This Therapist-Approved Hack Cut Our Toddler Power Struggles in Half
Your kid is holding your iPhone hostage and you need it back. “Can you please give mommy back her phone, sweetie?” you ask, in your most agreeable voice. Except this seems to have the opposite effect, as your kid manically runs away from you while still gripping your device. This time, you use your I-mean-business-voice (“Noah, mommy needs her phone back… now!”). But this just seems to empower your toddler even more as he skips right past you and into the bathroom, all while screaming “My phone!” Sound familiar?
If you find yourself constantly engaged in the toddler power struggle (*raises hand*), then you need this clever hack from clinical psychologist and parenting guidance provider Dr. Becky Kennedy. She calls it the “closing your eyes technique” and says it’s one of her favorite strategies for helping engage your child’s cooperation and helping them be more likely to listen.
Because listening isn’t really listening, argues Dr. Becky. Instead, when parents want their kids to listen, what they’re really asking for is compliance. (Hence why your kid never has a problem “listening” when you shout that it’s time for ice cream.)
And what’s one tried-and-true method to get your kid to do something that they don’t really want to do? Give them a little bit of control. “It’s really important to give small kids agency when you’re asking for something from them,” explains Dr. Becky. Enter the “closing your eyes technique.” Here’s how it works:
“After you make a request—assuming that you’re kind of connected to your kid and you’re calm yourself—play a little game where you close your eyes and then wonder with them what they’re going to do,” says Dr. Becky.
In the example above, it might look like this: “I’m just going to close my eyes, I wonder what’s going to happen if I close my eyes and I put my other hand out...I wonder what Noah is going to do? If I open my eyes and the phone is in my hands then wow, I am going to freak out!” And voila—phone returned to its rightful owner.
Dr. Becky claims that this technique will work for your child more times than you think...and honestly? She’s right. We had five skeptical moms test it out with their kids ranging from 18 months to 5 years old and we’re happy to report a three times out of five success rate. “I closed my eyes and asked my 3-year-old to go upstairs and brush her teeth—this usually ends up being a whole thing (and by thing, I mean she has a meltdown) but she actually loved it!” one mom raved.
“Honestly, I was quite impressed by this trick,” another mom of a 2-year-old reported after using it twice successfully in one weekend. “We were playing a game with some reusable stickers and my son needed one of the sticker sheets for the game to continue, but it was across the room. He said, ‘Mama, go get it please!’ I said, ‘This is your game — why don't you go pick up what you need? It's right there!’ I pointed and he stubbornly refused. So, I said: ‘I'm just going to cover my eyes and gesture to exactly where that Melissa and Doug sticker page is and see if Finn surprises me and gets it himself.’ I said similar phrases for 10 seconds and during that time heard him jump up, run across the room, then return as I uncovered my eyes: ‘I got it!’ he yelled.”
And sure, three out of five isn’t perfect...but it’s a heck of a lot better than zero. (Note: Another kid took the whole mom-is-closing-her-eyes opportunity to go and play hide-and-seek so that’s something to keep in mind if your kid is more of a playful type.)
“Why is this so powerful?” asks Dr. Becky. “It gives your child control back. When you turn around, when you close your eyes, you’re basically saying to your child, ‘you’re in your own world now...this is not me making you do something, it’s just you.’ Now a child has a little more space, a little more freedom to cooperate, to listen.”
One caveat: Our moms found that this technique works best when you don’t overuse it (think: a couple of times per week and not every day). But any little bit helps, right? Next up: Seeing if this technique works when your kid refuses to eat his broccoli.