Mom feeding her daughter, having funHow to End Power Struggles Over Food and Sleep.

many times have you been in a power struggle with your child over food or sleep? 

One big reason parents get trapped into these types of power struggles is because we think we “should” have the power to decide what, when and how much our child eats, and how, when and where our child should sleep. After all, we’ve been making those decisions since they were born. 

But as I’ve said before, “A parent’s job is to slowly release a child to him or her self, bit by bit.” Doing that is a long slow p-r-o-c-e-s-s that begins around age 2 when a child is making their first bid for independence. The truth is, trying to control “all” food and sleep issues will only end up trapping you in power struggles. 

The key to ending the struggles is to give your child “some” control — without relinquishing “total” control. 

How do you do that? You begin by being honest about what you can and can’t control, and change course when you find yourself forcing the issue.

Ending Struggles Over Food

You know you can’t force your child to eat something if they don’t want to. They’ll just shut their mouth, spit it out or throw up. However, there are ways to make things a bit easier and help stop power struggles on your end.

Your child’s stomach is the size of “her” fist. As long as she’s gaining weight and eating healthfully, you can drop the forcing and power struggles. Food struggles can be especially dangerous for girls. Teens can use eating or not eating as a form of rebellion or to make decisions about their image. It’s best to make food a non-issue. 

Do a palate test. Make one dish three ways, really bland, the “normal” way, and a spicy version. My oldest shocked me when he chose the spicy version. 

Children are natural grazers. Prepare 6 snack-like meals instead of three full meals. Things like apples with raisin faces, carrots dipped in avocado, celery stuffed with peanut butter, turkey and cheese roll-ups. Nothing too elaborate, just healthy. Create a small area where your child can find the healthy food whenever he or she is hungry. The trick is to let them spoon the food themselves, and clean up the mess.

If you want family mealtime, feed kids 30 minutes before adults, then let them join you for desert. That way any power issues are handled by asking the child to leave the table. There’s no loss of the healthy food, just desert.

Ending Struggles Over Sleep,

Parents want children to go to sleep and stay asleep all by themselves. This is a step-by-step process, not something a parent can insist upon without getting into a power struggle. There’s too much development happening inside your child to expect instant results. Even Super Nanny’s approach takes five days to a week to achieve.

There are only two possible outcomes for any sleep method: success or failure. Just like food, you can’t force a child to sleep. You can insist they stay in bed, but you can’t really insist or force sleep. Here are a few things to help sleep arrive.

You both n-e-e-d sleep. Staying focused on the goal of achieving sleep, versus the goal of getting your child to sleep without you, will reduce power struggles. 

There is a window of sleepiness that shows you when to begin the bedtime process, miss it and your child gets wild again. 

Announcing, “It’s time for bed” means, “time to separate” to your child. Try, “time for bath” instead. He’ll still try to postpone bedtime by whining, crying, negotiating or saying no. That’s age appropriate. All parenting changes require a shift in your thinking first, accepting and ignoring his protest, and lovingly doing it anyway. 

Add ¼ cup of table salt and some Gerber’s Lavender Bedtime Bath to bath water. The magnesium in salt leaches tension out of muscles and the lavender makes them sleepy.

Last week’s column, How to Deal with Back Talk from Your Kids, showed you how to drop your end of a power struggle. Food and sleep issues require that you drop your end of the rope, give your child enough power to gain cooperation, and time.

Sharon Silver is the author of Stop Reacting and Start Responding and The Authentic Parent Series. Go to to download two free chapters from her book and learn about other Proactive Parenting programs. Find Sharon on Twitter and Facebook.


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