Watching your child develop speech, behavior and reasoning can be touching and fascinating every step of the way. The more you listen to their ideas and arguments, the more you realize they are growing up, especially when they try to convince you to get something they really want. Having a mind of their own, however, also means something else: the rise of confrontation.
Some friction with your child every now and then is normal, but let’s admit it, it can reach such exhausting levels sometimes! Who hasn’t ever been tempted to give in to their kids’ demands just to be spared another hour of nagging or whining? Some of us might even ask, why persist in asserting our authority if it can affect our relationship with our baby, or make us feel like bad moms?
Around the age of two, “children develop their first interests, and an increased desire for autonomy” (Dr. Michelle Anthony via scholastic.com). This can bring about the first hints of confrontation, and eventually escalate into the first power struggle. And this is only the beginning!
Understanding Power Struggles
Unlike a contextual argument, a power struggle between parents and children is a conflict that aims to determine who is in control.
Although this kind of situation between you and your kid is unpleasant to say the least, it is actually a natural phenomenon between humans. It comes from children’s “normal human need for power and control”, in the words of Erin Leyba via Psychology Today.
As they grow up, their concept of self becomes separate from their parents: they start taking control of some issues and making decisions on their own. Then comes the temptation to oppose their parents, and to start saying “no” to the orders they are given.
How to Deal With Them
Power struggles are likely to happen from time to time, and typically end when there’s a perceived “winner” and “loser”.
Let’s take toddlers for example. Given their young age, they would quickly get over losing a power struggle and move on. But if they won and got what they wanted despite your opposition, especially after throwing a tantrum or nagging, they would always remember this behavior as a scheme to get their own way.
But it doesn’t mean that you should be the “winner” in every situation either. If parents were too authoritarian, the relationship would also be negatively affected, especially during adolescence, as it would harm children’s self-esteem and other aspects of their development.
So where does this leave us? Well, the key trick to handle power struggles efficiently is to prevent them from happening in the first place.
When your child starts challenging your orders at a young age, make them understand that tantrums don’t affect you the way they would like them to. If they believe that this way doesn’t work, they won’t resort to it. Based on this approach, you can go for several tactics depending on the situation.
Here are 11 tactics to prevent power struggles:
1- Planning ahead: Your child hasn’t touched their dinner? Spark their motivation by proposing an exciting deal once they eat what’s on their plates, like reading their favorite story or a new one.
2- Distracting their attention: When you don’t want your kid to touch (and potentially break) that glass on the table, try redirecting their attention to something else, like a book or a toy. Or take them to another room if you want to play it extra safe.
3- Adding fun to some rules: Teasing can be a good solution on occasion, as long as it is constructive. For example, if they refuse to wash their hands after or before a meal, you can go for playful means to make them reconsider, like joking about lice on their hair.
4- Giving choices: Let’s say they don’t want to wear their adorable new dress or shirt today. Try proposing 1 or 2 other options that you’re also fine with, and tell them to choose. This is also important to help your child develop decision-making skills, and “build their sense of responsibility” as stated by Kids Matter.
5- Offering help: If they keep postponing their homework, one way of encouraging them would be to offer your help, even for part of it — provided you have some free time.
6- Asking for help: You want them to clean up their room, but they are not complying. Start tidying up and tell them you need their help in putting the toys back in the right place. Basically, put them in charge of a given task, then another one, and so on, until the room is neat.
7- Explaining why: If you’re lucky, giving them a rational explanation is enough to convince them to do or not do something. Sometimes though, it might take more than one argument to get the message through. One day, I spotted one of my sons climbing up the back of the couch with a pen in his hand, and in a state of panic, I ordered him to get back down right away. But as I explained to him that he could’ve hurt himself and maybe even lost an eye, he gave me the most unexpected answer: “But Minion only has one eye too, so it’s not a big deal”. It took an amusing yet lengthy exchange of ideas and arguments for my kid to finally recognize the risks of his action, and to settle for safer ways to play with that pen.
8- Letting them make their point: Communication plays a pivotal role in your kid’s development. Letting them have a say and encouraging a dialogue not only helps them learn about problem-solving and cooperation as Psychology Today explains in an article, but it also decreases the risk of tantrums. Next time your kid wants to eat with dirty hands, try asking them if they know why it is important to wash their hands before a meal, and help them come up with the conclusion.
9- Creating a routine: When it comes to developing habits — brushing their teeth, washing their hands, sleeping early, etc. — creating a daily routine that they can stick to can come in handy and simplify their chores.
10- Keeping your temper: Even on difficult days, don’t hit or scream at your child. It won’t do any good to them, you or your relationship. Instead of understanding the situation and changing for the better, some children will do the complete opposite on purpose, just to get on your nerves. Besides, your child would wrongfully see aggression as a normal way of dealing with people and problems.
11- Sweet-talking: At times when rational thinking isn’t working and they just seem determined not to put on some clothes, a tender “I Love You” accompanied by hugs and kisses can give them a change of heart and push them to please you. After all, some affection can make everyone feel great afterwards!
Power struggles might be almost inevitable, but you can always try to limit them as much as possible. When you feel like your temper is failing you, try not to give in to your child’s whining or an impulsive reaction. Instead, take control of the situation in a smart and appropriate way, especially when it’s for a good cause!
This approach is one of the pillars of dialogue and respect. Not only will it allow you to spend much more cherished time with your children, but it will also help you establish a strong foundation to build on, for today and tomorrow.