It is unavoidable and to be expected that if you have children you will be presented with invitations into power struggles. But, just like in life, you do not have to accept invitations to every party you are invited to! Human beings are wired to seek autonomy and little humans are no different. In other words, they want to drive the train, steer the ship, navigate the waters or whatever other metaphor comes to mind… THEY WANT TO BE IN CHARGE!
The conflict arises because while they are desperately fighting for autonomy, we want them to do what we say, when we say it and without resistance. Given the two conflicting desires between parent and child, it may seem that we are on an inevitable collision course with one another. However, I am glad to report that there is hope. With some small adjustments you will be easily able to gently steer out of the way and even begin to enjoy the trip.
Some ideas to get you started…
1) Give your children abundant age-appropriate opportunities for autonomy.
· Give choices whenever possible. For example, with younger children, what to wear, what game to play, order of bedtime routine, etc. For older children/teens, what activities to participate in, choice of chores, opportunities to earn their own money, how to spend their free-time, etc. When children feel like they have a lot of choice in their world, they will have less need to engage in a power struggle with us when we do have to set a boundary.
2) Do not to give unsolicited advice, and maybe refrain even when solicited.
· Encourage your child to develop solutions to their own problems. “That’s a tough problem, how do you think you’d like to handle it.?”
· Just listen. More often than not, this is all they want! Get quiet and give them space and you just may be surprised at what they start to share.
3) Manage your expectations.
· It is unrealistic to think that our kids will always do what we say, when we say it and without resistance. Knowing that it is part of their humanity and proper development to push back can help change our response. In other words, it’s not personal so no need for the power struggle!
4) Be okay with the push back.
· Show your child you are unphased by their resistance. Communicate an understanding of their feelings, “Even though you know we have to leave, you really wish we could stay.” “It is hard to miss out on the party, even though you know I’m just not comfortable with you going.”
5) Let go of the need to “win” the argument.
· When our children ask us why they can’t go somewhere or have something, it can be an invitation to a debate. You should RSVP, “Will not attend!” We don’t have to be right. In fact, it’s great to say to a child, “You may be right, but this is just what I’m okay with for now.”
Sometimes we can become so mired in “the dance” with our children that we lose sight of what is most important. Making some small adjustments in how we react and interact with our children can create amazing and transformational changes in our relationships with them.