Tantrums vs. Power Struggle Misbehavior: What’s the difference & what to do?

by | July 5, 2022 | 0 comments

Tantrums vs. Power Struggle Misbehavior: What’s the difference & what to do?

by | July 5, 2022 | 0 comments

You’re not alone if tantrums / meltdowns / power struggle misbehavior all feel the same to you.

I mean it’s just kids being little stinkers right? 🤪

It’s all just children wanting to get their way, not thinking about others, and acting selfish & disobedient … making life difficult for everyone around them, right?

Well … while I totally used to think that also, the truth is – that kind of scarcity ‘old school paradigm thinking’ is giving you a headache, not based in proven psychology & creating loads of stress in your parenting walk.

The proven truth is actually a completely different story.

Here’s the facts:

Power struggle misbehavior AND tantrums, while similar … have very different root causes and are part of a child’s normal healthy development.

Both of these challenges with kids have root causes that have to do with children trying to get their basic human needs met, NOT just trying to get their way, or get away with something they KNOW is wrong.

Kids are ALWAYS communicating, especially when they are misbehaving.

So what’s the difference between power struggle misbehavior & tantrums … and what can we do to have our days as parents be filled with less drama & more peace?

Let’s dive into 3 ways to tell them apart (and what to do – to handle them each with dignity & grace).


Power struggle misbehavior will make you feel provoked & challenged as a parent, almost seeming like you’re being invited to war by your mini-me that looks exactly like you.

You ask your child to put on their shoes & they either say “No I won’t & you can’t make me” … or they walk away from you acting like they didn’t hear a word you said.

Or perhaps, just turn up the volume on their tv show, completely ignoring you.

Urrrgggghhhh, enter in thoughts like “Kid, I will make you do what I ask, watch me – I’m stronger, more powerful, & way smarter … you WILL put on your shoes, NOW“.

If you’re like most parents (who aren’t quite entrenched in positive parenting curriculum YET) – this is where threats & bribes usually enter into the mix.

“Put on your shoes now, or no ipad time tonight” … or “If you put on your shoes, you’ll get a jelly bean once we get into the car”. External motivation at it’s finest. If only these tactics worked forever to get our kids to comply, parenting would be easy peasy!

For most however. these band aid ‘hand me down strategies’ back fire by the time kids are tweens & teens when parents are left feeling frustrated, disconnected & totally hopeless, buuuuuu.

Now whether a parent uses hand me down external motivation like threats & bribes, or … they embrace the wonderful power struggle dissolving strategies like we teach in our “More Cooperation & Better Listening Bundle” … power struggle misbehavior is usually able to be de-escalated, meaning the kid ends up moving into action, one way or another.

Tantrums however are a different beast.

This image has an empty alt attribute; its file name is 4-1-1024x576.png

Meltdowns / tantrums are usually like a freight train & come on strong … especially when our kids are tired, hungry, thristy, are getting sick, or feel like they are powerless. (we’ll get to that later).

Your child might be screaming so loud you feel like your brain’s gonna explode, or perhaps hitting & kicking, or even banging their head on their crib (scaring the heck out of you). You try ‘everything’ and nothing seems to work to help them calm down & you seriously start to wonder – “will this ever end?”.

Normally with tantrums, the classic hand me down parenting tactics (threats, fear, bribes, intimidation) … or even the best positive power struggle dissolving strategies … fall flat because the child is full blown ‘out of it’ meaning the red zone of their brain is on fire (so to speak) and rational thinking has gone out the window.

If you feel like you’re talking to an angry, emotional, (sometimes violent) wall or bundle of irrational emotions … chances are your child is having a tantrum / meltdown.


The good news is that both power struggle misbehavior AND tantrums CAN be prevented, woot woot!

And since prevention is one of our STRONGEST & most effective parenting tools we have in our toolkit – it’s important to operate in a ‘ahead of the game’ way – day in & day out as a parent.

For kids who dip into power struggle behavior a lot, things included in this podcast episode & list below can help prevent your child from pushing back because when their ‘need to feel powerful’ bucket is getting filled each day, on a consistent basis, they are less likely to be ‘sticks in the mud’.

>> I’ve watched the power of these strategies work like magic in my own home over the last decade ++ and have seen literally thousands of success stories from students all over the world too.

  • Use loving guidance & friendly action (instead of nagging & threats) – Two strategies I teach in our “More Cooperation & Better Listening Learning Bundle” – For example – handing a child their shoes to put into the closet with one word “shoes” and a friendly smile, will work way better to get a strong willed child to comply (vs. threatening – “if you don’t put your shoes away now – you’re getting a time out” – enter drammmmmaaaa!).
  • Find useful ways for the child to feel valuable and powerful – Day to day “bucket filling” is essential! What is your child in charge of around the house? Do they help with cooking dinner? Do they get to choose which park you go to sometimes or which movie you watch on Friday night?
  • Teach them to say “No” respectfully – No is not a bad word parents – teach your children to say it with firm kindness & you’ll raise a much healthier, more cooperative adult, promise.
  • Offer appropriate choices – My goodness, choices should be a fluent language in your home – especially if you have a strong willed kiddo or a few!
  • Win/win negotiate – One of my fave ways to teach kids how to respectfully advocate for what they want – this is a great one when you have time to spare (not when you’re in a hurry to get to church on time!).
  • Use a hand signal – Kids love to be in charge of their own bodies & life … sometimes they just need a gentle “non-naggy” reminder about what they agreed to when it comes to cleaning their room, feeding the dog, or putting their toys away.

In depth explanations of all of these tools & so many more strategies can be found in our “More Cooperation Better Listening” Lesson Bundle

Tantrums usually require even more patience, calm & confidence (which for most of us – is such a journey to develop!).

For tantrums, prevention is all about doing what you can to avoid your child getting:

  • Overtired – it’s way better to grocery shop at night alone when the kids are in bed, or order delivery groceries, then try to push a kid past their nap-time after a playdate or preschool pickup. Over-tiredness is a HUGE contributor to a vast majority of meltdowns.
  • Hangry / parched – my little girl was the queen of tantrums if she got hungry or thirsty – feed your kids earlier and don’t try to push meal times or snacks. their little bodies will operate way better.
  • Sick – I know I know it’s impossible when you have littles to prevent this completely – but just be aware that often times when a student, friend or my own child has had an epic meltdown, the next day, they come down with a code. When kids feel like crap, they have a tendency to completely lose their ish.
  • Into a state of powerlessness – when your child feels like they have no control over their day, routine, etc. … they are way more likely to go into the red zone. refer to the power struggle prevention list above & use those strategies often to help avoid your child getting low in this area.

Handling with Care

Remember – your kids aren’t trying to be pains in the butts.

Whether they are pushing back or tantruming – your kids are just trying to figure out this thing called life (aren’t we all?)

When you respond with compassion, grace & firm kindness, challenges of any kind are way easier to redirect with dignity & connection.

For power struggles, try some of the dissolving strategies we discuss in this episode and challenge yourself with the question “How can I give my child MORE power in this situation?” (trust me it works) and with tantrums, ask yourself “How can I remain present here for my child as they move through this storm“.

Often times with tantrums, the goal is to ride the storm WITH your child – by providing presence, co-regulation, connection AND strong boundaries – not allowing them to hurt themself or others.

But letting the intensity pass (instead of trying to MAKE IT STOP) is the name of the game.

For TONS more education & step by step guidance on how to handle power struggle misbehavior AND tantrums with grace + firm kindness – invest in the ‘More Cooperation + Better Listening Lesson Bundle‘ Today!

Learn more about how Positive Parenting Curriculum can transform your life through these Fresh Start Family programs


Submit a Comment

Your email address will not be published.

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.