Remember the first time your little, previously compliant infant arched his back as you tried to strap him into his car seat? He wanted power and you did too. Your two ways did not align and he let you know by struggling to free himself from the five-point harness with all the strength his little 20 lbs could muster (Surprisingly this is exponentially stronger than one would think!).
What about when, while walking through the grocery, your toddler declares she wants Sugary Princess Puffs. Throwing herself down and squalling at a volume that tempts the manager to announce, “Meltdown, Aisle 6!”, she stakes her claim. She wants what she wants. So do you – mainly to exit through the fire door without anyone noticing! Your wills are not united and she’s about the business of letting you (and everyone else) know how unacceptable the situation is to her.
Power struggles are normal in a family. They don’t have to destroy you or your children.
Certain members of the family may fall into them more easily than others.
Let me tell you something I’ve learned in these 14 years of being a mom:
When it comes to power struggles, no one wins.
You may feel triumphant if your child relents and does what you want. If your “victory” comes by way of power, it comes at a price. You probably had to act in a way you would rather not have. A pattern of engaging in power struggles leaves long term scars. When we go after situations on a win-lose basis, forcing our children to do what we want, we are never going to win their hearts, help them embrace the root motivations for doing what is good or help maintain true respect and love between us.
A controlling approach to parenting leads to either one of two things in our children:
- Fear which complies
- Outward or Passive Rebellion
As parents we need to decide if we merely want external conformity and compliance (and yes, of course, in part we do) or if we want heart level agreement from our children which includes them working through issues and making choices, even disagreeing with us at times.
Now, I know when it comes to a fit in the grocery store, your child may not agree with you that Princess Puffs are not a nutritious and economical choice for breakfast. She can, however choose to go along with your decision without you getting stuck pulling her flailing body off the floor while trying to avoid knocking over the end-cap.
Here are four keys to resolving conflict while avoiding the power struggle:
Ignore the power struggle, not the child.
Sometimes the most effective and helpful response is to drop the issue and sidestep the battle. With most little children, distraction works wonders in times like this. You can start to sing your one-year-old’s favorite song as you buckle up the car seat. Twinkle Twinkle … and voila, all’s well.
With your older children, distraction won’t prove to be as effective. You need to state something like, “I’m not going to fight with you about this. I love you. Tell me when you are ready to move on.” Step aside, let them escalate. You don’t have to buy a ticket on their ride. The old saying, “It takes two to tango” bears true here. If you back off the dance floor, the dance will eventually end.
Don’t make Mountains of Molehills.
Our children can push our buttons like no other human beings on this planet. Top that off with our healthy concern for their well-being and we can end up anxious over them. Have you been plagued with thoughts of “What if …”? Fear creates imaginary crises and unnecessarily sends us through the roof. “What if he never learns to make his bed … and is irresponsible forever … and ends up homeless!”
The answer lies in gaining perspective. Cool your jets. Most situations don’t have to come down to a “you’ll do what I say, when I say” ultimatum. Ask yourself the long-term importance of the issue before you make a big deal of it.
Keep it Win-Win:
Always remind yourself that you are on the same team. It isn’t you against your child.
Training and rearing your children involves buckets full of love, grace and flexibility. We can’t lord our authority over our children and hope to end up in a win-win.
In the case of the Princess Puff cereal meltdown, you could say, “Hunny, I know you want that yummy cereal. I’m saying, “no,” but you can pick something else we both say “yes” to before we leave the store.” This empathetic way of relating with our children shows them we aren’t trying to override their emotions, normal desires or individuality.
A beautiful balance exists between being kind and firm simultaneously. Our healthy limits don’t budge; our compassionate love doesn’t disappear either.
Don’t try to change them, decide what you will do:
Deciding what we will do may be the key of all keys when it comes to evading a power struggle. It dovetails with ignoring, but goes deeper.
Often, when we are in a power struggle, our hidden aim is to make our child change. Instead, we need to make a seemingly small, but very significant shift by looking at our own realm of choice. We can ask ourselves: “What will I do if they don’t change?” You are not stuck. You have choices.
Of course there are consequences for behaviors, sometimes natural, sometimes ones we have to put in place (logical). Consequences go so far, but they won’t successfully make a child stuck in stubbornness relent. In teachable moments, when the heart of our child is open, we can shape their character. During an invitation to battle, we bow out gracefully and let them simmer down, leaving them room to choose and to accept the outcome of their own choices.
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