Parents and children alike walk away from power struggles feeling anything from frustrated, exasperated, inadequate to upset, defeated or confused. When it comes to power struggles, there are never true winners.
Many parents feel that power struggles are inevitable, that nagging and parenting go hand in hand or find themselves thinking over and over again “Why will my child not LISTEN to me!!¨” Do you feel this way too? You are not alone! Parents are reaching out for help and questions about power struggles so very often! How to overcome them, how to turn them into a positive moment or how to avoid power struggles all together.
Why do Power Struggles happen anyway?
I find the most common reasons for power struggles is a lack of balance in connection and cooperation between parents and children. Often parents are focused on control, demands or threats and children are faced with unrealistic expectations.
Children often feel frustrated and powerless when faced with expectations they don’t feel they can live up to. -Dr. Jane Nelson
That very feeling of powerlessness leads to children trying to find, prove and use any power they may have. For instance, a child may refuse to eat,use the potty, get dressed for school, slam doors or give an answer because they feel the need to control something. Often the only “something” children get to control in their life is their response to a demand.
Scolding, shaming threatening or punishing during power struggles may make children change their mind and may seem to solve the immediate problem, but it does so without addressing the core of the problem and without teaching the value of true cooperation. These negative interactions also erodes the parent-child relationship, diminishes self-esteem and let’s be honest, these power struggles are exhausting for everyone!
Power struggles can be avoided. Like most things parenting, what gets you there may be a bit different from another family and different tools will work better in different situations but here are just five of the many wonderful positive discipline tools aimed at dissolving away power struggles!
1. Create Solutions to Recurring Problems: If you are running into the same struggle over and over again, see what happens if instead of focusing on the “bad” behavior you take a moment to actually find a better solution at the core of the problem. Does something need to be changed? Schedules rearranged? Organized differently? What changes need to be made so that the actual problem goes away? Think solutions instead of struggles!
When my son and I were struggling over winter coats I realized I needed a more permanent solution that would respect his ability to choose what to wear while balancing my fear of us getting stuck in icy cold winds. I dropped the arguing and instead gave him access to the daily weather report. Armed with new information, we agreed that any morning that showed the average temp to be under 12 C / 53 F he would agree to take the jacket. Checking the weather report became his responsibility and taking the coat was now within his control while respecting my desire to keep him safe.
2. Think about transitions: Especially young children can have difficulties with abrupt transitions. Struggles with young children happen often when they feel they have no control over their own time. Try letting children know ahead of time when their time to finish one activity and start something else is approaching. Give plenty of advance notice, involve them in the plan and try to make the next step in the routine just as interesting as what you were doing before.
My three year old daughter does really well with specific notices such as “one last time down the slide” instead of “two more minutes” which is really abstract. Even better when I remember to use simple questions like “Do you want to slide one time or show me how you climb these bars before we go?”
3. Save NO for when it matters: Having a lot of conflicts? Are you saying no to everything? That’s a quick way to make NO lose all meaning. Try using a few alternatives like:
- “Yes, on a different day you can!”
- “I hear it’s what you want but now is not the right time!”
- “Right now it’s not possible, let’s talk about it when we can make a plan!”
This way when you do issue a final “My answer is NO” to something for example a safety issue, your child will understand and is much more likely to trust and respect that this particular item is not up for negotiations.
4. Accept Responsibility: Have you been short tempered, trying to control everything, annoyed or fed up? Ok, that happens but it also contributes a lot to the power struggles. This isn’t about feeling guilty but rather to take some responsibility to what you are bringing to the table and decide to make a change the next time you find yourself locking heads.
I like to ask myself “Is this struggle really worth it? Why is it so important to me to be right about this? What can I do to change this situation?” Once you accept responsibility for your attitude or part in the struggle, it’s really likely that you may be able to relax, focus on solutions and cooperation and your child will likely follow your lead!
5. Asked and Answered: “Asked and Answered” can feel a bit cold and off putting but once in a while, however if things are really getting heated up giving a kind and firm response of “we’ve discussed this, I heard your reasons and I already gave you my answer” or “I have made my final decision, I love you AND I know it’s not what you wanted.” is really alright.
Children need boundaries and limits, these can be set with kindness but while still making it understood that our decision has been made. Personally I like to save these for decisions that impact my child’s safety so that our general interactions are not about having power over the final say-so.
Parenting and setting limits does not need to come from a place of over powering our children or letting children take the power over us. In fact, I think that forgetting about words like power and battles helps a whole lot too. Instead of focusing on “who” holds power, I like to think that there is a lot of positive power when my children and I can combine our ideas and efforts to find great solutions.
What situations lead to power struggles in your home? Leave a comment below, I’d love to hear from you!
Peace & Be Well,
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