At Chrysalis we have parent get togethers every month or so to discuss parenting issues.
This week we had a parent meeting about avoiding power struggles. I promised to send out some notes from the meeting. Here they are:
The best way to prevent power struggles with your child is to work diligently at cultivating a loving and respectful relationship with your child. When children feel a strong loving connection with their parents, they are less likely to oppose them, and more inclined to try to maintain harmony. Of course, many parents get lots of quality time with their children and have strong loving relationships, but still find themselves in power struggles. They just happen. There are some things we can do to decrease the amount of power struggles we face, and sometimes even avoid them altogether. We’ve also got tips on how to best deal with a power struggle in the moment, as well as healthy ways of addressing it with your child after the power struggle has occurred.
Preventing a power struggle
Be clear about your expectations with your child. Consistency is key—if you are sometimes more lax about your expectations, they will be confused when you are suddenly more rigid. Consistency between parents and other caregivers is important too. Be sure you and your partner are on the same page, or if you are not, at least back the other up in your behavior: “It’s important to Mommy that you….so let’s do it.”
Be specific in your objectives. If you are going to a restaurant, saying “behave” is vague and hard apply to specific behaviors. Saying “please stay in your seat” or “no screaming” is much more concrete and easy for children to interpret. Don’t ever say “be good.” That infers that sometimes they are bad.
Talk with your child before you go into a situation that often spurs power struggles. On the way into the grocery store, you may say “We are going to buy milk, bread, and the other foods on my shopping list. We aren’t buying any candy today.” This sets a clear expectation in your child’s mind about what the trip to the grocery store will entail. If you are clear beforehand and stick to what you’ve said, you will eventually see less begging for impulse purchases. This only works if you are really firm on not budging once you have set your limits.
And occasionally saying today we will buy the things on the list and you can pick out one treat. I have a strong belief about children having money of their own. This avoids the begging as you can say “Did you bring your money? Oh well, maybe next time you will remember and you can buy it.” (This is another whole topic that we will cover in an upcoming meeting.)
Harder are the times when it isn’t a particular behavior but it is a general temperament thing—being kind to your sister or behave yourself at grandma’s house. Better to break it down into actual behaviors that can be measured and acted on.
Give your child a way to meet these expectations without nagging from you.
-Shoes always a power struggle? Easy to put on shoes. Shoes he loves.
-Her own money! “did you bring your money? Oh well, maybe you can buy something next time.”
Some people find a visual Chart to be useful. These are the things that need to happen: Eat breakfast, brush teeth, get dressed with shoes. Then you can play before we leave for school.
Timer. By the time this timer dings, you should have your shoes on and be dressed for the day.
I have a strong belief in no TV before school. When really involved in something, your child isn’t being bad, he’s just involved. Don’t expect them to be able to switch gears quickly. Make eye contact, physical contact.
Going to bed—try to make it pleasurable—make a visual chart—first bath, brush teeth, pajamas, read stories and sing a song. Don’t take away the story if your child dawdles on the way to bed but maybe there is less time for multiple stories. Make sure you have a realistic bedtime. If there is always lots of struggling and you try to get your child in bed at 7 but they don’t get there until 8, maybe bedtime needs to be a bit later. Or maybe you need to do something physical before bedtime—wrestling instead of struggling.
If you are not dressed when the timer goes off then…. We go to school with your clothes in a bag and you get dressed there.
“Oh well, we won’t have time to stop for a treat on the way because you haven’t done what you needed to.” Or “you might miss circle time.”
Try to make consequences logical in that they have something to do with the behavior. Not—“no tv” or “I’ll take away your toy.” Unless you can make it logical. After school we will have to pick up your room since you didn’t get it done this morning so therefore no tv. That toy is being a distraction so I’m going to take it away, you’ll get it back after school.
Always give a choice that you can follow through on. Don’t threaten with something that you don’t want to take away or a consequence that you don’t want.
-responsibility: how can your child do it themselves?
-say it fewer times
-touch & eye contact
Have a code word for absolutely stop. STOP. This is very important as a signal for when your child may be running down the street and is about to cross a driveway where a car is turning into. STOP. And if they don’t stop, this is when you take their hand and leave whenever this happens. This is truly a logical consequence. Your child has shown you that they can't be on their own and make good decisions. YET. They will learn.
Know when it is ok to negotiate and when it is just time to do what you say. There shouldn’t be too many of these times but sometimes they just need to do it. It is helpful for your child to know that you are the boss in your house. The teacher is the boss at school. When we say this to children at school it is amazing how many children tell me “You are the boss at school but at home I am the boss. Not my parents.” Maybe they are right. But it makes parenting difficult.
Ways that we sabotage our expectations
Don’t ask unless its ok to hear the answer no. Don’t say “ok?” Or “want to go home now?” Or “do you want to sit in your seat?” It’s time to go home now. Please sit in your seat. Let’s go. Every time you say “ok?” think about what you would say if they say no. And when it doesn’t happen, say. Oh I didn’t say that right. I didn’t mean to ask a question I meant to say—time to go. Don’t ask if they did something if you know they didn’t. Just tell them to go do it.
Saying things over and over and over and over. Often parents tell me "I have to tell him 10 times then get mad in order for him to do it." If a child knows what is expected, you should tell them once then act. Get your shoes on. Then just “shoes” with a hand on her shoulder and looking in her eyes so you know she is listening. Last warning ”Shoes”.
When you say it ten times and then get mad, they wait for the mad part and ignore the first ten times. So talk with your child. I am going to be doing things differently. No more nagging and saying things over and over. I am going to tell you twice and then it needs to be done. At school I often say “I am not going to tell you again and again. You often get to choose what to do, but this is one of the times when you have to do what the teacher tells you to."
Change the environment. If they always run around during a time when you need them to be doing something, change the furniture so it isn’t as tempting to run. Or if the siblings fight all the time, make sure they each have their own space they can retreat to.
Make sure they have plenty to do. Children need to have lots of toys, materials, and “stuff” to mix together and explore and plan and play with. In order for them to play independently, they should not be reliant on you to be their playmate or to get things out for them. Busy children are happier children.
During a power struggle
When your child is having a crying fit, both of you are in the amygdala brain, not in your right mind, so you can’t teach anything. They can’t learn anything.
Logic doesn’t work
Don’t talk too much This is the time for a Broken record: “But look at this..” “Shoes” “I just want to …” “Shoes.” “Now I am a bird…” “Shoes. As soon as you have your shoes on, we can talk about this.”
Say “we can talk about it later if you think we need to renegotiate the rules.”
If you need a physical assist, make sure it’s not too much force or manhandling. You don’t want to give the message that “because I’m bigger and stronger than you I win.” If they always wait to be forced into doing what you ask, that’s not a message we want to send.
After a power struggle: When everybody’s calm
-maybe apologize (“I didn’t handle it well”)
We all make mistakes. It is so powerful to say “I’m sorry” to a child. I handled that poorly. It models good behavior for them so that they can apologize and acknowledge when they are unhappy with how they have behaved.
Once it is over don’t talk about it to death. if it’s over and the consequences have been given, don’t keep bringing it up and making them feel bad about it.
"Here are my ideas to prevent this from happening again."
"What do you think would help?"
Of course we talked about a lot more and all the parents had good ideas and strategies that work for them.
Conferences are coming up soon, so if you have particular issues you would like to address with us, you can bring them up during our parent/teacher conferences!