Power struggles are the worst. 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!
We don’t mean to do it. Many of us don’t even realize when we are doing it.
But when you really pay attention to this, you might be surprised by how many power struggles you engage in with your kids on a daily basis.
It may go something like this:
Parent: The bus will be here soon. Go brush your teeth.
*kid doesn’t go brush teeth*
Parent: Go brush your teeth!
*kid doesn’t go brush teeth*
Parent: GO BRUSH YOUR TEETH.
*kid still doesn’t go brush teeth*
Parent: 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.
Parent: 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 before she gives in.
But you are pissed, it took you five or ten minutes to get to 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, nothing changes.
And you do this over and over again. Every week. Or even every day!
You find yourself 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 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?
Here is what I did yesterday day when Number 7 was having a particularly rough morning.
Her “moments” aren’t her way of torturing me. They almost always make an appearance when I have engaged in a power struggle with her.
Number 7 had a freak out over what she was going to wear about five minutes before the bus was going to be here.
I did not want to lose it. 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.
I am fortunate to be in the position where I don’t have to get to a job in the morning, so that gives me more options when handling these situations than parents who have to be at work at a certain time.
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 it. 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.
When she saw the bus coming she ran inside because she didn’t want anyone on her bus to see her.
After Number 5 and 6 got on the bus, I walked back inside. Number 7 had calmed down and she 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 clothes she deemed acceptable, 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 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 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. Together.
And that’s what we really want, isn’t it? Not a threat or a punishment, but a solution? So our kids do this stuff independently?
So what happened the next morning? Did things go more smoothly?
I was a little worried.
Because that night by the time I got home from swim practice it was after 8:30, and Number 6 and 7 were already in bed.
Shoot! I hadn’t told my husband about our morning or the agreement Number 7 and I came up with.
But it didn’t matter…
The next day 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!”
By changing the way I dealt with the situation and eliminating the power struggle, the outcome was completely different.
Not only had Number 7 gotten her things ready without a fight, but she had taken responsibility and she had done it all independently! That’s the goal!!!
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 also wanting to gouge your own eyeballs out.
If you are looking for help in specific situation, I STRONGLY recommend (affiliate) 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!