How Boundaries Stop Power Struggles and Prevent Meltdowns

Learn to Hold Those Boundaries Like a Boss

Raise your hand if you’ve ever been personally victimized by a toddler who lost their shiz when they didn’t get their way. 

Look around, warrior parents. EVERY hand is up. We’ve ALL been there, and it always seems to happen at the absolute worst time. Like, in front of 14 other parents in line at Target, all of whom have perfectly well-behaved angel babies. Or when you’re trying to have a lovely meal at a grown-up restaurant—you know, the kind without a slide. Or on a flight, sandwiched between a couple of super-serious and clearly annoyed business people. 

Yep. We’ve been there, too. Got the t-shirt. Even wrote an online course about it.

What if we told you there’s a way you can reduce both the frequency and duration of your toddler’s tantrums—in public and at home? Sounds like wizardry, right? 

Yeah, well, here’s the secret: The wizard is you! With a few simple tools to help you hold boundaries with your toddler, you’ll watch meltdowns all but disappear. (And you won’t even need a magic wand to make it happen.)

First, Some Boundary Basics

In our online course, Winning the Toddler Stage, we talk about how boundaries are like the bumpers you see at a bowling alley. Those bumpers set you up for success, right? They keep you from rolling into the gutter, offer a gentle but firm correction to get the ball headed in the right direction, and ultimately ensure you hit at least a few pins at the end of the lane.

Boundaries for your toddler work the same way. By keeping the “bumpers” up, your kiddo knows where to go. When they try to veer off course—which they will, because it’s actually part of their job as little humans—the bumpers gently nudge them in the right direction. They know what to expect (SO important for toddlers), which means they feel safe. And when kids feel safe, both emotionally and physically, they’re muuuuuuch less likely to lose it.

Start with Consistency

Let’s call it like it is: Holding boundaries is really freaking hard. Sure, they make your toddler feel safe—but sometimes, especially at first, they may turn your toddler into a tiny ball of rage.

This is completely normal. Toddlers are wired for not-so-passive resistance. Part of discovering their independence involves giving boundaries a little poke with their chubby toddler fingers, over and over and over and… oh my WORD, it’s frustrating.

Know what your kid’s trying to do? They’re trying to see if that boundary is an actual boundary…or if it has any give. Which is why you MUST resist the urge to give in. 

You won’t always feel like holding boundaries—especially when faced with a screaming kiddo. But you’re gonna do it anyway, like the bad-ass caregiver you are. Because when you give in, your toddler’s brain says, “Oh, so when I screamed, I got the thing I wanted. I’m gonna keep doing that, because it worked really well.” Obviously, that’s NOT the message we want to send.

Now, let’s stop for a hot second and say this: If you’ve ever given in to your kid during a tantrum instead of holding your pre-determined boundary, don’t beat yourself up. Parenting is the HARDEST THING EVER and not a single one of us gets it right every time. So, kick that shame to the curb. Ain’t nobody got time for that.

Be Cool, Calm, and Confident

As much as you may feel like screaming (been there), since you’re the grown-up, you have to resist the urge to meet your toddler’s chaos with more chaos. So while your little one is thrashing about and wailing at the top of their lungs, you’re going to take a deep breath, adopt a neutral expression on your face, and use a calm voice to restate the boundary.

It might sound something like this:

It’s nap time now.

We are not buying any toys at Target today.

It’s time to leave the park.

It’s time to put the iPad away.

If you really want to level-up your parenting game, try this lovely boundaries sandwich:

  1. Acknowledge your toddler’s feelings,
  2. Hold the boundary, then
  3. Shift to the yes by offering something they can be in charge of.

This is the Boundary-Holding Trifecta of Awesomeness. (Yes, we just made it up, but it should totally be a thing.) Here’s what it sounds like in real life. We put the boundary in bold to make it easy to find:

You don’t want to take a nap; you want to keep playing. You feel sad about that. It’s okay to feel sad, and it’s nap time now. What show do you want to watch after nap?

You want to get a toy at Target. You feel mad you aren’t getting one. It’s okay to feel mad, and we’re not buying any toys today. Would you like to ride in the cart or walk beside it?

It’s hard to leave the park when you’re having fun. You’re mad, and it’s OK to feel mad. It’s time to leave now. What toy do you want to play with when we get home?

Practice Makes Progress

Remember, we’re not after parenting perfection, ‘cause it doesn’t exist! Commit to practicing and giving yourself grace in the mess-ups. Over time, you’ll become more calm, consistent, and confident, and your toddler will have fewer meltdowns. Happy toddler + proud parent = WINNING!

Want to end those power struggles for good??

We got you! Our online course, Winning the Toddler Stage, will help you avoid the five common pitfalls of bumpers and give you practical tools to reduce and prevent tantrums in any situation. Any situation. Any. Yes, even THAT one.

Dial down the tantrums, and dial up your confidence! Check out Winning the Toddler Stage.

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