Power struggles. Just mentioning the words can cause parents to tense up and get ready for battle. What if I told you that this didn’t have to be a daily occurrence? While we can’t avoid them completely, there is a way to drastically decrease these types of interactions with our children.
My suggestion on how to avoid these may sound overly simplistic. It is. The key, I have found, is collaborating with our children.
Viewing them as partners is the best approach; of course, you’re the older, wiser, and logical one with more knowledge of consequences and self-control, right? That being said, often times if we can work WITH our children, we are no longer working AGAINST them, and this allows the power struggle to disappear.
So what does this look like in practice? Collaborating with our children does not mean that we are not the parent. Often times I hear, “I am not their friend, I am their parent.” This is absolutely true. But you can be a parent AND work with your child.
This shift is essentially us as parents moving away from trying to control our children to helping them control themselves. We are working with our children to help them find solutions and make appropriate decisions.
Think about it this way. Even us as adults have the tendency to be resistant when someone tells us what to do, and how and when to do it. No one likes this. Kids are no different.
Now imagine that most of your day is spent having people redirect you, tell you when to do things, how to do things, and why to do things. It must be so frustrating. Your only option at times is to exert power when you can. By saying no. By not doing what you are told, or by intentionally doing what you we’re told not to do. Sound familiar?
Collaborating and working with our child reduces the likelihood that our chid has to exert their power by resisting our requests. Feeling that they have some influence and say in a situation is more likely to have them cooperate.
This isn’t so different from how we function as adults, is it?
There are a few key concepts to keep in mind when we work with our child:
1. Give your child choices: This can be one of the easiest ways to allow your child to cooperate. Ask them what they would like (offering a few options may be needed, depending on age). If they aren’t getting their shoes on in the morning, instead of saying “get your shoes on” ask them “what do we need to do next? Put our shoes on or get our coat?” This allows your child to feel capable and as though they have input. This reduces the need for resistance. Another example is around meals or snacks. Offer them two choices where you ultimately approve of either option. So, instead of the open-ended “what do you want to eat” question, try “do you want carrots or apples as a snack?” Both healthy choices that you’re happy with, and so is your child for getting the option to choose.
2. Validate feelings: Nothing lets us feel more heard or understood than when someone validates our feelings. Validating your child’s feelings does not mean you agree with them but rather that you understand what they are feeling or trying to convey. So let’s say you asked your child to help with the dishes and they say no, or just don’t do it. You can respond with “I don’t like to do dishes much either and would rather do other things.” It is ok for your kids to not like something and not want to do it. Sometimes verbalizing that you understand that can help.
3.Forget the need to win the struggle: We as parents need to let go of winning and having control. We need to approach this from a place of guiding and assisting our children rather than enforcing our will onto them. One way to do this is to give choices. If you find yourself in a power struggle, instead of fighting the fight, say “I love you too much to fight about this”. This is your out. Now you can take another approach.
When we are met with resistance, work to solve the problem. Explore why there may be resistance. Ask your child if there is a solution. Try to identify if there is a need that your child has? Maybe they need attention or maybe they are overwhelmed. Just the other day my daughter made a mess of her room. It was overwhelming for me when I opened her door and saw the mess. I set a timer and asked her to clean it before the time was up. The first several minutes passed, and nothing was cleaned. I realized she was overwhelmed (much like I was ) and so she didn’t know where to start. She didn’t want to clean up but the problem and resistance was from feeling like it was too much and not knowing where to start. So I guided her. I helped her organize the clean up and gave her some direction with choices (“do you want to clean up the stuffed animals first or the clothes”). She did not enjoy the process but it got done.
Making a small adjustment in our approach can make a big difference in our interactions with our children. Try to think some of the times you felt like you were swimming upstream with your child. In these moments, shift your perspective to one of working with your child and see what changes. This won’t make parenting easier. Parenting is hard work no matter how you do it, but it may just decrease the power struggles you encounter daily.
Claudia Glassman is a licensed Marriage and Family Therapist, Registered Play Therapist, and Parent Coach. Mighty Oak Parenting was started as a way for her to share all the things she learned from being a therapist as well as a parent. Her vision is to share her knowledge and bring awareness to the importance of the relationship that we have with our children.
**Disclaimer: This blog is the opinion of an individual and is not to be construed as professional advice or a professional relationship. If you are seeking mental health advice contact a therapist in your area. If you are experiencing an emergency, head to your nearest emergency room or call 911