Are power struggles with your child leaving you feeling drained and helpless?
I remember looking at my child, feeling like she was an alien creature. Where had this recalcitrant being come from? And why wouldn’t she listen to reason? On the other hand, I was also full of admiration for her: Look at her spirit! Her nerve! It took me years as an adult to be straight forward and clear about my wants and needs with my own mother. My respect for the emerging person in front of me prompted me to read up and ask around to find a way to defuse the power struggle without diminishing my child’s inner light, but also to not just give in on important issues. Here is what I found:
1. KNOW YOURSELF. It is really important to check in with yourself that what you are asking of your child is for her own good, not just fulfilling a need of your own. Is it a safety issue? That is probably pretty clear. But what about an issue like how clean her room should be? That is more about you. As long as the room is sanitary (health issues are safety issues), how clean her room is should not affect you. There is nothing inherently superior about a clean room. If she can function in it, there is enormous value in letting her.
2. CHECK IN WITH THE EMOTIONS. Your child is a person with feelings and preferences. Take the time to really listen to what is making your child disagree. Does she not want to clean her room because to her messy means cozy and comfortable? Does leaving all her toys out give her the feeling that she will be free to go back to playing at a moment’s notice? Is she in the middle of a game? Perhaps your tone in asking her to clean her room implies disgust or disapproval with the mess but she takes it as Mommy thinks I’m disgusting or disapproves of me? Naturally a self-respecting child is going to reject the implication of being found disgusting.
3. GIVE UP YOUR POWER. Wherever you can, let your child take responsibility and have the power of choice. You may not be willing to let your child go out into the snow with no shoes, but can she have a choice of which to wear? Or whether to put on her coat first or shoes first? Let her find out from experience that it is easier to put on her shoes without working around a bulky coat. She will learn the lesson on her own with no resentment of being told what to do.
4. ALLOW FOR NATURAL CONSEQUENCES. As much as possible, let natural consequences do the teaching. If no shoes are going to mean frost bite or burnt feet, you have a responsibility to protect your child’s health, but short of that, let nature teach your children that their feet will be happier shod. Sure, the first few times there may scenes as they complain of stubbed toes or prickly thorns. All you need do is sympathize with their pain and wonder if next time maybe they’ll want to wear their shoes!
5. BALANCE WITH CONNECTION. The warmer and stronger your bond is with your kid, the more cooperation you will get in general. Next month we’ll explore ways to build in household routines and traditions that build that connection on a daily basis.