how to win the battle of wills

Tuesday, March 18, 2014

photo by Lars Plougmann - Creative Commons
Today I am sharing a story from last summer on MOPS' newsletter, The Fridge Door.  Typically I don't share those articles here, but despite the different style, I thought this one may interest you.  When we battle our children, we all lose.  

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"No!  You don't find me!!"  It's nap time, and she is out of her room.  Again.

I pick up my daughter and carry her back to bed.  As I walk down the hall she screeches, "Don't tuck me in!"

Until now, my easy-going toddler has been a breeze to parent.  But when she became a big sister and moved to a new city within the same few months, we hit a snag.  Now my typically chill little girl refuses to stay in bed.

For weeks we have been stuck in the same miserable routine.  I tuck her in and kiss her good night.  She runs out a soon as I leave her room.  Over and over ... and over.  Most days it takes two full hours, and many tears, before she falls asleep.  None of my usual tricks have worked.  I am at a breaking point.  I need to win this battle.

I hear a familiar creak and I glare at the door.  When suddenly I see - really see - my daughter's tear-stained face.  All at once I understand the root of our bedtime quandary.

Until now I have seen my daughter as the problem.  We were locked in a battle of wills, and I was determined to win.  But families shouldn't have winners and losers.  We are on the same team, working toward common goals.  As long as we engage in battle with one another, we all lose.

When I remembered we were on the same team, I could consider peaceful options to our dilemma.  She needed my attention, and I needed rest.  In time I found a way to meet both of our needs without hours of tears and frustration.  But the first step to peace was to let go of the fight.

Maybe bedtime is the battle your little ones have chosen.  Or maybe it's the potty, wearing a seatbelt, or mealtimes (or all of the above).  Kids dig in their heels for any number of reasons, and a peaceful solution in your home may look very different from mine.  As mothers, our goal is to guide and nurture, not to win.  When we are most frustrated with our children, it may be time to disengage.  We are all on the same team.  


  1. Thank your for sharing. How did you resolve the nap problem in the end? I need some ideas on resolving the same issue peacefully.

    1. Honestly, with my first child I was convinced he HAD to nap no matter what and I became the warden of nap time. It was miserable. When #2 and #3 got to that in-between stage of naps, I approached the issue by asking what we both needed during that time. I needed rest and to be "off the clock" for a little while. They needed rest too, but, for different reasons, they were using that time to get attention from me. I gave my daughter attention by spending a little time with her as naptime was beginning - singing songs, reading stories, etc. Then when she went to her room, she had to stay. It took a little while, but it worked.

      With my son, I let him have rest time by watching a movie. TV did not keep him awake (of course that's different for each child) and we found a few key movies that he would always fall asleep while watching. He's nearly six, and he still naps this way a few days a week.

      So I think it's different for each child. The one thing I learned was that when we were battling one another, we were both losing. But when I asked how everyone could get what they needed, a peaceful resolution came into focus more easily.

  2. Mine is beyond napping and more into the evening. My 2 year old (#3) not only climbs out of his crib but climbs up the ladder to jump on the top bunk and his sleeping big brother, waking the whole room. Over time, it escalates into everyone getting angry & frustrated. Naps I will give on and let go if the battle isn't worth it but everyone needs to sleep at night. Looking for a peaceful solution because the only advise from parents that seem to make them stay in their bed have been to "spank every time they get out". But the frustration of that just seems to escalates and no one is learning anything or "winning" as you referenced. Help please!

    1. Oh gosh - peace to you! Several thoughts come to mind as I read your comment. First of all, I know that frustration! Those moments are SO hard. And I am with you. The only thing "spanking every time" has ever accomplished for me is resentment from them, guilt from me, and tears all around.

      I don't know that I have any answers for you at all - but there may be a few things you can think through that will help you answer your own questions. First, all behavior is communication. All of mine have acted out the most during times when our lives were uncertain, and they needed reassurance (when moving, late pregnancy, right after bringing home a new baby, etc). What is his behavior telling you? That was the key to figuring out naps with my little girl. Her life was in upheaval and she needed extra time with me. When I found more positive ways to give it to her, she stopped fighting so hard over bedtime.

      Second, with my fourth baby I learned the hard way that bedtime is about habits. He had developed some bad habits, and in order to help him go to sleep better I actually had to go back hours before bedtime, and rearrange his schedule in the afternoon/ early evening. That's something else to consider for your little boy. What does his schedule look like? Does he have enough space between nap and bedtime? Is he using enough energy in the day? Or, on the flip side, could he be overtired?

      Something else we've had to do at different times is stagger bedtimes. Our kids could sleep in the same room, but they could not fall asleep in the same room when they were toddlers. Could this be contributing to his bedtime trouble?

      Maybe you've thought about all of these a hundred times. There are numerous sites devoted to kids and sleep, and I'm certainly no sleep expert. But I know so well your frustration. I have been there. I hope you find a peaceful resolution soon. Peace to you.

  3. I just want to say how much I appreciate reading your posts and thoughts on motherhood, life, church, etc. We are in the throes of a three year old adjusting to a new brother who struggles to communicate his feelings and instead chooses to use his hands instead of his words. Last night, a repeated situation came up, instead of reacting like I always do, I did something different and thus, so did he and he actually TOLD me he was sad....huge breakthrough! Please keep sharing...weary moms like knowing we are not alone.


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