How To Avoid Power Struggles With Kids: Routines

Last week, I talked about how great choices are for avoiding power struggles with kids.

The whole point of this series is not how to stop a power struggle, but how to avoid them all together.

Avoiding Power Struggles Routines
Photo Credit: RichardAlan via Compfight cc

One of the hardest times of the day, are transition times.  Times when we need our kids to stop what they are doing and to move onto the next activity.

It’s easy to get into power struggles during these times.  But there are a few ways to avoid these types of power struggles all together.

It’s all about having simple routines and plans.


When there is a basic structure to the day and children know what’s coming next, than transitions will be easier and you won’t have to fight with them to move onto the next activity.

It’s not about having a set schedule that you follow, it’s about having a flow.  Knowing what comes next.

Here’s our basic morning routine, so you can get an idea of what I’m talking about.

Boys get out of their rooms at 7am, we have breakfast, and make a plan for the day.

My 4 year old gets to watch two t.v. shows after breakfast and I clean the kitchen and play with my 1 year old.

The t.v. goes off and we have playtime and do chores.

1 year old goes down for a nap around 9:30ish, I get dressed while my 4 year old plays independently.

We have more open playtime or chores.

We do lunch, then we run errands or go somewhere fun until naptime at 1:30.

Every day is the same.

We don’t have power struggles about t.v. because he knows he only gets the 2 each morning.

We don’t have power struggles about naptime because it’s just what we do every day.

There is some flexibility built in, but our mealtimes and nap times are always the same.

Making Plans

See that part up there that says “and make a plan for the day”?  That’s a big secret to avoiding power struggles, and it’s simple to do.

We talk every morning about what our day will look like.  I let him know the things that we are going to do that are non-negotiable (like grocery store runs, appointments, or school days).

Then I ask HIM what else he would like to do that day.  Sometimes the things he suggests are totally doable.

“Yes!  We can go to the park today!”

“Yes! We can see the animals at the pet store!”

“Yes! We can have a pajama day!”

Some days, we can’t do the things he suggests, but I try to come up with and good alternative or time we can do it.

“I know you want to go to the zoo today, but we have to go to the grocery store and we won’t  have time to do both.  Let’s look at the calendar and find a time we can go to the zoo.”

“Oh, going to the park would be really fun, but it’s raining today.  Maybe we can go play in the indoor playground at the mall instead.”

We decide together what the plan should be.

Because we do this, he feels good about the plan because he had some power in making it.  Because he feels good about the plan, he doesn’t fight me when it’s time to move onto the next activity.

We avoid all power struggles around transitions, because he’s prepared.  He doesn’t feel the need to fight with me because he had some power in making the decisions.

Avoiding Power Struggles - Routine is Part of Coping

A few thoughts

Just because we have plans and routines does not mean that we can’t be spontaneous.  We often change our plans as the day goes along.  The key is that we still talk about the plan, and how we’d like to change it.  I tell him that there might be consequences, “If we chose to do this, we may not have time for _________”.  Just the other day we were going to the pet store, my son saw the park and decided he wanted to go there instead.  So I turned the car around and went to the park.  No big deal.  Schedules and routines do not mean that you have to be rigid.

Not every day needs to be scheduled out.  We have many days when we don’t plan a thing. These are days when we stay at home and make decisions as we go.  But, we still have our little daily routines.

The key is to be honest with your kids when plans need to change, and to bring them into the decision making process.

More on transitions and routines

Easing Transitions for Young Children

Making Family Routines that Flex

5 Tips for Starting New Routines

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I was a Mental Health Counselor who worked with children and mothers in both individual and group counseling environments before I became a Stay at Home Mom to two boys. I have a Bachelors Degree in Child Development and Family Studies and a Masters in Counseling where I specialized in Play Therapy.

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  1. says

    Thanks for this post. I’ve seen this work with my kids, too (ages 6, 4, and 2). We rarely have problems with bedtime, and I attribute it to the routine being basically the same every single night. If there are late nights due to other things going on, as soon as we get home we do a super-fast, shortened version of the routine. I literally can’t remember the last time we had a power struggle over that. It just happens and they know exactly what to expect, so they do it.

    Routines are my friend. :)

  2. says

    This is a great post. My son (now 10 years old) used to put up a lot of resistance to any transition until we figured out how to sort out routines for him. Posting visual schedules and lists helped all of us follow the playbook, and things are much better now. Based on that learning, I’m actually developing a visual schedule game for kids. I’d love to get your feedback on it.

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