I sometimes feel that my kids' behavior really doesn't change all that much overall – what changes more is my ability to handle it. If I am tired, or hungry, or overheated or generally cranky, what might be cute and precocious in one context is annoying and defiant in another.
When my first daughter was about 3, we stumbled upon a few little games that could diffuse my anger or bad mood and move us back towards having a fun time together. It's up to me to remember to draw upon these strategies when we find ourselves heading down the path to a power struggle, but when I do, we can usually turn a situation from one of digging in our heels to one of collapsing together in a fit of giggles. Here's a couple of my favorites…
• "What am I going to do with you?!?" -- When I find myself wearing thin at some behavior or emerging power struggle, and something starts rising to the surface like "You are driving me crazy," I allow myself that cathartic statement, but go right into "What am I going to do with you?!?" My daughter knows her line in response, which is "LOVE ME!" It's so darned cute, it can't help but break the mood – and I'm usually halfway there just by drawing on this strategy, because I know it's coming.
• "I'm going to brain you!" -- My daughter loves this one. When she is being particularly difficult or annoying, I'll say something like, "OK, I can't take it anymore. I'm going to brain you!" She usually makes a shocked and funny face, and says "Not, really." Then I say, "Yep, I'm going to go in your ear, and find that little piece of your brain that doesn't want to brush your teeth, and I'm going to reach in there and yank it out and eat it!" And I'll make a move towards her ear. At this point, we both break into a fit of laughing and me trying to chase and "brain" her. After the power struggle has broken, we can usually transition that game into her doing what needed to get done in the first place, sometimes within the context of that or a related game.
There is, of course, nothing magical about these two particular games. They play into a child's desire to have *fun* with us rather than fight with us. They allow us to change the tone of the interaction to one of connection. I would challenge you to come up a couple games of your own and try them out with your little ones to see if it helps. One thing worth noting – these games still work sometimes with my daughter who is now almost 6. But as she gets older, their success depends on her willingness to end the power struggle. If she's just trying to create a conflict, regardless of how much she cares about the actual issue at hand, then she's not going to be led down that path.
Have a similar kind of game or tool that works for you? Try something out that works as a result of this article? Share your own anger diffusing strategies at the early childhood forum at Forum Discussion on Power Struggles and Parental Anger.
Want to read more on Power Struggles and Parental Anger? Here's two books (and authors) I really like: