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Pick Your Battles With Children

Updated on April 19, 2009

Pick your battles.  You hear it often.  Reason being, it is good advice.  You cannot fight every fight worth fighting in real life.  You will also not win every battle.  And when it comes to kids, your kids especially, you need to make sure if you pick that fight, you’ll win it.  There are two things you cannot control with your children—you cannot make them eat and you cannot make them use the toilet.  These are the two things in which kids hold all the power. 

When it comes to eating, you must realize it is not your job to get them to eat.  It is your job to offer them healthy food choices.  Children will not starve themselves.  If they have healthy food choices available, they will eat when hungry.  Some children are not meal eaters.  Some children prefer to graze.  If that works for you and your child, it’s fine.  It’s actually healthier than eating a few meals a day.  Children also have small stomachs, and it isn’t unusual for them to only eat a small amount.  A serving size for a toddler is around ¼ an adult serving size.  Don’t allow free access to drinks, especially juice, and children will eat more.  The important thing is that your child is healthy and thriving.

If you do have a picky eater, there are tips to help encourage your child to eat more:

  • Offer only a small amount of a new food at a time
  • Always offer new foods with a favorite food
  • Offer new foods several times: it can take up to twenty tastes before a child accepts a new food
  • Include children in meal planning and preparation
  • Have children grow their own fruits and vegetables
  • Do not act as a short order cook: they eat what is served or go hungry
  • Keep the television off during meal times
  • Eat meals as a family whenever possible where children see others eating the food

Before you start potty-training, you must make sure that your child is truly ready.  Readiness doesn’t come with some arbitrary age; it comes at developmental readiness.  If your child can dress themselves, show ability to control bowel movements, follow directions, and express dislike at wet/dirty diapers, your child is probably ready to start potty-training.

It will not happen overnight; it can take months.  During this time you need to be supportive and encouraging.  Never punish your child for accidents.  The less of a big deal you make out of it, the less of a battle it is, the less likely your child will use this as a way of control.  This is especially true of children that have very little choice/freedom in their lives.  Do praise your child when they use the toilet. 

Potty Training Tips:

  • Let your child pick out their own potty and underwear
  • Buy an anatomically correct doll in your child’s gender and have them train the doll; celebrate the doll’s success.
  • Put your child in underwear; today’s diapers are too good at protecting your child from wetness
  • Give your child plenty of liquids and have a potty nearby at all times
  • Be consistent
  • Bribery


Temper tantrums are in your control.  There are two types of temper tantrums—the ones were our children are simply after something and the ones were our children have just lost control.  It is important to recognize which type of melt down your child is experiencing and then take appropriate action. 

The ones were your children are after something are easy to recognize.  They start when they want something and end the instant they get it.  These are your fault; you’ve given in.  Never give in.  If you have, you need to retrain your child to understand it will not happen.  While they learn with one experience that temper tantrums work, it will take several to learn that temper tantrums no longer work.

The second type of tantrum is more situational.  They aren’t after something, but are just simply throwing a fit.  Maybe they don’t want to eat a particular food, or be somewhere.  These are from children feeling frustrated and out of control.  You want to help your child feel safe and/or secure.  These are most easily avoided by prevention.

Tips for preventing tantrums:

  • Make sure your child is not hungry; keep snacks on hand.
  • Make sure your child is well rested; give your child the ability to nap on the go or be home for naps.
  • If you will be putting your child in an “adult” situation, bring child-friendly activities.
  • Keep off-limits items out of sight and reach whenever possible.
  • Praise your child when you catching them being good.
  • Always tell your child honestly what to expect in new situations.
  • Prepare your children for transitions. Give a 5 minute warning when playtime at the park is going to end.
  • Allow your children choices in limited quantities whenever possible. Offer the choice of two outfits in the morning, having chicken or pasta for lunch, of getting a haircut or going to the post office first when running errands.
  • Don’t always say no—pick your battles. It’s OK to give them that candy bar or buy the book on occasion. Once you say no, either change your mind right away or stick to your guns.
  • Don’t expect more from your child than they can handle. An adult cocktail party isn’t the place to expect a two-year old to sit quietly for three hours.

Tips for handling tantrums:

  • Do not give in, ever; if you give the child what they want they have been rewarded.
  • Do not punish the child; this will reward the child in attention.
  • Meet each dirty look with a smile when out in public.  In the long run, you are doing what is best for your child and you shouldn’t care what some stranger thinks.
  • Stay calm.
  • Acknowledge the child’s desire to have what they want and then say no. 
  • Remove the child from the situation.
  • If possible, usually when at home, put your child in a safe place and walk away so they throw the tantrum only to themselves—no audience.
  • Divert with humor.

I do not believe in breaking a child’s defiance.  Defiance can be a good thing.  We do not want our children to follow blindly; to do whatever their peers incite them to do.  We want our children to think; to know right from wrong and to act accordingly.  Rosa Parks acted in defiance.  George Washington acted in defiance.  John Hancock, Thomas Jefferson, Samuel Adams, and Benjamin Franklin acted in defiance.  Some of the greatest changes in the world were because someone acted in defiance. 

No, what you want to do is harness your child’s in-born personality.  Work within their natural tendencies.  If you have a “stubborn” child, give them the positive label “determined”.   Don’t say your child is “obstinate,” say that your child “knows his own mind”.  It is us that frequently need to change; we need to increase our tolerance levels.  We need to learn to adjust our parenting style for our child’s needs.


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    • LelahKimball profile image

      LelahKimball 8 years ago from USA

      Me, together? HA! I spent two nights in a row up to 3:30 AM in order to bake and frost cookies for Easter parties at school. We close on our house on Wednesday and I haven't even looked at paint, carpet, tile and wood floors, but I need to have it all done in two weeks from close. I haven't packed a box yet--with 13 years to pack. I'm stressed as stressed gets.

    • Laughing Mom profile image

      Laughing Mom 8 years ago

      Lelah, you always have such great advice.

      I have one that has the opposite problem of not eating. She has an endocrinological disorder that basically tells her brain she is constantly hungry. I feel so bad denying her food when she honestly believes she is truly hungry. I have to remind her about the size of her stomach and we keep a log of everything she eats so that she can see in black and white that she IS eating everything she needs.

      As for the tantrum thing--before I was a mom, I used to say that I would never allow my child to act that way in a store. Ha! When I'm so pressed for time that I don't really even have the time to buy groceries ONCE, leaving everything because of a tantrum and coming back later is not usually an option for me. Once, my husband took my son out when he was screaming and knocking stuff off the shelves while having one of those "I want" tantrums. As they got to the door, he started shouting, "Help! He's taking me!" And the manager called the police. Oh yeah. Fun times. (He's not like that at all, but sometimes this stuff comes out of nowhere!)

      :-) You are such a together person. Someday, I'll be a little more like you!!

    • dawnella66 profile image

      Dawn Gagnon 8 years ago from South Carolina

      great hub, by picking our battles as parents, we live longer and keep our blood pressure down~~ lol..

    • LondonGirl profile image

      LondonGirl 8 years ago from London

      fantastic hub. My mother's main parenting advice was similar, don't pick too many battles, but you have to win those you do pick.