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We were already leaving the house 10 minutes behind schedule. My son was in the corner of the living room playing with his trains. I looked over to him and said, “Hey honey, it’s time to put on your shoes. We gotta go.”

A little girl sitting on a couch with a small dog lying beside her.

I didn’t know it yet, but we were diving deep into a major power struggle. My son wanted to keep playing, and I wanted to leave the house.

All-in-all the power struggle carried on for a good 30 minutes, leaving us both emotionally exhausted without any real resolution.

I was missing something.

It’s so common for parents to seemingly do all the right things, yet continue to experience power struggles with their kids on a daily basis. You set firm boundaries and do what needs to be done.

But why does everything need to be such a battle? Why can’t you have a quick parenting trick for how to make kids listen?

4 Miracle Phrase to End Power Struggles.

I started using an abundance of Helpful Phrases in my parenting over the last year. They are like quick parenting wins to keep in your back pocket. I have phrases that I use in all sorts of different situations, but here are 5 miracle phrases to defuse a power struggle.

“That didn’t go the way you wanted.”

If you find yourself already engaged in a power struggle, this is a great phrase to turn it around. When we rush kids out the door, it’s easy to forget they are in the middle of doing something important to them too.

Now when I find myself in the middle of a power struggle, I pause and say, “That didn’t go the way you wanted. You wanted more time to finish what you were doing, and that was frustrating. I’m sorry it was rushed.”

We still leave the house or continue with what we are doing, except that little bit of empathy and validation is enough to help keep everyone calm.

“You don’t like that.”

More than anything, kids want you to notice what they like and don’t like. They want to feel heard and feel some sense of control over their life.

When my son was a strong willed toddler, and we used to fight incessantly at meal times. He would say “he didn’t want to eat it,” and I would respond with, “But you love that. You need to eat supper.”

Now I just respond with, “You don’t like that. You’d much rather eat something else.” Then I pause and carry on eating my own meal. Oddly enough, he usually comes back and tries the food a few minutes later.

“You wish you could…”

When kids act out it is usually because the are looking for more connection, communication and understanding. When my son throws a tantrum before bedtime, it seems like an act of all out defiance. But in truth, it’s a cry for connection.  

Now I try to meet him in the moment, using “You wish you could” phrases:

“You wish we could play right now. You wish you had me all to yourself to sit and play and laugh with for hours. You wish you could stay up all night and that it was never bedtime.”

He instantly feels like I finally “get it.” His bedtime remains the same, but we find ways to play through the whole bedtime routine and make it fun.

“This is hard for you.”

I use this all the time now when my son doesn’t want to go to school in the morning. Before when he didn’t want to school, I would say things like, “Of course, you want to go to school. You love school. You will have so much fun at school.”

Naturally, this escalated him because instead of listening to what he was saying, I was busy trying to talk him out of it.

Now I approach his emotions totally different and lean right into the moment. I’ll say things like, “This is hard for you. You don’t really want to go to school right now. You wish you could stay home with me all day.” This phrase saves us from a big dramatic meltdown each morning.

With Helpful Phrases the possibilities are endless.

This is exactly why my friend Rachel and I (Lauren Tamm) spent the last year writing a book called Helpful Phrases!

Helpful Phrases 3d book Left 400

It contains 100+ awesome parenting phrases to use with your kids to make life easier on yourself. Each phrase comes with a brief explanation for why the phrase works, and many are backed by science and research. This book is chock full of quick parenting wins to help you start enjoying more peaceful days with your kids–immediately.

Learn more about Helpful Phrases here.
~ Lauren

More posts you might like:
stop yelling & the kids will start to LISTEN

one word you should never say when discipling your child


Hi there!

I’m Becky, a former elementary school teacher turned certified child development therapist and blogger. I work at home with my husband and together we are raising (and partially homeschooling) our four children in the Carolinas. I love diet coke, ice cream, and spending time with my family.

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  1. Thank you for sharing. I have three kids ages 7 and under and this is very sound advice. My middle child is very strong willed and I have learned that how I approach a situation makes all the difference.

  2. I wish I would have had your book when my children were little. They are 19 and 22 now, and good children, but your book would have been an asset when they were little.