Playful Parenting Through Power Struggles

Playful Parenting Through Power Struggles

Just the other day, a doll went flying through the air. I saw it being thrown and land on the ground. I sat there contemplating for a moment…I wanted my daughter to pick up the toy and stop throwing. I had two choices: I could rashly insist that she pick up her toy OR I could pause, connect through play and try to better understand the situation.

Children sometimes act in ways that seem unreasonable to us like a two year old that doesn’t want to pick up a toy they have thrown or a five year old that cannot stop playing to help set the table. Often, they are not actually being selfish or unreasonable, just feeling, thinking or deciding something different than what we are.

These differences can sometimes lead to power struggles, unless that is we can pause and take a moment to understand the situation, not just from our point of view, but from the child’s point of view too.

Let’s pretend I took the first route. Insisting:

Mom: Pick up the doll you threw down.
2 year old: NO.
Mom: I said to pick up the doll.
2 year old: No!
Mom: I said to do it NOW!
2 year old: NO…nope…No!

I could go on to threaten a consequence, insist, battle, engage in the struggle my defensive side against hers!  I could also just give up and do it myself since that would be the fastest solution…

Exactly what would I be teaching my child with that attitude? That I’m always right? That she shouldn’t have any will or her own thoughts?  That it’s alright for grown up to push kids around? I’ve gone down that road before and really I felt so exasperated and my child so deflated –  is it worth it? Did we learn anything? NO… It would just have been a power struggle and everyone is left feeling badly. 


What about connecting with PLAY and trying to understand the situation better?  

Mom: Oh look at that doll on the floor…how did it get there?
2 year old: I don’t know!
Mom  (smiling): You don’t? It must have been a bear that came into the house, got upset and threw the doll. Did you see the bear around here – I think he is mad, maybe he needs a hug!
2 year old (half smiling) Uhm…I not seen a bear. I need a hug – there not a bear here.  The dress [on doll is] not closing.
Mom: That made you frustrated?
2 year old: Uhmm…uhm…
We hug.
Mom: Feel better?
2 year old, now smiling: yes
Mom: So what can we do about the doll?
2 year old: I get [the] doll, you help [with] the button?
Mom: Yes!

As hard as it may be in the moment, I find that if I can take a breath, forgo blame or the need to be right, skip the power struggle and instead aim to understand my child’s motivation and needs I find that we can not only accomplish whatever the task is at hand, we do so while embracing opportunities to learn, connect, and be together. Choosing to do so while being  playful also makes it a moment that I know my children can fully relate too and can remember with a smile.

Have you tried to side step a power struggle by using play and connection before – what worked  for you?

Peace & Be Well,


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Ariadne is a happy and busy mama to three children. She practices peaceful, playful, responsive parenting and is passionate about all things parenting and chocolate. Ariadne has a Masters in Psychology and is a certified Positive Discipline Parenting Educator. She lives on top of a beautiful mountain with her family, and one cuddly dog.

10 Responses to Playful Parenting Through Power Struggles

  1. It is always so difficult to pause and look for the issue behind the behaviour. We are so inundated with parenting advice that pushes us to demand respect and obedience rather than connect respectfully. This is a great reminder to treat our children with kindness and empathy.

  2. Kae,
    I think you are spot on in saying there is so much advice pushing to respect and obedience but not enough reminding us just how much kindness and empathy helps us connect! Thank you for stopping by!!

  3. I love how you show the 2 ways this situation could go. One that will end up in tears, the other ends with a solution. I’m guilty of using the first technique too often. “Pick it up because I SAY SO!” Guess what? Almost never works! lol!

  4. This article could not have come at a more precise time. I am learning everyday how to better handle situations like this with my strong willed one year old. I’ve tried these techniques a few times and you are so right, they work! Her attention is diverted, anger is avoided and we get to continue on playing, no hard feelings and no tears, for either of us 🙂 Thank you for sharing!!

  5. Hi Ariadne,

    If I can sum up my feelings, your story perfectly address that. Parenting is not an easy task and as a parent, I try to teach my kid with kindness but yeah, sometimes, it goes other way round.

  6. Paulee – thank you so much for sharing how this playful approach is working for you and your one year old. Wishing you much joy on your parenting journey!

  7. My kids are 7 and 11, and I admit that I expect them to expect consequences. Once in a while, I circumvent myself, though, and I can see my son (11) steeled for a battle (they know what the consequences are by now), temporarily unsure what’s going on, and joining in my fun response. When it happens, it’s beautiful. I must try harder for that to be my go-to option! Thanks for this. xx Angela

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