Playing with power

Well, it has happened.  My sweet baby is already becoming a willful toddler.  The past week or so has been filled with frustrating moments for her and for anyone near her.  She has begun to whine.  She is clinging to us like she thinks we’ll disappear if we’re out of her sight.  And of course, she’s also starting to walk.

Learning to walk and talk are HUGE developmental milestones for a baby and with the new development comes an equally big emotional response.  Tears and frustration abound as we humans learn new skills and reach new levels of development.  And it’s not just babies who experience the emotional ride of learning new skills.  Children and adults of all ages have the same big feelings.  When we reach a goal, there’s often a big emotional high and an accompanying let down.

So, what do we do with those feelings of sadness and anger that go along with new accomplishments?  We can try to ignore them or shove them aside, but that sure hasn’t been working at our house.  I’d rather embrace the feelings and provide a safe space for my daughter to fully express all that she’s going through.

Amazingly, just last week, my little one learned how to roar like a lion and wow, it’s a really ferocious roar!  So my mom and I began to play a game with her where we pretend to be frightened by her roar.  She LOVES it!  It’s really one of the first times I’ve seen her expressing and enjoying her power, she completely lights up.  She roars again and again while we cower in mock fear.  “Oh no!  Don’t eat me!  I’m so scared,” can be heard often at our house these days.  Here’s a short video of the game:

Then last night it was bedtime.  And you guessed it, she didn’t want to go to bed.  I could tell she was getting agitated and she started to test my husband by hitting him.  She knows that hitting people isn’t allowed, but she wasn’t sure how else to express the anger and frustration bubbling up inside her.

So I redirected her hitting to the stuffed animals on her bed.  Before we knew it, my husband, daughter, and I were all throwing and hitting and jumping on the stuffed animals yelling, “Take that!” and “Aaarrgghh!”  We all had a blast and each of us got an opportunity to express any unexpressed anger or frustration.  I can’t even tell you how satisfying it was to slam that pink elephant into the wall.  It was truly liberating.  The best part was that after the anger release, she was tired and ready to wind down to sleep.

So the next time anyone at your house is whining or getting agitated, try playing a power game.  Sometimes, just having an appropriate outlet for anger, frustration, or powerlessness is all a child really needs.  And when offered a healthy way to release those feelings, kids can easily return to their usual kind and cooperative selves.

Wish me luck with the rest of toddler-hood, I have a feeling I’m going to need it!

Have a great week, Shelly

5 comments
Shelly
Shelly

Hey Giovanna, Yes!

Nayana, You're so welcome!

Kevin, I LOVED your suggestions. It sounds like your daughter gets all sorts of opportunities to play the powerful one. Don't you find that offering this kind of play increases cooperation at the times when you need it? I really enjoyed imagining you running away from your daughter as she chased you. Thanks so much for sharing!

Melissa, Yes, I agree that offering choices is a great way to cut down on power struggles. But I have found that sometimes kids can get frustrated with the knowledge that we adults are the ones deciding what choices are available. I find that offering some play where the kid is the more powerful one or gets to limit OUR choices in some way can be really fun and enjoyable for them. This kind of play also seems to reset the cooperation mechanism for young people. Thanks for your comment!

Melissa Kilpatrick
Melissa Kilpatrick

One of the things I found effective when my son was very young was giving him choices. If you have never used this approach (and I had never seen it in action myself)then you may have to review different scenarios in your head and practice your response to various situations. But I found when you have a child that is exploring their world and want more control that offering choices kept me out of the power struggle. For example: "Do you want to put your shoes on by yourself or do you want me to help?" Of course you have to always make the "choices" to your advantage! Never offer a choice that is not something you want to do! My son is now 15 and I STILL use this approach; just looks a little different at this age!

Kevin
Kevin

My 3 year old and I play lots of power games. Some favorites: I dramatically plead with her to let me have something (an object, my turn to put her to bed, etc.) and she squeals'NO You can't." and I say Whaaaaat?! but I want it!! and I might mock cry. She cracks up hysterically.
Sometimes we have a race - her rule is I am to let her win and then scream "AAaaah! You WON, but I wanted to win and you beat me! I'm sooo angry, but I'm happy you won too." Repeat.
She also loves to chase me around the house and I will run in fear as she catches me.

In all the variations she seems to really enjoy exercising the power that we parents typically get. It is always very clear to her that it is a pretending game. And she will play it over and OVER again.

nayana
nayana

great tips thanks.

Giovanna
Giovanna

Kids really respond to the acknowledgment of their feelings... rather than punishing your daughter for a normal emotional reaction, you taught her what to do with it! Much more effective, especially at that age.