you’ve created for your finicky toddler since the only chicken she’ll put in her mouth has to be in fun unnatural shapes like stars or boots.

Somehow you manage to get it all plated within 30 minutes and are finally sitting as a family when your 2-year old decides that the dinner you placed in front of her isn’t exactly what she had in mind.

“Dat one,” she says, pushing her plate to the edge of her highchair and pointing at your plate. You haven’t even taken your first bite of food when you try and coax her to eat what’s on her plate. “Nooooo!” she cries, forcefully pushing her plate even more till it all lands on the floor. “Dat one!” she screams, kicking her feet. Sighing, you pick a few pieces off your plate and place them in her tray. She giggles, happily picking up one of the grown-up chicken pieces and shoving it in her mouth. Suddenly, a strange look takes over her face. She opens her mouth, letting the piece of chicken roll on her tongue before falling onto the tray. She reacts by picking up all the chicken and throwing it across the room while screaming.

“Nuggets!” she screams. Except those nuggets that were tossed onto the floor have already been cleaned up by the family dog that learned long ago the best seat in the house is underneath the highchair.

Welcome to the toddler years. They last roughly 18 more years.

Oh alright, toddler years last until about the age of 4. But the power struggles will last from the moment they learn the word “no” until you finally get the pleasure of booting them out the house and changing the locks.

A friend of mine described a power struggle she was having with her son. Every day he’s expected to do a few simple chores around the house. For a while he was doing them as soon as he got home from school. But eventually she started coming home from work to find dishes still piled in the sink and the trash overflowing. She’d knock on his door to ask him to get it done. His response was that he forgot and would get up in a second. A half hour later, it still wouldn’t be done. Another reminder would warrant another promise that it would get done, and still it would remain untouched. Soon she was screaming at him to get his chores done until he finally sauntered down the stairs and did the chores he was supposed to do.

If a parent and a kid are in a power struggle, who wins? I can promise you, it’s not the parent. Oh, we may think we win when we scream and yell and make our kids do what we’ve been asking them to do over and over. But it’s really the kids who have won by working us up into a frenzy before finally giving in – or even getting away with not doing it at all. Those little schemers are taking notes after every fight, taking care to notice every time we bend, what pushes our buttons, and how best to pull one over on us. The fight over who’s in control can lead to household chaos and the rebellion of the ‘oppressed’.  And let’s face it, kids have way more dedication to being stubborn than we even have energy for.

So how do you parent without trying to control your child, and without finding yourself on the opposite end of the spectrum by passively parenting?

1. Create choices.
Instead of dictating something needs to be done, allow them to have a choice in when that specific chore is most convenient for their schedule, or if there’s a chore they’d rather help out with over another. If the issue is over meals, give them two choices to pick from. Not only will your child feel more empowered by having a choice, it’s going to help him earn problem solving skills by weighing the pros and cons of each decision.

2. Suffering the consequences.
It’s dinnertime and your daughter still hasn’t made it to the table. As you eat, the food on her plate is getting cold. One consequence is that she’ll be eating a cold dinner. A better consequence is that the dinner is all put away and mealtime is over. A few more times of this, and she’ll learn that when dinnertime is announced, she’d better get her butt to the table and eat.

3. Compromise.
Your son wants to stay up later. You’re concerned he won’t get enough sleep. Instead of enforcing the bedtime you have in mind, consider bending to a time you’re both comfortable with the stipulation that he has to get up on time in the morning or the bedtime goes back to the old time. If you’re refraining from a later bedtime because you need quiet time in the evening, designate that time for quiet reading in his room.

4. Avoid the argument.
As soon as voices raise and the need for MY WAY arises, leave the fight. Trust me, it’s a losing battle. Enter a fight and you’re liable to make rash decisions, say things you can’t take back, and start another power struggle cycle that can only end in disaster. You aren’t forced to attend every fight you’re invited to. Best thing to do is to remain calm, state your position, and walk away. Don’t bend, and do not stick around to be pulled back into the fight.

What are some of the ways you’ve avoided power struggles in your family? Does it work?