10 ways to defuse a power struggle

Parenting educator and psychotherapist Andrea Nair offers up these genius tricks for avoiding and managing pint-sized attempts at household domination.

Photo: @princessandpotato via Instagram

1. Connect first
Power struggles often happen because your child doesn’t feel like you’re on the same team. Do some power struggle prevention each morning by spending time—even just five minutes—connecting: snuggling, tickling, roughhousing, colouring or reading together are all great options.

2. Let them try
Another prevention technique is to let your child take charge of as many of his or her own activities as possible. Kids often get riled up and start a power struggle when they feel they’ve been told what to do too many times.

3. Back off
Remember that it takes two to battle. Parents can actually just decide to not get pulled into an argument! Ask yourself, Do I really NEED to let this bother me? Make a conscious decision that you don’t need to win this struggle.

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4. Calm down
Take a deep breath, count from 11 to minus one by twos to engage your thinking brain, restore yourself to a calm state and try to see life through your child’s eyes. Summon all the warmth and presence you can.

5. Define the goal
Consider what you need to do, like getting out the door on time or inspiring your child to practice his or her piano. Once you are clear on what is important, clarify that with your child. Try this: “Our focus needs to be on leaving before 8:30 a.m.

6. Consider the options
Think about a few different ways to achieve the goal. Is it time to be goofy, playful, have a race, offer a hug, use some trickery (“Have you heard the story of the girl with the purple hair? I’ll tell it to you when we’re in the car!”) or ask your kid for help. For example, “We’ve got a problem: We’re getting really close to being late. What should we do?”

7. Provide choices
Children often feel more empowered when they have some sense of control within an uncontrollable situation. With your goal in mind, think of two or three possible choices that still accomplish that goal. For example, “We need to leave now. Are you going to put your shoes on or would you like me to help? Your decision.” For an older child: “I know you’re not feeling like doing piano right now. What are some ways you might feel ready to do that? Do you like to have a fun thing waiting for you afterwards, or do you want to start by playing music you love that isn’t on the teacher’s list?”

8. Repeat the solution
Keep connecting, listening and trying things until a solution arises. After your child has made a decision that works, smile, nod and say it back to him or her. Try something like this: “All right! You’re going to do half an hour of piano—I’ll set the timer—and then we can watch some Netflix together. Sounds great!”

9. Give a compliment
“I appreciate that you helped me solve our problem this morning. Thank you.”

10. Reinforce capability
Demonstrate that you believe your child is a capable human. Try using “I see yous,” such as, “I saw you push through something you didn’t want to do—that takes grit” or “You CAN put your shoes on by yourself!”

Read more:
29 toddler discipline tactics that work
6 discipline fallbacks… and how to fix them!

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