Your little one digs their heals in, crosses their arms and furrows their brow. “I WON’T.”
You look back at them right in the eye, perhaps calmer, but just as determined. “Yes, you WILL.”
Or something to that effect.A power struggle. As the parent, you don’t want to give in and give your child the idea that they can run circles around you and disregard your expectations. But at the same time, you really don’t want to get involved in these powers struggles to begin with; they are ineffective and usually leave a lot of hurt behind on both sides.
Usually kids initiate power struggles either because they feel challenged, they want negative attention, or they are looking to control a situation.
Taking these possible causes into account, here are 15 ways to uphold your standards without engaging in a power struggle with your child.
1. If your child is making a decision that you disagree with, but won’t cause long term harm, allow them to experience the natural consequences of their choice. Make your suggestion, but let them make the choice. They will learn their lesson from the consequences themselves, without you becoming an enemy in the process. Note: This is not advisable if you foresee any consequences that could actually harm your child or anyone else.
2. Implement consequences consistently. Make sure you your child knows your expectations and what consequences will result if they go against those expectations. Then, implement those consequences when necessary without engaging in verbal arguments over whether or not they will be implemented. Your child is less likely to challenge you if they feel secure that 1) they understand the expectations and 2) you are consistent in the way you handle both compliance and infractions.
3. Involve your children as much as possible in their lives. Ask them to participate in deciding what they do, what chores and responsibilities they take on, etc. If you take their input into account whenever possible and only reject it for important reasons, they will be less likely to challenge you when they’re told “no”.
4. Ask the child to help find solutions to their difficulty. Instead of approaching the child with a pre-defined punishment, which automatically places you “against” them and gives them the opportunity to challenge you, point out the problem they have caused, and ask THEM how they can fix it. See if your child can suggest two or three solutions to remedy the situation, and then ask them which they think would be best. This approach places you on your child’s team as someone helping them with their problem, instead of as someone blaming or challenging them.
5. LISTEN. The more you understand what your child is thinking and feeling, the more you can help them. Children that feel understood, loved and supported are less likely to challenge their parents and more likely to turn to them for help.
6. Give your children choices as much as possible. Even when you do need to step in and set parameters, try to give them one or two ways that they could proceed forward. When a child makes a choice, it’s easier for them to recognize why they must follow through responsibly and accept any associated consequences.
7. Give your child lots of affirmation (effective praise, hugs or pats on the back, etc.) when they are respecting the expectations you’ve set. The more they feel they are succeeding, the more the more likely your child is to repeat their positive behavior.
8. Put the issue off until after they have time to calm down. If you, your child, or both are too upset, it’s hard to have a reasonable interchange and much easier to fall into a power struggle. If you sense that emotions on one or both sides are too high, stop, and continue the discussion later when it’s easier for both you and your child to address the issue logically instead of personally.
9. Model conflict management. No one naturally knows how to handle conflict. No matter how close you and your children are, it’s natural for kids to challenge their parents at one point or another both as a way of testing the relationship and because they don’t always know how else to react. When you foresee a potential power conflict you want to avoid, or have been through an argument you don’t want to repeat again in the future, practice the conversation with your child. Model acceptable forms of speech they can use to express their opinions, desires and even disagreements without challenging you or being disrespectful.
10. Show your child that you understand them. You might not agree with them, and you might not change your mind, but you do understand them. This relieves a lot of tension. When your child feels understood, they are more likely to listen objectively and try to understand your point of view instead of challenging it.
11. Don’t talk or act out in anger. When you reward your child’s behavior with attention, even if it’s negative attention, and show them that they have upset you, their likeliness of repeating their behavior the next time they want to upset you or get your attention increases. Keeping your calm encourages your child to find other (positive) ways to get your attention because the negative strategies aren’t succeeding.
12. Rephrase the same expectation in a way that could distract your child. Let’s say it’s bedtime and you aren’t going to change your mind, but you can tell your child is going to fight it. Instead of engaging in a discussion about it, ask them what pajamas they want to wear, or what book they want to read. This approach 1) gives them a choice, 2) clearly indicates that you will not change your decision and 3) distracts your child from focusing on their own dissatisfaction.
13. Give the child responsibilities. If your child is starting power struggles because they want control or want to be in charge, giving them responsibilities empowers them to challenge their desire for control in a legitimate direction.
14. Give lots of positive attention. When power struggles are the result of a child craving attention, providing more positive attention at other times is an easy way to mitigate clashes and establish a closer, more trusting relationship at the same time.
15. Pray, both for yourself as a parent, and for your child. God is all powerful and loving; he is able to help you and your child. He often answers prayers in unexpected ways, but he always answers, so turn to him for help!
Bear in mind that even if you do everything you can to avoid power struggles with your child, your child will still challenge you once in a while. It’s part of growing up and learning boundaries. Be firm and guiding, but also patient and forgiving. All of us were children once!