I need some good advice and I don't know where else to turn.
I'm having trouble with limit-setting. I know that it's vitally important for Katie's self-esteem and general emotional growth, but I am really struggling. I'm not talking about small limits, like "no, you can't have a cookie before dinner." We handle those just fine, and if she cries and screams, we either distract her or just let her vent her feelings, or sometimes a combination of both.
I'm talking about some normal daily activities that have recently turned into an enormous power struggle: diaper changes, nap time, and bedtime.
Katie has recently decided that she would rather not have a diaper on; at least, not when I'd like to put one on her. She has no problem wearing diapers, as long as it's her idea. Sometimes she even comes up to me with a clean diaper and cheerfully says, "New one!" Other times (much more often) she will kick, thrash, and scream like a crazy person if I try to put a diaper on her. She is very energetic and very strong, and if I do succeed in wrestling the diaper onto her, she will jump up like a ninja and rip it right off, screaming all the while. I'd like to follow her lead on this, and I often do, but the fact is that sometimes we need to put on diapers in order to get dressed and leave the house.
How can I put diapers on Katie without the power struggle? I feel that if I let her be in charge, I'm failing as a parent. I want to set limits. I am very comfortable with the "kind but firm" school of thought. It seems to me that letting Katie decide when to put her diapers on is not nearly firm enough, and that not being firm is an unkindness to her. So either way, I lose - I either wrestle her to the ground and put her diaper on against her will while she screams like a banshee (very unkind) or I let her decide whether she wants a diaper on (permissive and therefore not healthy for her emotional development.)
Side note: I've also tried introducing "big girl" undies, but she doesn't want any part of them at any time, even if she's being cooperative about diapers at the moment.
Nap times and bedtime are another power struggle. For nearly a year, we've had a rock-solid routine, recommended to us by a sleep trainer/child psychologist. In essence, it's bath, pajamas, bottle, books, lights out, lullaby and put her down. We were so amazed by how well this routine was working. She went from having to be rocked and fed to sleep (before sleep training) to cheerfully falling asleep on her own every single night.
For the past few weeks, she's been finding ways to stall. First she won't let me put on her diaper (as discussed above.) If I try to put the diaper on, she screams "POTTY!" So we go to the potty and she sits there, usually not going. Maybe 10% of the time she pees a little. Then she says "all done" and we get down and try the diaper again. Again, "POTTY!" I've given up saying, "But you just went!" because that does no good. We go again and do this over and over until she's bored of it. Sometimes I'm able to break the cycle by telling her about the books we're going to read, and other times we break the cycle by giving her a bottle. Then, while she's occupied with drinking it, I quickly diaper and dress her. Usually this works, but not always. Sometimes she screams "POTTY!" again and drinks her entire bottle while sitting on the potty. Eventually she lets us diaper her. Then we begin the second act of the drama: sleep sack. Katie likes the pink one, the one she uses for naps during the day. It's thin cotton and not warm enough for overnight. So sometimes she starts to scream about that too. By this time it's usually past her bedtime and we've had enough. If we've already given her the bottle in order to diaper her, then we're pretty much out of options. I try to distract her with books, but the past couple of nights Anthony's had to go refill her bottle so we can get the sleep sack on. Onto Act 3: books. We used to read two, the same two every night. Now Katie wants "extra book!" but she doesn't understand the meaning of "Just ONE extra book!" or "You already had your extra book, it's time for bed." She keeps getting extra books and more extra books until we've either read them all or she's tired enough not to wiggle off my lap and run for the bookshelf when I start reading the original two. Once those two have been read, she's almost always compliant with the rest of the routine. Occasionally she will spot a toy on the floor and insist on putting it away. (I worried briefly that she has OCD, but she's totally fine leaving things out of place during the day. It's just another stalling tactic.)
So, what used to be a 10 or 15 minute routine is now stretching 45 minutes to an hour. We're exhausted and exasperated, plus we are frustrated because we want to be more firm with Katie. The only thing I can think of to do is read her the original two books (NO extras, because she can't count yet) and put her in the crib screaming. I nearly did that today for her nap, but it just seems heavy-handed. Katie is a strong willed child; she would very likely scream for an hour, fall asleep for half an hour, and then resume screaming. Half an hour isn't enough sleep for her during the day. Plus, she's also been known to throw up if screaming doesn't get results. Not that it's the end of the world, but it certainly isn't pleasant and we would prefer to avoid it.
(I have to note that I love Katie's strong will. I wouldn't want her to be any other way. I just wish there was a way to solve these power struggles so we can all have some peace.)