Pick your battles: why fighting with your kids isn’t always necessary

The other day my two-year-old was fussing about his diaper. “Itches,” he complained, scratching at the diaper where the flaps were taped. Every time I suggested changing his diaper, he’d vehemently say, “No!”

Okay, fine. Live with your itchy diaper then.

But he whined about it again so I picked him up and tried to lay him down on his changing table. “No—get down!” he yelled. Okay, fine. Live with your itchy diaper then. For real, this time.

He ran to his bed and cried for a few seconds. I just looked at him exasperated. He calmed down after a few more seconds so that his cries died to sniffles. Then he even attempted small talk: “How many blankets?” My face softened as I gave a small smile and responded, “You have three.”

Finally he gave me a look and quietly said, “Want diaper change.” I was surprised at his change of mind, especially because it didn’t seem like he was being fickle the way he does when he throws a tantrum. I said, “Okay, let’s get you up on the changing pad.” And he climbed out of bed and willingly let himself be changed.

Pick your battles
Our pediatrician reminded us of sage advice when my toddler was entering his defiant, independent age. She said, “Pick your battles. If he’s not hurting anyone, just let him be. If it’s not necessary, let it go.”

We were having breakfast last weekend when LO wanted to eat but didn’t want to part with his book. “You can put it on the couch,” we told him. “You can have it after you’re done eating.” This, after all, abides by our efforts not to have toys or books on the table while we’re eating. “No,” he replied. He started getting fussy. Then my husband suggested, “Do we really want to start off the day fighting over a book?” We picked our battle and let him have his book.

Letting him win
And when we did, I wondered if we undermined our authority by letting him “win.” You always hear about the importance of staying consistent with rules. What if he now thinks he can bring a toy or book with him to the dining table all the time? What if he starts being rebellious? Will he listen next time if we ask him to put his toys and books on the couch before going to eat?

The answer? Yes. He still listens.

Just this afternoon, LO wanted to eat (a not-uncommon occurrence it seems!). Not only did he willingly put his toy on the couch before sitting down, he did so without being asked or told. I don’t think that by “letting him win” did he permanently think that he can get away with every misbehavior he can think of. Maybe he thought, “I’ve been following the rules, I know what’s expected, but maybe just today I wanted to have this book in my hands.”

Nagging doesn’t work for the long-term
Think about all the effort it takes to nag and fight: you have to harangue someone who really doesn’t want to listen to you right now because he has his own agenda in mind. Nagging often involves telling, telling, telling without really putting ourselves into the other person’s perspective. And my toddler is almost always obedient and a self-starter; do I really need to bug him about the rare times he bends the rules? Probably not.

I tell myself that if I had to fight with my toddler—someone whom I love beyond this world—then it better be for a darn good reason. There’s the obvious scolding for serious offenses, like the one time he purposely took a few steps towards the street instead of staying on the sidewalk. Or to a less dangerous degree, when we have to leave the house at a certain time, we absolutely have to go despite any protests or tears. But let’s say we’re going to the park just to hang out. We probably don’t have to go right this minute; maybe we can wait until he’s done playing with the toy he’s focused on.

Prevention is key
Even though I write about my toddler’s tantrums and our temperamental differences, most of our days are good days and thankfully we don’t argue all that often. One tactic we’ve used is prevention: avoid the battle before it even begins. If the environment or situation isn’t conducive to a toddler, you might as well welcome a battle right then and there. For instance, if we want to leave the house by 8:20, we don’t introduce a new toy or even try to go to a new room when it’s 8:15. That’s just not fair: why offer him this new activity only to tell him five minutes later that he now has to stop playing with it? Don’t introduce the new toy: battle averted.

Letting me win?
I wondered about that day when my toddler suddenly changed his mind and let himself get a diaper change. In the simplest terms, maybe he finally realized that the diaper really did itch and he wanted to take it off. Or maybe… he learned to pick his own battles. Maybe he realized that this is silly and we don’t have to ruin the wonderful day we were having to spend the rest of it crying or yelling. Who knows. But at that moment, when my toddler I looked at each other, I felt  as if we were saying to one another, “This is unnecessary.”

How do you pick your battles? How do you resolve conflict with your kids?


6 thoughts on “Pick your battles: why fighting with your kids isn’t always necessary

  1. Two year olds are fickle people to say the least and we have been through 2 of them and now my littlest is 16 months. For us we just don’t fight. Its as simple as that. Daddy and Mommy don’t argue (in front of the kids) and when we disagree with each other we do it peacefully. So we just don’t fight and argue with the kids. That is how we deal with conflict in our house. Yes there are times when the kids want one thing and and we want them to do something else, and usually the older kids ASK. They ask, we give them an answer and that is that. The little one still has clearly a language barrier, but we don’t fuss with him either. Our feeling (as old school as it may be) is that he is not old enough to know what is best for him. So if its something that is “worthy of fighting over” mom and dad win. Everything else that is inconsequential (how much he eats, what toy he plays with etc) he can have and do what he wants. But in general if its a rule in the house we can’t let him win….after all we have bigger siblings that are watching and wondering why they can’t break the same rule.
    Thanks for sharing!

  2. I know this sounds horrible, but a lot of the times I just laugh! That’s how I pick]\k my battles. My two year old sometimes blindsides me with aggressiveness and its funny because it is SO not her. It’s a new thing and I know she’s just learning boundaries and pushing limits, so I don’t need to take it personally. When I laugh she often realizes that her behavior isn’t working and she’ll try something else. When she is nice and not trying to get her way in inappropriate ways then we are in business 🙂

    Such a funny age, right?

  3. I totally agree with this and am glad to hear from someone else that letting the little one win once in a while doesn’t make all your efforts at discipline worthless!!!
    I try to just use my values to parent (duh… who doesn’t?), so I ask how important this or that thing really is in the grand scheme of things as I see it. It works better sometimes than others though. For instance, I seem to overreact to books being damaged, where I normally don’t get too upset about things that are “just things.”

  4. Great post. I’ve been trying to remember this with my toddler but I worry about consistency…one day I whined back at him (I was feeling kinda whiney anyway lol) and started stomping around and doing everything like he was but saying things like “ugh it’s so hard being mommy, I’m so tired…I don’t wanna make dinner” it was kinda hysterical (especially when my mother saw me doing it!)…my toddler stopped cold and started laughing hysterically and the whole thing evolved into a tickle fest! 🙂

  5. Pingback: What Happened to my Toddler!?!?…What Happened to Me? « Mommy Baby Spot

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