choose your battles

During Nate's ridiculous sleep regressions, we let
him play in the living room until he crashed, while one of
us slept on the couch. Because he would not "cry it out;"
he would "scream until morning."
 part 2 of 3 - read the preview herepart 1 here and part 3 here

Choose your battles is not just a cliche. Seriously. If you have a strong-willed child, the kid will fight over everything, and some things really aren't worth the battle. You have to determine, sometimes spur of the moment, if a particular situation is worth the battle or not. Some of this, more than choosing your battles, could be called avoiding unnecessary battles. I'm a compliant. I'm an expert at avoiding conflict!

By way of example: I read a post by a super-nanny-type consultant who helps people get their kids under control. (Possibly The Super-Nanny, but I'm not positive.) She said that her first test of the parents is what she calls "The Sippy Cup Test." Basically, it goes like this: Mom goes to the kitchen to fix Jr's morning cup of milk. Jr complains as soon as she gives it to him, "I don't want the blue cup! I want the red cup!" A disciplined mom will insist Jr keeps the cup she gave him. A permissive mom will give in to his demands. I say, a mom who's choosing her battles will realize that a cup is unimportant. We don't need to have a battle about this. When I realized what a fight Nate would put up about which cup he was using, I started keeping his cups on a shelf in the kitchen he can reach (or, when there wasn't such a shelf in that particular house, give him options). He gets his own cup out if he wants me to fix him a drink. Battle averted.

The following tips could work with compliant children, too, however in my experience, they just aren't as bothered by things as strong willed kids. (For example, on point #1, most days Ben really can't be bothered to have an opinion about what he wears. However, when he's in a willful mood, I treat him like a strong-willed child.)
  1. Offer options (when possible). This has been one of the most effective ways to avoid unnecessary battles of wills. If I pull out one outfit for Nate to wear to church, he will refuse to wear it, absolutely. If I pull out two outfits and let him choose, he has a sense of control, which strong willed children really need. If I tell Nate, "Go brush your teeth," he's going to defy me. Instead I tell him, "You need to brush your teeth, wash your face, and comb your hair. What are you going to do first?" It doesn't matter at all, but he loves the freedom of choosing to comb his hair first today, wash his face first tomorrow.
  2. Don't do anything for the child that he can do for himself. This is important for all children, but especially useful with strong willed ones. They crave control as much as they enjoy conflict. Nate is much more cooperative getting ready for school now that he can do it (mostly) by himself. I use routines so much that he has memorized everything that has to be done. Sometimes I have to remind him to stay on task (normal for his age), or say something like, "Now you've finished breakfast, what do you need to do next?" He thrives under the responsibility of knowing what he is supposed to do and doing it in the order and the way he chooses. If your child doesn't remember everything they have to do to get ready, a chart (like any of these) can help them have this control. 
  3. Give ending time warnings. This also goes for all children, but strong willed kids are so much more dramatic about this. If Nate is watching TV after school, but hasn't done his homework, I have 2 options. I can tell him, "Turn off the TV now and do your homework." Or I can tell him, "When this show is over, turn off the TV and do your homework." While there are times that I need him to do what I've told him to do right now, there is really no reason to in this case. If he hasn't turned off the TV when he was supposed to, that is a battle I need to fight. He has to turn it off right now or face consequences. In other cases, I give minute countdowns (we will leave in 5 minutes...).
  4. There is a difference between willful defiance and natural immaturity. Sometimes our kids misbehave simply because they lack maturity. This is part of being a kid. With a strong willed kid, you're so used to being defied for the sake of defiance, it is easy to forget that sometimes they really weren't trying to disobey, they were just immature, irresponsible, or forgetful, in a way that is to be expected for their age. In the above example, if Nate didn't turn off the TV when he was supposed to, he may have just been so zoned out watching his show that he forgot or didn't notice when it went to a new episode. That's simply immaturity. He's 5. Or he could have been testing me to see what would happen, which would be willful defiance. The way I test this is to ask him if he remembers what I told him to do (a more confrontational approach would automatically motivate him to be defiant). He has this last chance to obey right now. If he does obey right away, I will chalk it up to unintentional forgetfulness or immaturity. If he puts up a fight, whether it was originally defiance or not, it is now. Make sure that your expectations are in line with your child's maturity level. Immaturity (appropriate for the child's development) should be excused, but willful defiance should be corrected with real consequences.
Tune in next week for the exciting conclusion: Win decisively!


  1. Thanks for sharing these! We definitely try to choose our battles and get in the yes's at our house. We are going through some stuff with our daughter right now and I'm going to try using your tips to see if it helps. I think I especially needed the reminder about defiance vs immaturity.
    Cheers, Amber at


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