For parents who deal with children being obstinate, defiant and challenging, here are a few thoughts on power struggles:
If we deal with resistance by struggling back, not only will we damage our relationship with our kids and set them up to be rebellious, but we will be very frustrated. It is a child’s JOB to eventually claim control over his life and become independent. “A child who feels he has no control over his life will spend much of his energy trying to manipulate the system and adults around him. A child who feels she has some control over her life will spend little time and energy trying to manipulate and control the parent” (written by Jim Fay). We can create win-win situations and avoid power struggles by giving children choices.
Choices can make all the difference in the world. Giving your child lots of choices gives him lots of opportunities to be in control. “Would you like the red cup or the blue cup?” “Would you like to hold hands in the parking lot or be carried?” “Would you like to leave the park now or in five minutes?” (Ask five minutes before you really want to leave.)
The key to using choices is to offer two options, either of which will make you happy. Always pick two choices you can live with. “Do you want to wear your coat or carry it?” Either way, I know my child has a coat if he needs it. “Would you rather clean up your toys or have me do it?” If I do it, the toys go to toy jail. (See short video about implementing Toy Jail below!)
If the child doesn’t choose, be prepared to choose yourself. Also, never give a choice unless you’re willing to allow the child to live with the consequences of his/her bad choice. Remember: “I can live with either choice.” If they protest the choice that gets made for them, apply loads of empathy and do not engage in arguing or explaining. Allowing our children to make choices and live with the results gives them valuable real-world experience in making decisions and learning about the consequences of their actions.
Kerry Stutzman, MSW
©2012 Kerry Stutzman, Head & Heart Parents
As author of the easy-to-read “Save Your Sanity” series, Kerry helps parents save their sanity and sense of humor while raising young children with love and laughter.