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  • Allison

Power Struggles: How To Turn "No" Into "Yes"


I have yet to hear of a toddler who hasn't pushed the limits, or thrown a tantrum when they didn't get their way. There's a great reason for this! Around the age of two, children begin to crave independence and autonomy. Children are born with zero coping skills which means when they do experiment with their independence and we step in and tell them, "no", those overwhelming feelings are often expressed with a meltdown. It's our job to maintain calm within these storms and offer every opportunity for a successful learning experience!


All day long, toddlers constantly hear:

  • "NO, Daddy needs privacy please."

  • "DON'T wear those undies, they're stained."

  • "You CAN'T touch the diaper pail."

  • "NO park until you poop in the potty."

  • "DON'T wait, go potty now."


Sometimes the word, "no" can send a toddler spiraling without much context. This is where our clever wording can come in handy! Try replacing a "no", with a "yes"! They are so used to hearing NO all the time, that power struggles are always boiling just beneath the surface.


Imagine if we could find a way to turn some of those "you can't"s into "you can"s:

  • "You CAN flush the toilet for me."

  • "YES! Choose your underwear."

  • "You CAN help me change the baby's diaper."

  • "First, we poop in the potty, then we CAN go to the park."

  • "YES, you can bring your truck while you sit on the potty."

During difficult transitional times like potty training, think less about what your child CAN'T do and flip the script to give them an option of what they CAN do instead (within reason of course). This will help your kiddo to feel more in control and involved in the situation, and keep those dreaded power struggles at bay. As they say - pick your battles!!


⁣Power struggles are a part of our children's growth process. When we can find appropriate ways to offer them control, we can help them to feel empowered and curve the resistance that we might be getting from them in a healthy way. I'm here to open the dialog about how to prevent power struggles from happening (or correct them if they already are) and potentially lead to a much happier potty experience for everyone!

  • The first thing to remember is to allow your kiddo some time to prepare for this upcoming life-altering change that's taking place. Switching from the comfort and convenience of their diaper to the potty is a BIG DEAL! Spend some time planting the seed before just diving in on a random weekend when you have no other plans.

  • Next - if your child has proven to be resistant to change in other aspects, forget the concept of intrinsic (internal) motivation. They're going to need outside driving forces here. I'm talking rewards people!! It's human nature to avoid doing something you don't want to do unless you're getting something out of it in return. Kids are no different!

  • Third - skip the timed potty sits. Asking your busybodied toddler to stop playing and go sit down on a potty every 15 minutes has a power struggle written all over it! Prompting or asking too often will only annoy them and lead to resistance. Instead, wait for it to be physically obvious that they need to go and then redirect them to the potty at those times.

  • ⁣Finally - offer choices whenever possible. CHOICES = CONTROL. CONTROL = POWER!! If you give your child power in reasonable ways, everyone ends up happy! Let them choose their own potty and undies, where to keep the potty, what book to read while they sit, etc. You should notice an immediate shift in behavior!

⁣Remember, children love to get reactions out of us, good OR bad. Focus all of your attention and energy on the GOOD potty behaviors, and the bad ones will fade quickly! Instead of constantly fighting against the current, let's find ways to flow with it! Focus on what our children CAN do and not on what they CAN'T. Their focus will likely shift with ours, creating a smooth potty training journey!