The first step in managing power struggles is to know that it takes two to create a power struggle in the first place. The most important thing you can do is “stay out of the ring” by not accepting the invitation from your child. The goal is to gain cooperation, while maintaining a positive connection to your child. The goal is not to “win.” Take a deep breath and use the following suggestions to invite cooperation, while teaching your child the important life skills of self-discipline, responsibility, and problem solving.
- Use loving guidance – Soften your tone of voice, use direct eye contact, get on your child’s level, use few words, gently guide your child.
- Find useful ways to make your child feel powerful – For example, enlist your child to be your “kitchen assistant”, “car seat patrol”, “toothbrush manager.
- Offer limited choices – “It’s time to get ready for bed. Would you like to brush your teeth first or put your PJ’s on first?” “Would you like to hop to the car or skip?
- Get children involved in the creation of routines (morning, bedtime etc.) – Make the routine chart the boss and refer to it with curiosity questions, “What’s next in our routine?”
- Do the unexpected/Use a sense of humor – Turn the “chore” into a fun game, i.e. “Here comes the tickle monster who gets little children who don’t pick up their toys/brush their teeth/get in their car seats.”
- Decide what YOU will do– “I will read a story when teeth are brushed.” “I will pull over to the side of the road when children are fighting.” Then, follow through!
- Use non-verbal signals – When you are having a recurrent power struggle with your child, come up with a signal you can use to remind him/her of the rule/agreement (i.e. thumbs up, peace sign, tapping your nose).
- Look for “Yes” when possible – When a child hears the word “no,” they move into fight or flight mode and the battle begins. Instead, try, “Yes you may have a cookie after you finish your dinner.” “Yes, we can read a story after your teeth are brushed.”
- Use reflective listening and search for solutions – Empathize with your child; try to understand where they are coming from; once you understand their position, invite cooperation by asking their ideas of possible solutions.
- Model self-control and self-calming – When things are getting too heated, take care of yourself. Tell your child you need to take some “calm down time” and explain what you will do. For example, “We are both getting very upset. Mommy needs to take some calm down time. I am going to take some deep breaths like this (show child) and then I hope we can come up with a solution to our problem together.”
Managing power struggles isn’t always easy, but with time, patience and many deep breaths, it is possible to gain cooperation from your child while maintaining the most crucial aspect of all – your relationship!
Debbie Zeichner, LCSW, is a Licensed Clinical Social Worker and Certified Positive Discipline Parenting Educator as well as a Certified Redirecting Children’s Behavior (RCB) Parent Educator who has specialized in working with adults, children and families for over 16 years. Read more.
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