Battle of Wills

In spite of my age, I’m only now learning about raising a toddler and I want to share what I find with others because, who knows, it might help.

Everybody has heard about Terrible Twos, right? Toddlers discover they have a will of their own that is often at odds with the will of others. They start trying to impose their will, usually at very inopportune moments. So what I found is that it’s never a good idea to enter into a battle of wills with a toddler. I tried a couple of times, and it wasn’t fun. I acquire this unpleasant didactic tone that makes me not like myself.

So the solution is the moment they become contrarian on something where you know you can’t let them have their way, divert their attention to something else (which is obviously not food and not a screen.)

Example. “I don’t want to brush teeth! I hate brushing teeth! Yucky toothpaste!”

“Hey, did you hear what monkey said to giraffe when she sat on her sunglasses?”


As I tell the fascinating story about the monkey and the giraffe, I start walking towards the bathroom, and she follows me because she wants to hear the story. In no time, she’s happily brushing teeth.

Or, “I don’t want to go upstairs, I want to keep playing here!”

“Hey, I think there is a scary cup upstairs and I’m scared of it!”

“Cup isn’t scary, mommy!”

“Let’s go upstairs and I’ll be scared of the cup and you’ll protect me!”

“Because you are my baby! And I’m your mommy! Let’s go, baby, you’ll see, cup is not scary. Silly baby! Come on!”

Sometimes, it’s important to let them win the battle of wills.

Example. “I want to play dollies now, mommy.”

“OK, but first we have to put the Play-Doh back in the boxes.”


“OK, tell me with words why you don’t want to. I don’t understand you when you scream. Tell me with words.”

“Because I want to make chairs for my dollies out of Play-Doh. My dollies don’t have any chairs!”

“OK, that makes sense. It’s a very good idea. But after we are done, we’ll put the Play-Doh back in the boxes, right?”

“Yes! Because it will dry out if we don’t!”

6 thoughts on “Battle of Wills

  1. My just-turned-three year old loves to play “red light, green light” with me: when she says “red light” I stop in whatever ridiculous pose I am in (I play it using silly walks) until she says green light (or until I fall over). I think it’s great for her to be “in control” of mommy for a change πŸ™‚


      1. I can’t take credit for the idea: the game was her idea when she came home with a red plastic ring from a party and started pretending it was a stop-light for me. But I did have an “aha!” moment when I realized why it was such fun game for her πŸ™‚


  2. What I think about this is, it’s good when it’s age appropriate. My own parents tried to use these techniques on me throughout my life. And used the distraction strategy to evade discussion of real problems. It was really disconcerting.

    P: Could I ask you a question?
    C: Have a cookie.
    [Question is rebuffed]
    [Time passes]
    P: Why don’t you talk to me about yourself?
    C: Because it is painful to be rebuffed with cookies. And you have already made it clear you don’t want to hear from me in a non-ritualistic way.


    1. Yes, I should have mentioned that I don’t see this working past the age of 4. This is for very small toddlers who are only beginning to learn to self-regulate emotionally. Once they are 4-5, you can already have discussions about why it’s important to brush teeth without it devolving into a tantrum.


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