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Who loses in a power struggle? EVERYBODY!
Parents feel helpless and useless because they can’t control their child. If the power struggle occurs in public the parent feels the whole world is witnessing their parental inadequacy. And the child does not feel triumphant. Instead the child feels a bit anxious. Kids are smart; they know they’re not big enough to rule the world! An anxious kid may misbehave to get rid of the anxious feelings.
Power struggles will occur in every family at least some of the time.
Why? Every human being comes into this world wanting to win all the time. We have to learn how to negotiate, compromise, postpone, defer, etc. But these are all grownup ways. Kids throw a fit because it’s all they know how to do.
There are two developmental stages when power struggles are most apt to occur, interestingly enough for the same reason. The toddler and the teen either tantrum or fight with the parents for the same reason: they are intent on developing autonomy or independence. They feel as though their lives depend on winning and in one sense they are right. If they do not develop this autonomy or independence they cannot go on to the next developmental stage. The toddler has to become a child, the teen an adult and they have to test out how far they can go.
Unfortunately, parents may cause or prolong power struggles by the way they parent. And conversely, the savvy parent can prevent most power struggles. How?
o BE AN IN-CHARGE PARENT. A parent who accepts his or her role as family-person-in-charge, who doesn’t feel guilty bossing a child who needs to be bossed, who can tolerate temporary unhappiness in a child who needs to follow the rules, who understands the importance to the child of having a strong parent – this is a parent savvy enough to prevent many power struggles because the child knows who is in charge.
o PICK YOUR BATTLES. Be willing and able to overlook and not sweat the small stuff. But be in-charge for the important issues like safety, health, no hitting.
o GIVE YOUR CHILD CHOICES WHENEVER YOU CAN. This helps the child develop that important sense of autonomy.
o When something is NON-NEGOTIABLE, SAY SO AND MEAN IT.
o AVOID/PREVENT FATIGUE, HUNGER, and other uncomfortable states. Don’t take a tired kid shopping for example.
Of course there will still be melt-downs. Both you and your kid are human and there will be times when what you want and what your child wants are diametrically opposed. But you will be able to avoid most of the power struggles and your home will be relatively peaceful.
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