Whenever you find yourself in the middle of a power struggle with your child, ask yourself, “How can I give my child more power in this situation?” One mother asked herself this question concerning an endless battle she was having with her son about buckling his seat belt. Her solution was that she made him boss of the seat belts – it became his job to see that everyone was safely secured. The power struggle ended.
Do the Unexpected
One parent side-steps power struggles by announcing “let’s go out for a treat” when she feels the situation is headed for a showdown. Her purpose is not to “reward” bad behavior, but to reestablish her relationship with her children and keep her end goal of a close, loving and cooperative atmosphere in mind.
Getting to Win-Win
Power struggles often feel like someone has to win and someone has to lose. A win-win solution is where each party comes away feeling like they got what they wanted. Getting to win-win takes negotiation. Parents can assist their children by responding to a child’s demands, “That sounds like a good way for you to win. And I want you to win. But I want to win, too. Can you think of a solution that works for both of us?”
Parents often have the attitude that children should not say NO to or question authority. However, it is interesting that most of us parents buy into the media campaign of “Just Say No.” It is best to hear a child’s NO as a disagreement rather than a disrespectful response. Teach children to say NO, or disagree, respectfully and appropriately. Keep in mind that you want them to say NO when faced with peer pressure and inappropriate situations.
Powerlessness Creates Revenge
Children who are overpowered, or who feel powerless, will often seek to gain power through revenge. They will seek to hurt others as they feel hurt and will often engage in behavior that ultimately hurts themselves. Revenge at age two and three looks like talking back and messy food spills. Revenge at age 16 or 17 looks like drug and alcohol abuse, pregnancy, failure, running away and suicide.
When children act out in power struggles and revengeful behavior, they are most often feeling powerless and discouraged about a positive way to contribute and know that their actions count. Most parents’ goals are to raise a child who becomes a self-reliant adult, can make good decisions and has the confidence to be whatever he or she chooses. Your child will see the future that future more clearly if you allow him or her to practice at being powerful in useful and appropriate ways.
Karan Sims is an instructor for the International Network for Children and Families. This article first appeared in JUST BABIES.