How Parents (and others) Can Avoid Power Struggles with Children

Parents and children get into power struggles all the time.  Parents want to feel in control of their children and children like autonomy.  When kids get too feisty and parents start to feel out of control they start to fight with their kids in order to regain control.  Kids rebel when parents get too controlling.  When kids rebel, parents feel they are losing control and come down harder on the kids.  The kids react by acting out and misbehaving. The more the kids act out the more the parents feel out of control and come down on the kids.  The more they come down on the kids the more the kids act out. This is a vicious cycle which can escalate to dangerous levels.

It takes two to fight.  Wise parents withdraw from the fight but do not abdicate their authority.  They switch to strategies carried out with a matter-of-fact attitude.  The key to success is the matter-of-fact attitude. The goal – everyone’s best interests are at heart.  Here are a couple of examples of everyday events handled using strategies.

NOTE:  If you really want to dominate and control your children do not switch to strategies.  When parents interact with their children using an attitude of I’m-the-boss-you-better-do-what-I-say-or-else, strategies do not work, they backfire.  Your power struggles with your children will only get worse.

Scenario 1: Having to go when the child does want to.

Janice needed to go grocery shopping with her two preschoolers, Joey age 4 and Lesley age 2.  Joey did not want to go shopping; he wanted to stay home and play but there was on one to stay home with. As they were getting ready to go out the door Joey refused to put on his shoes and jacket.  Not wanting to fight with him, Janice told him he did not have to wear them if he did not want to.  Without anger, Janice picked up a bag and put Joey’s shoes and jacket in the bag to take with them.  She told Joey that if he wanted them they were in the bag.   When Joey realized he was going to have to go, he put on his jacket and shoes.

Scenario 2:  Tidying up at bedtime.

At the end of every day George’s children left their toys, books, sports gear all over the place.  In a friendly way, George encouraged them to put their stuff away.  That did not work.  George’s voice got louder and he ordered the kids to put their stuff away.  That did not work.  Then George started barking at his kids. He angrily shouted threats at them if they didn’t put their stuff away.  The kids cried, complained and put their stuff away.  Everyone was miserable.  Going to bed became a nightly battle.

George did not like what was happening between him and the kids.  What he was doing was not working for him or for the kids.  So he decided to change.  He told the kids that he was tired of yelling at them to put their stuff away at night and he was not going to yell any more.  He said anything that was left out after the kids were in bed would be put away for 2 days and then they could have it back.  The kids listened to him and enjoyed not having dad yell at them when bedtime came.  After the kids were in bed George quickly picked up everything and put it away.  When the kids got up in the morning they looked for their stuff but they could not find it.  They asked their dad for it.  Without anger (or I-told-you-so-attitude) he told them that, since what they wanted had been left out, he had put it away.  He told them they could have their stuff in 2 days.  The kids begged, whined, cried and stomped for their stuff.  George was firm but not mean about it.  He repeated that they could have it back in 2 days.

That night when bedtime came George did not remind, nag, shout or make threats about putting stuff away.  Again, after the kids were in bed he picked up everything left out.  It did not take him long and it was a lot less stressful than making them do it.  Again in the morning the kids wanted their stuff.  George told them they could have it in 2 days.  The third evening when bedtime came, George did not remind.  He noticed that without being told, the kids were picking up some of their stuff and putting it away.  After they were in bed he picked up the rest.  The next morning he gave back to them the stuff that had been put away after the first night.  He did not say anything to them about putting it away the next time.  The kids were happy to have their stuff back.

Once the new routine had been in place for a week the kids quickly learned to pick up and put away anything that was important to them.  They just left the stuff they did not care about.  This was fine for George.  The kids were sorting out what was value to them and what was not.  George gave away or threw out the stuff that the kids had outgrown and did not want anymore.  One time George found a bag of stuff that had been put away many months ago.  On a rainy day he gave it to the kids. For them it was like new stuff and they enjoyed it for awhile.  George now enjoyed bedtime and his improved relationship with his kids.

Take any problematic situation that is ongoing and develop a strategy for it.  You may have to tweak it a bit to get it to work well.  Be consistant in carrying it out.

With care and concern,

Dr. Bea

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