Inside: Learn the best ways to stop a power struggle in its tracks and prevent them from happening in the future.
“Hey buddy, can you please clean that stuff off the stairs so people don’t hurt themselves?” My friend makes a simple request to her 6-year-old son.
He looks at her, giggles, says “Nope, I’m going outside!” and runs towards the back door.
My friend looks at me, surprise, embarrassed, and annoyed all at the same time. She gets up and calmly follows behind
She catches up to him by the door.
He laughs and says “No! I don’t want to! I want to go OUTSIDE!!”
Sitting on the couch on the other side of the room, I can feel the tension rising and it’s getting uncomfortable.
They’re in a battle and neither one of them are letting go. They both need to win…
Her son continues to yell and say things like “no,” “you can’t make me!” and “I don’t want to.”
She takes a deep breath and does the most miraculous thing.
She tickles him!
Seriously…she’s fighting with her child and she tickles him. That’s not the normal reaction parents have when their child is yelling at them.
“I know you don’t want to clean the stairs!” she says as she continues to tickle him.
I giggled a bit, waiting to see what she does next because this isn’t normal.
Then she does the most miraculous thing, she hugs him and simply says, “Hey buddy, I know you really want to go outside and play, and you can go. But first, it’s important that you pick up the toys so they don’t hurt anyone. As soon as the toys are picked up, you can go play outside.”
I held my breath, waiting to see how he’d respond.
He giggles and walks over to the steps and picked up the toys.
“Thank you!” my friend calls from the bottom of the stairs.
She looked at me with relief in her eyes. “I’m glad that worked.”
My friend and her son end up in power struggles all the time, and she’s been working very hard on learning how to prevent and stop them from happening.
It’s so easy to end up in power struggles with kids.
How Power Struggles Begin
Everyone, including children, has a need for power and control over their lives. It’s part of being human.
It’s comforting to know that we get to make choices and have some sort of control over how we live our life.
But children get very little control over their lives. We tell them when to eat, what to eat, when to sleep, when it’s time to leave the house, what to wear…the list goes on and on.
When children feel a lack of control, they dig in their heals and fight back. They try to get some of that control back.
Instinctively when this happens, parents dig in even more because they don’t want to lose control of their children.
And that’s when a power struggle begins.
What we, as parents, really need to do is give children space to make their own decisions, and to become more flexible instead of more rigid.
But that’s so hard to do!
How do we give children control without throwing all of our rules and expectations out the window?
Break Free From A Power Struggle
Yes, children need some control, but they still very much need rules and boundaries too.
So how do you give your child some power while staying within those boundaries?
Well, that’s the trick.
My friend did this amazingly well, and here’s why it worked.
Break the Tension with Humor
My friend was neck deep in a power struggle, and everyone in that room could feel it.
Both sides felt like they needed to win and neither one was backing down.
Nothing good happens when you’re in the middle of a power struggle like this.
One of two things will always happen:
- you’ll end up yelling at your child and there will be tears, screaming, and angry words thrown at each other, or
- your child will get their way and will know that all he has to do is put up a fight to get what he wants. Then there will be even more power struggles in your future.
So what do you do?
Well…you do what my friend did. You break the tension.
This is exactly what happened when she tickled her son. It was so unexpected that he didn’t know how to respond.
But the tension was broken, and she was able to get him to listen to her.
Then she pulled this magical phrase out of her hat.
Say Yes…while saying no.
Instead of saying “no, you can’t go outside and play until this mess is cleaned up,” she said YES! “Yes, you can go outside and play, but not until you pick up first.”
The message is the same, but the tone is different.
Children automatically want to fight back when they hear the word “no” because it feels like we’re taking their power away. And we are.
You’ll get a lot more cooperation if you say “yes.”
Now, don’t get me wrong, kids need to hear “no” sometimes. There are times when it’s appropriate to put your foot down and draw a hard line in the sand, but when “no” is all your child hears, it’s inevitable that they’ll start saying “no” right back at you.
So save the “no” for things that are really important and make “yes” your go-to response.
I know this all sounds counter-intuitive. We’re the parents, our children should just listen the first time. But trust me, you’ll have such a calmer and happier home if learn to work with your children instead of against them.
Take it from my badass friend, the mighty power struggle doesn’t have to rule your life.
You too can get a child to comply without the battle.
3 More Magical Ways To Avoid Power Struggles…
- Help your children feel powerful by giving lots of choices throughout the day
- Lead with empathy so your child feels heard and understood. They’ll be a lot less likely to fight back when they feel like someone “gets it.”
- Build daily routines so your child knows what’s coming next.
Wow… just wow I’m learning so much and I’m a mom of 3 kids under 8
This advice is GOLD! Thank you!