The Power Struggle is Real
Let me start by defining what a power struggle is. When you try to impose your will on, or decide for your child without a negotiation or a conversation taking place; and your child is refusing to let you get away with it. Do you find yourself in arguments with your child several times a day? You know, the ones that come out of nowhere and escalate way too fast? Those are power struggles. I have been thinking about how dysfunctional, irritating, and unproductive they are. They are not just part of parenting. Even though people have tried to normalize them, they are not normal. They don’t have to continue, and quite frankly, they shouldn’t.
You may not even realize that you are engaging, and sometimes even initiating, such contention. You may be oblivious to being involved in war until verbal combat has begun. The emotional bloodshed that occurs during these struggles for power will leave your child with the venomous taste of enmity. Instead, begin a crusade for a peaceful household. Remember, it is never too late to become a better parent.
I recently talked about non-answers, in Stop Giving Non-Answers, usually this is where the battle begins. The first step is to identify the problem. In other words, if you hear yourself giving any of the non-answers, out of habit, you will need to correct yourself. Correcting yourself in front of your children is a fantastic way to teach accountability. The more you model it, the more they will. Once you become well versed in the signs, you can avoid these situations altogether. Obviously, if you can see a conflict coming, you can easily opt to take another path.
Here are a few things that signify that you are heading into a power struggle:
A) Things are escalating quickly.
B) You notice a volume change in your voice.
C) You’re not giving your child a chance to speak.
D) Your child is yelling (more than likely, because they don’t feel heard)
E) The conversation is going in circles
F) You keep repeating yourself
If you notice any of the above happening you can simply say, “I don’t think this is productive. Why don’t we both take a break for a few minutes. We can come back to this issue and have a real conversation.” More than likely your child will be ecstatic to take you up on this offer. Note: If your child chooses to accept your offer to take a break, your child gets to play. You are responsible for the lack of proper communication and you do not punish your child for your mistakes. You really don’t have any reason to punish your child, period.
If they insist on having the conversation then you need to explain where the situation went wrong and show them what a genuine conversation looks like. If you are frustrated and need a second to calm down offer to take breaths with them or simply tell them that you need a few minutes. You can remind them that you respect their space when it is requested. Set a timer if they are anxious to get back to the conversation. This way they know you are not abandoning them or the problem.
Once you come back, before you start the conversation, you need to apologize for getting into the power struggle to begin with. It is your responsibility, as the parent, to ensure the communication with your child stays peaceful and solution based. It is not the child’s job to make sure you are parenting correctly, as it always will be, that is your job.
Example: “I’m sorry that I wasn’t listening to your words and allowing for a productive conversation to take place. Let’s try again and see what solutions we can find to this problem together.” The joyous reaction you will get when your child hears this is absolutely invigorating. You will want to continue this process until it becomes second nature to you because of how well it works.
When I first implemented this, it was hard. My children were both so used to the lack of proper communication that they didn’t understand my changes at first. To be honest, they probably didn’t trust them either. My son didn’t want to have conversations for the longest time. I knew he was mad at me and he had every right to be. I had a feeling that he was scared to talk to me because true communication was not common in the past. It was new, challenging and scary. In order to have a genuine conversation you have to be vulnerable. Naturally this is going to be hard for a child whose vulnerability was not respected in the past. I knew if I could just show him that he could trust me we would be good to move forward. So, at first, I would pretend to be a Velociraptor, I gave myself this old English professor accent, I would form my hands to look like I only had 3 digits, instead of 5, and I would say “I understand you don’t want to speak to mommy but would consider talking to me the Velociraptor?” Bently was only 4 at the time. He absolutely loved this. We would have our conversation and fix the problem (yes, I stayed in character for the whole conversation, accent, morphed hands, and all). Eventually, he just started having conversations with me and forgot about the Velociraptor. My hypothesis proved to be true and I was very satisfied with the results. It felt amazing to build trust with him in such a creative way.
My point is, do whatever you have to do to get your little one to trust you again, if you aren’t already a peaceful-parent, and show them how healthy relationships function. It isn’t easy at first but by doing this you are making it so much easier for yourself in the future. Not just the distant future, when they are adults, but within a couple weeks you will start to notice the differences in the behavior of your child when you change the way you parent. Short term discomfort for long term satisfaction. You will start to see more compassion, empathy, critical thinking, and free play.