Taking the Power out of the Struggle
Updated: Jul 4, 2019
Matching wits with a determined 3 year old can really teach you a lot about the power of the human spirit. Whether it's a fight over a bite of broccoli, getting into a carseat, or brushing teeth, these kids will teach you the meaning of tenacity whether you like it or not! And, as a parent of kids ranging in ages from 4 to 14, I can tell you from experience that stubborn power struggles don't end with toddlerhood. Show me a mom who wants a specific outcome from her kid, and I'll show you a kid who can make that mom turn every color of the rainbow! Power struggles are universal in parenting and highlight 2 fundamental principles of the coaching I do with my clients:
Mom-Me Principle #1: After infancy, humans deeply desire independence and POWER.
Mom-Me Principle #2: The only only person we have the ability (and right) to control is OURSELVES.
Knowing these two things, we shouldn't be surprised to find ourselves in power struggles with our kids. Kids digging their heels in is part of their normal development, and they're not the only ones with that drive for power and control. There are 2 people in that power struggle, and one of them is YOU! And the sad truth is that the more you push your kids, the more they will push back! So, what can we do about it?
The simple answer is that a struggle requires 2 participants; stop participating and you stop the struggle. What does that really look like? To some degree it depends on the age of the child and the thing you're struggling over. But, here are some tips that resonate for almost all my clients, no matter what the age or struggle is:
1) Disengage from the struggle by either taking decisive action or dropping the issue, but never by arguing or pushing back. There are plenty of times when a power struggle is completely idiotic, but we find ourselves doing it anyway! Like arguing about whether it's called a 'pep rally' or 'pepper-alley' (true story!). That kind of nonsense can get shut down with a simple "Agree to disagree". If it's a struggle you need to resolve for real, decide what the right path is and take action. Arguing is counterproductive.
2) Check yourself: why do you want to win? I have heard from many clients that the reason they are locking horns is because a parent is 'supposed to be in charge', their kid is disrespectful, kids shouldn't be running the show, etc. While we do need to deal with blatant disregard for rules or requests, there are many instances when it's just not necessary. This fight is about your idea of what a 'good mom' is and trying to feel like you're in control. It's not in your or your child's best interest to have a power dynamic like this. The human need for agency and autonomy will overpower the situation and only serve to undermine your relationship with your child. Which brings me to my next tip:
3) Give as much control and freedom as possible. Kids who get to make loads of different choices all day long and feel like they have the ability to determine their reality are SO much less likely to resist when they are given directives. A kid who has been able to choose their clothes, what they have for breakfast, how they want to wear their hair and what book they get to read is a lot more likely to get in the car when it's time to go. When you think about it, there are 100's of ways we can feed our kids' desires for independence every day so they don't feel so stubborn when we really need their compliance.
4) When consequences are necessary, implement them without struggle or argument. Kids don't learn from lectures or explanations, and definitely not from yelling or arguments. A swift consequence delivered calmly and compassionately is your best bet and eliminates the power struggle completely.
5) Get help! This stuff doesn't come naturally to any of us at first; reach out and learn how to relate to your kids in healthier ways. This free Guide to Getting Kids to Listen The First Time We Ask is the perfect place to start