If you guys have issues with your kids and power struggles, I have a little story to share with you.
But first, let’s just talk about this for a second.
Power struggles suck.
They are exhausting and infuriating.
What we may not realize, though, is that our kids aren’t creating this problem.
We do it to ourselves!
I know we don’t mean to do it. And I know many of us don’t even realize when we are doing it.
But over the last few months, I have been realizing how many power struggles I engage in on a daily basis.
They happen multiple times a day.
It may be something like this:
Me: The bus will be here soon. Go brush your teeth.
*kid doesn’t go brush teeth*
Me: Go brush your teeth!
*kid doesn’t go brush teeth*
Me: GO BRUSH YOUR TEETH.
*kid still doesn’t go brush teeth*
Me: HOW MANY TIMES DO I HAVE TO ASK YOU TO GO BRUSH YOUR TEETH!!!!!
*kid still doesn’t go brush teeth*
Now you are fuming, and your kid isn’t moving.
Me: IF YOU DO NOT GO UPSTAIRS RIGHT NOW AND BRUSH YOUR TEETH, YOU WILL NOT WATCH TELEVISION FOR ONE WEEK/USE THE IPAD/GO TO YOUR FRIEND’S HOUSE/WHATEVER..
At this point your kid may go brush her teeth. Or it may take a couple more massive threats.
Eventually, chances are they go brush their f*cking teeth.
But you are pissed, it took you five or ten minutes to get the the actual teeth brushing, you have lost your patience and you have already partially emotionally drained yourself and it’s only 8:00 in the morning.
You are glad you won’t have to engage in the teeth brushing games for another twelve hours.
We find ourselves in these situations over and over again.
If it’s not the teeth brushing, it’s getting dressed. Or it’s picking up toys. Or it’s putting away laundry. Or it’s packing up the swim bag. Or it’s…
The list could go on forever.
Ultimately the most frustrating thing is that no matter what you say, no matter how many things you threaten to take away, no matter how loud you yell,
Our kids never get it.
And then we find ourselves in that definition of insanity.
Doing the same thing over and over but expecting different results.
These power struggles always lead to the same things.
Resistance, rebellion, or approval junkie compliance.
That’s not what we ultimately want, though.
We sure as hell don’t want our kids putting up a fight every time we ask them to do something, but we also don’t want them to only feel good about themselves when we are praising them for following orders.
So how can we do it differently?
I told you I had a story…
I have come a long way in the morning with regard to these power struggles.
They actually aren’t much of a problem any more.
That’s due partially to getting more organized and prepared the night before to cut down on chaos.
And it’s also largely due to the fact that I have started communicating differently with my kids.
But sometimes I forget.
Actually, I still forget a lot.
Luckily, I had just come back from a Positive Discipline certification course, and everything was fresh in my head yesterday morning when we weren’t quite as organized as normal.
Since I hadn’t been here on Monday and Tuesday, our routine was a little bit messed up. I also got sick, which didn’t help either.
The laundry had piled up a little bit, Number 7 didn’t have her outfit for the next day picked out the night before, and things kind of snowballed from there.
So yesterday morning, things were not running like a well-oiled machine, and that’s when Number 7, who is five-years-old, had one of her moments.
I am now realizing that her “moments” aren’t always her just trying to kill me with girl drama. They almost always make an appearance when I have (unconsciously) engaged in a power struggle with her.
(It’s funny — not haha funny but more like annoying funny — how you don’t realize it when it is happening. I had this a-ha moment regarding Number 7 when I was at the conference on Monday and Tuesday).
So anyway, Number 7 had a freak out over what she was going to wear about five minutes before the bus was going to be here yesterday.
I did not want to lose my shit.
I did not want to hand out any empty threats.
I did not want to say anything I would later regret.
I did not want to engage her in a power struggle.
(And I am fortunate to be in the position where I don’t have to be at work as soon as the kids get on the bus, so that gives me more options when handling these situations than parents who have to be at work at a certain time).
So rather than freak out, I told her I had to get Number 5 and 6 on the bus, and I couldn’t help her find clothes five minutes before the bus was coming.
She got pissed. She started screaming. She told me she wasn’t going to go to school. She told me I was the worst mom ever.
I told her I would be happy to talk to her when she was calm, but that right now, when she was screaming at me, I was going to walk away.
And I walked outside with Number 5 and 6.
Number 7 continued to lose her shit. She followed me out the door in her pajamas. I walked to the driveway with Number 5 and 6. Number 7 stood by the front door screaming.
Until she saw the bus coming.
Then she ran inside because she didn’t want anyone on her bus to see her. (I knew that would get her back inside).
After Number 5 and 6 got on the bus, I walked back inside. Number 7 was sharpening pencils.
“I’m not going to school because you won’t help me pick out my clothes,” she quietly said to me.
I asked her if she would like some help.
She silently nodded her head, yes.
We went to her room, found some acceptable clothes, and she quickly (and happily) got dressed.
After she was dressed, we went down to the kitchen, which is our normal routine.
She sat down on a stool while I brushed her hair and put it into a ponytail.
She was calm and it was a good time to talk to her.
“What do you think we can do so we don’t end up in this same situation tomorrow?” I asked Number 7.
She just shrugged.
“I don’t know,” she said.
I offered her some suggestions.
“Well, you could go to school in your pajamas. Then we wouldn’t have to worry about what clothes you were going to wear,” I told her.
“MOMMY! I CAN’T GO TO SCHOOL IN MY PAJAMAS!!!” she laughed.
I gave her a second.
“Ummmm… we could pick out my clothes for school tomorrow tonight!” she said to me.
“That sounds like a good plan,” I told her.
Then I gave her a hug, she put on her jacket, and I drove her to school.
There was no yelling, there was no shit being lost, and I hadn’t said anything I regretted. Even better, rather than getting into an epic battle, Number 7 and I calmly came up with a solution to the problem.
And that’s what we really want, isn’t it? A solution? So our kids do this stuff independently?
So what happened this morning? Did things go more smoothly?
I was a little worried.
Because last night by the time I got home from practice, it was after 8:30, and Number 6 and 7 were already in bed.
Shit! I hadn’t told my husband about our morning or the agreement Number 7 and I came up with.
But it didn’t matter…
This morning Number 7 woke up and walked downstairs. I was in the kitchen getting breakfast ready.
She sat down at the counter, looked right at me, and said, “Mommy, you don’t have to worry. Guess what? I picked out all my clothes for school today already, and I know exactly what I’m going to wear!”
I almost started crying.
Why hadn’t I realized this sooner? By changing the way I dealt with the situation, the outcome was completely different.
All these times I’ve been engaging in power struggles with Number 7. We’ve both been getting upset. She’s been exhausted, and I’ve been exhausted. She’s been angry. I’ve been angry.
That’s no way to start a day.
And it’s not the way every day starts. In fact, most run fairly smoothly.
But who ever wants to start a day that way?
I don’t! And I sure has hell don’t want to put my little five-year-old on the bus like that in the morning either.
So I share this story because many of us wrestle with these power struggles so often, and we don’t realize that we are basically banging our heads against a wall.
By engaging in them, we aren’t teaching our kids to do the things we want them to do. We aren’t involving them in the process. We aren’t helping them to take responsibility.
We are just creating more chaos, and less independence and proactivity — the total opposite of what we really want!
If you find yourself in these types of situations often, I encourage you to take a look at your contribution to these struggles.
And then what do you do?
1) Involve your kids in coming up with routines. Ask them what they need to do to be ready for school in the morning/go to practice/get ready for bed.
2) Ask “curiosity questions” rather than barking orders. What do you need to do to be ready for school? What do you need to do next from your routine chart? This helps your child to start thinking for him/herself.
3) Give limited choices. “Do you want to wear your pink pants or your gray pants?” Your child now has some control over decisions that affect her.
4)Use humor when you can!
5) Give your child (and yourself) time to calm down before trying to come up with a solution to a problem. Nobody can make rational or logical decisions when they are in freakout mode.
6) Give hugs! Sometimes a freaked out kid (and adult) just wants some comfort!
I can tell you first-hand that these things work. They may not work in every situation for every child, but fortunately there are lots of other strategies you can use in these situations to avoid power struggles and avoid wanting to gouge your own eyeballs out or start drinking before noon every day.
If you are looking for help in specific situation, I STRONGLY recommend this book. It’s full of useful suggestions you can implement immediately for almost any challenging situation or behavior will encounter with your children. I have it, I refer to it often, and I love it.
Stay tuned for more tips, more examples of how this works in real life with my kids, and most importantly, try to stay positive!