Refusing to “Pick Your Battles” with Children

July 14th, 2010 by Dionna | 18 Comments
Posted in Carnival and Special Series, Consensual Living, Gentle Discipline Ideas, Successes, and Suggestions, Gentle/Positive Discipline, natural parenting, Respond with Sensitivity

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Mandy at Living Peacefully with Children has two very insightful posts on the phrase “picking your battles.” First, she points out that words have power: if you view your relationship with children as being a series of “battles,” then life can turn into on ongoing and unpleasant “war.” Second, she differentiates between working with your child to set healthy boundaries and expectations, versus exerting power over your child (which basically amounts to bullying).

I agree. By phrasing things in “battle” terms, by looking to see who is going to “win” and “lose,” isn’t that taking away from the goal of working with and respecting our kids?

I don’t want Kieran to think that he’s “lost” in any decision. I want to work WITH him. I know that he’s not always going to be happy with me, that’s part of any relationship. But the way I approach him makes a difference – is it going to be “do as I say regardless of what you think” or “let’s see if we can work this out together”?

How do you approach potential conflicts with your child? Do you work with your child to see if there is a way that both of you can be happy with the outcome, or do you expect your child to follow the rules without any input?

And how can you work with your child next time? If you have a situation that you’d like help with, contact me. Maybe we can write it into a post and get feedback from others.

18 Responses to:
"Refusing to “Pick Your Battles” with Children"

  1. TNmommie

    I am at a loss as to how to deal with my 3-yr old. Everyday is a constant “battle” and nothing I do to try and reason with him works. We are having some major separation anxiety issues at the moment as well as not going to bed issues and I just don’t know where to begin. I work full time and do the best I can to connect with my two kids (3 and 17 months) at home but something is missing because I know it could be better than this. Help!

    • Dionna   CodeNameMama

      Hmm, I’m not sure how much I can help with a little blurb, but I’ll try!
      I guess first, I’d try to remember to see things from his viewpoint – your reasoning/logic might not make much sense (or matter) to a 3 yr old who just misses you (or wants to stay up or whatever). I would probably also look at when the problems are happening – is he tired? hungry? Is there something else going on that you’re not aware of?
      Figure out the root of the problem – is it that he needs time to reconnect? Can you change the order of your evening so you can get some good playtime connection with him to help him recharge after a long separation?
      I recommend Cohen’s “Playful Parenting,” Aldort’s “Raising Our Children, Raising Ourselves,” and Hart’s “Respectful Parents, Respectful Kids.”
      Good luck mama!

      • TNmommie

        Ok, more detail I can give! Just didn’t know if this was the place to put it.

        The separation anxiety has been going on for about a month or more now and is getting worse. Anytime anyone leaves (mom, dad, grandparent, sitter) DS loses it and throws a huge fit. When we are leaving to go to “school” in the mornings he wants to give daddy hugs and kisses and there is no end to it, so when he’s gotten 3-4 hugs/kisses we close the van door and back out of the driveway. This is when he begins throwing things at me, his milk, shoes, food, toys, anything he can get and screaming at the top of his lungs for the next 5-10 min. He hit me in the head one morning with his milk while I was driving down the interstate.

        The not going to bed has been going on for 6+ months and DH and I are at our breaking point with it. We’ve tried keeping to a routine, we’ve tried backing up and moving forward bedtimes, cutting out naps makes it worse. We usually get home around 6:30, eat dinner, bath or playtime, then DH takes DS to his room and I take DD and nurse her to sleep in her room sometime around 7:30-8pm. He usually throws a small fit about that wanting me….then DH reads him books, plays games, etc till I get there. I read him a couple books, but he still throws a fit when we turn off the lights to go to sleep. Last night it was 10:20 and he was still refusing to lay in bed so I laid in his bed holding him against his will until he quit fighting and finally fell asleep. I hate that!

      • Dionna   CodeNameMama

        Do you know if the separation anxiety stemmed from something? A move? A change in schools? Did you get a new job? Perhaps he hasn’t worked through something yet, and you could do some role playing or pretend play to figure out where his anxiety comes from. Maybe engage him in a “leaving the house scenario,” really get into the hugs/kisses. Or do the leaving scenario on a weekend so that you can do it over and over and over and no one actually has to leave – maybe if he gets it all out of his system, he’ll feel better?

        As far as throwing things at you in the car – your primary concern in the car is safety. Get everything throwable out of reach. I wouldn’t do well on a highway with something being lobbed at my head. When he gets upset, how are you reacting? It might help his angry feelings for you to acknowledge them calmly, see if you can help him talk them out. Help him label his feelings. See if you can think of a way together that he can constructively be angry (sing a song in a very angry voice, if he’s not *that* angry and you can turn it into a playful parenting moment).

        Going to bed: does he need to go to his room when you take your daughter to bed? If it’s only 7:30 or 8, I don’t know about your kiddo but MINE would not do well being shut up in his room at that time. If he’s not tired, perhaps he and dad could have some special time together in another room of the house – save a special game, do some sports stuff (I say that b/c Kieran loves it), etc. Evening times are Kieran and Tom’s time – they play together a LOT. Have your husband really make an effort to use that time to connect with your son doing something they both love to do. Perhaps a special time will help your son get the connection so that he feels safer to go to sleep.

        I hope some other people comment too – what ideas do you have for TNmommie?

      • TNmommie

        DH does usually play with DS while I’m nursing DD to sleep. They are sometimes in his room, sometimes not. But thanks for the tip.

        I honestly am not sure what has caused it. It could be that he moved up to a new classroom at daycare. His favorite teacher is in the 2’s room and about 3 weeks before his birthday they moved him up to the 3’s room to new teachers and new friends (though he knew most of the kids from when they were in his classroom).

        I know DH and I have been fighting a lot more recently and that might have something to do with it. He really picks up on it when we are arguing and I just tell him that mommy and daddy are having an argument and its okay, we still like each other…..

        I think the screaming fits are mostly due to me losing my temper with him and yelling a lot. I know I lose my temper and I’m working on it. When he loses his temper and screams at me I realize where he is getting the behavior from and I don’t like it. I really want to change our parenting style because I can see that what we are doing now is not working and I don’t like how it makes me feel. Not sure I can completely transition to an “AP” style but I’m definitely going to work on a gentler approach.

        I’m reading Sears “The Discipline Book” now and going to check out some of the other books you suggested as well.

        THANK YOU for everyone’s comments!!!!

  2. Marilyn (A Lot of Loves)   ALotofLoves

    I think this is a nice idea and one that all parents should use with older children. My kids are still quite young though and I haven’t experienced a lot of instances where we have a true disagreement that is possible to compromise on. My kids certainly don’t understand the idea of working it out for the benefit of everyone. If a compromise is possible, I’ll suggest it but there are a lot of times where what my kids want is not feasible or sensible and in that case they just have to learn to roll with what I decide.

  3. Ok I said earlier I pick my battles, but after reading that it is apparent that I work with him since he knows that he does not hold the power. The problem comes with a spouse that is deployed a lot, I have to run a tight ship. Luckily I can get to the true root of the problem 99% of the time and understand what he is REALLY asking (interpreting “AH! ah! ah! AH!” should be a recognized art haha). I am glad you are posting stuff like this, I see a lot of adults who don’t make the effort to communicate with their toddlers.

  4. Ashley Scoggins Smith

    I try so hard to work with my two 2 year olds. But yes, some days are battles for me. I try not to view my interactions with my kiddos as battles. I am really working hard to embrace a more gentle parenting approach. It can be really tough for me. I am working on it. However, I think most parents (at least parents that I know) may refer to it as picking battles when they are actually working with their kids as best they can. My boys are very bright and sometimes this seems to fuel the fire when we are having an issue, no matter how big or small. They wanna “reason” with me in their 2 year old way. Thanks for posting this though. I am really enjoying reading other parents ideas and points of views when it comes to this raising toddlers thing.

  5. For TNmommie…

    Three is a very hard age. Your child is becoming independent in some ways, but in other ways is still very much a toddler. You can’t expect him to understand “reason”; he’s simply not developmentally capable of that yet. He’s experiencing intense emotions with no ability to regulate how his body reacts to them, doesn’t really understand why he’s feeling so horrible (imagine feeling rage and having no idea what it was or why you felt that way all of a sudden). I find it helped me to remember this when my kids were tantruming…it helped me find empathy for them.

    I have one suggestion that might make a difference with both the separation anxiety and bedtime…when you are done nursing your baby to sleep, can you go and snuggle with him in his bed until he falls asleep? This would give you two some special time to make up for your absence. He would likely enjoy the time with Daddy more knowing you were coming in afterwards. I tell you, one day when your son is older you will look back on those nighttime snuggles and never, ever regret them.

    You should go visit the Gentle Discipline forum over at the Mothering.com discussion forums. Lots of wise ladies there and tons of excellent, gentle advice. More than can be given in reader comments!

    I did this with both my kids until the need was outgrown by them. There were times when it was tiring, but I always reminded myself how very short life is. You are already away from him all day and this would be a great way to grab some extra time with him.

    • TNmommie

      Thanks for the advice. A lot of the time we (DH and I) end up falling asleep with DS. Its almost the only way we can get him to sleep without a huge fight/screaming fit. I have also sat outside his door waiting for him to come out and calmly put him back to bed time and time again and eventually it turns into crying,yelling, and eventually he passes out. You are right though – the easiest nights are the ones we stay with him and DH and I were trying to avoid that because we thought it was reinforcing bad habits and we liked that time to ourselves so that WE can reconnect. But I’m starting to think its not such a bad thing to be there for him if he needs us.

  6. We have really gotten bedtime down to a routine in the last 6 months, which helps. It wasn’t easy at first and there was a lot of putting back to bed. I wouldn’t try to stay there until he falls asleep and yes, I know that means he will get up out of bed. Gently take him back to bed. My husband and I took turns going up and tucking back in. There were nights when it went on for hours at first and it was very frustrating. Now he stays in bed unless he needs to use the restroom. We do put him in bed between 8-9 every night. We agree on the number of books we are going to read ahead of time, have a bath, read books, give hugs and kisses, etc.

    He is also welcome to come into our bed at night and usually does around 1-3 am. He sleeps on DH’s side since DD sleeps with me. Nighttime could be a great way to reconnect with your little one, if you are open to it.

    I’ve also found that nothing tires a toddler out more than lots of fresh air and sun. Make it a routine to go outside for some family play time every night before bath time. It will wear him down better than anything else I know :)

    • TNmommie

      Anytime we try putting him back to bed it always ends bad. I am tired, have very little patience and its mostly my fault, but its probably not going to work at this point.

      Recently DS has been getting up 2-3 nights a week and coming downstairs and climbing into bed with us. Most of the time we let him stay, sometimes we let him stay until he falls back to sleep and then take him back to his bed. We let DD sleep with us until she was 14 months old and then I transitioned her to her own bed. I thought for a long time that his issues with sleeping were because he saw his sister in bed with us and he wasn’t “allowed” but now I think its probably the separation anxiety kicking in.

      I would LOVE to take the kids outside more in the evenings but the mosquitoes are so bad and DD has a very bad reaction to them that we really can’t do it this time of year. I don’t like the chemicals on our skin or the sprays for the yard (the ones that work anyway – the organic options just don’t work).

  7. Jenn doesn’t say why she wouldn’t lay with her child, nor why she found it better to spend so much time and effort for so many nights trying to get him to sleep alone, but with respect to TNmommie’s situation I would advise against it.

    Here we’ve got a child who is already suffering from separation anxiety, and trying to force bedtime separations on a child who is obviously not ready for it is only compounding the problem, IMNSHO. If was away from my child all day five days a week I would grab whatever close time I could get. In fact, if it were me I would simply bring the 3 year old into my bed at night and have him sleep with the rest of us (we coslept with both kids from birth but by age 3 they’d both asked for their own beds: they still needed my presence to fall asleep, however, and yes they both grew out of it when they were ready and now I look back very fondly on those nights).

    • TNmommie

      Thanks, and I tend to agree with you on this one just from what has worked for us in the past. I just need to get my head around the fact that its not “bad” to fall asleep with him and that he will outgrow the need for us to be there.

      He was just such an independent little baby and its so different for him. He STTN at 10 weeks and was in his own crib from day 1 (we didn’t cosleep with our first child cause DH didn’t like the idea. He came around with #2). He hated being cuddled/rocked to sleep and just wanted to be put in his crib and put himself to sleep…..and now this!!! Big curve ball!

  8. Not too much to add here, though I do have sympathy — bedtime/nighttime parenting can be HARD! My daughter is 4 and I do the thing where I go in and check in, lie with her & then tuck her in after I’ve put my twins to sleep (Daddy has done her bedtime routine, & is usually just leaving or already downstairs). She really looks forward to my coming in and we have some really good discussions at this time, sometimes.

    I also want to say that we experienced a TON of challenging behavior around age three (from about 3 months before the birthday until 3-6 months after). I know so many others who have had a difficult time with this age, as well. We just tried to work with both kindness & firmness (not always succeeding, I know, but we are working on it!) and it gradually got better. Things are MUCH better now at 4. Hang in there! All the book reccs are great! I am working on Positive Discipline & Positive Discipline A-Z and PLayful Parenting right now. Want to check out the book(s) by Gordon Nuefield too –Hold onto Your Kids is one I’ve heard good stuff about.

    As for me, man, I struggle with working through conflicts though I agree that if you can avoid a “battle” it is so much better. I try to allow some choices within my boundaries (“do you want to do X or Y” (when Z is not an option), “do you want to carry your shoes or put them on now”, , etc etc. Sometimes, it just doesn’t work, or my kids are beyond working with me due to tiredness, hunger, emotions, etc. And then I just assert my limits and do what needs to be done.

    I struggle the most when I am trying to work with my oldest while still needing to actively take care of (or get ready) my two other kids. My ability to “work with her” diminishes rapidly if my attention is spread, which it often is!

  9. I wanted to comment on two items that were brought up.

    The first is compromise. The idea sounds great, doesn’t it? However, it isn’t necessarily so. When compromising, one or both involved parties have to give up something in order to reach a middle ground. There are instances when this is a positive thing and it works out for everyone. Often times, though, one or both parties leave the situation feeling worse than they did. They haven’t worked together, they’ve just forfeited part of what they wanted (or needed). When parents work with their children, they need to put aside the outcome they envision and take a step back. Brainstorm with your child in order to come up with a solution that works for everyone. It may be a combination of what each had envisioned, or it may be something completely different from either party’s orginal plan.

    Secondly, I wanted to comment on reasoning with a child. When we reason with another person (adult or child), we are giving points which support our view of how things are or how things should happen. It’s in support of what we want or believe. I definitely agree that we need to give reasons for what we want to happen or what our expectations are, but when we switch to “reasoning,” we are ignoring any other possible solution and effectively shutting down any attempt at working with the other person.

  10. Michelle L.   ShellChelle

    When my kids were young, I always tried to let them work things out with me and with each other. It seemed to work until they hit the pre-teen years. Now, “working it out” means insults, defiance, and rudeness. I am often at a loss now, as my husband and I are pretty laid-back people.

    All three kids have had a “gentle” childhood. Midwife-assisted childbirth, breastfeeding, co-sleeping, Quaker education, etc.

    I am at my wits end, and have even just started a blog (www.INeedSupernanny.blogspot.com) because I am hoping other, more experienced parents will chime in and help me through this chaotic time!

    • Dionna   CodeNameMama

      Funny you should mention Supernanny – did you see the article I linked to here: http://teachers.net/gazette/JUN08/kohn/

      I have absolutely no advice for teens, as I have only lived through the teenage years, I haven’t parented them. But “Respectful Parents, Respectful Kids,” “Raising Our Children, Raising Ourselves,” and “Unconditional Parenting” all talk about kids of all ages. I hope you find some gentle advice!

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