I’m so happy that you’re reading this, Mama! This means that you are ready to learn how to avoid power struggles with your children so that you can all better communicate and cooperate.
Sure, there are many types of power struggles, and they don’t all share the same characteristics, but the three types of power struggles I’ll be addressing here originate from the same place.
The Source of Most Power Struggles
I call these types of power struggles communication traps because they TRAP our communication 🙂 When we crawl down these rabbit holes, crawling back out and doing so without a fight is super hard. The good news is that since our choice of words is what drops us down these traps, every parent can easily avoid these power struggles with a little tweak to communication.
What we all want with our children is flowing and mutual communication where everyone feels seen, heard and understood. When these three conditions (that are, actually, existential needs we all share) are met – the chances for a fight are close to none.
Let’s dive into the most common power struggles originating from our words and learn how to avoid them!
Universe-Led Undesired Reality
- Your child wants ice cream, and you have no problem, but for whatever reason, you can’t go and buy one now.
- Your child misses Daddy, but daddy will only be home in a few hours, and there’s nothing you can do about it.
- Your child wants to invite a friend over, but the friend can’t come (and there’s nothing you can do about it).
You get it. We’re talking about the little disappointments in life that we, parents, can’t change.
Parent-Led Undesired Reality
- It’s time to leave the house to get to work and school on time, and your child doesn’t want to leave.
- It’s time to turn the TV off and go to sleep, and your child wants to watch another episode.
- It’s time to leave the friend’s house and go home, but your child wants to keep playing.
You get it. We’re talking about realities a parent can change but chooses not to.
Child-Led Undesired Reality
- Your child waits months for your next camping trip and hates it from the moment you’re there.
- Your child gets all the gifts in the world for their birthday, but it isn’t enough, and it’s not even what they wanted.
- Your child reacts with anger to everything you do or say, even though everything is “seemingly fine.”
You get it. We’re talking about those times when your child is just not happy about anything, even though you tell yourself that this is exactly what he wanted, and he should be satisfied and grateful.
So, Where’s the Common Thread?
If you’ve read the list of scenarios, nodded your head to acknowledge these in your parenting but have no idea what do all these have in common – I’m about to tell you.
No matter who initiates the undesired reality, and I mean – who’s the one to blame for it, be it the universe, you, or the child himself – what we’re dealing with here is REALITY. It is what it is at this given moment. And since this is what we see – this is what we will be communicating to the child.
Let’s take a look at how most parents respond to these happenings:
- “What do you want me to do? There’s nowhere I can get ice cream right now”!!!
- “I really can’t control Ethan’s mom! If she says he can’t come – then he can’t come, and I can’t make him come”!
- “Daddy’s at work for three more hours, and there’s nothing we can do about it”!
- “I see that you don’t want to leave, but we have to!”
- “It’s too late! You have to turn the TV off RIGHT NOW!”
- “You can’t play here anymore – we need to go.”
- “But this is what you wanted, and we went through so much trouble getting here!”
- “I can’t believe you’re not happy! Look at everything you got”!
- “But what?? What am I not doing right for you”??
I’m sure you’re familiar with these exchanges, and these sentences in reply to your child’s unhappiness only make him drill deeper into that unhappiness, yell louder, and insist further. And since that’s what your child is doing, that’s what you’re doing, too, and it ends in a big fight and a painful disconnection.
How to Avoid Power Struggles with Children?
So here’s the thing. Even though your child’s desired reality is not about to happen, as long as you keep the conversation about that reality going – you’re fueling the fight.
At the beginning of this article, remember I said that effective communication happens when everyone feels seen, heard, and understood? This feeling has nothing to do with the desired reality. It has something to do with what’s vividly living within.
If your child wants ice cream that you can’t get, to play with a friend who can’t come, or to see Daddy who’s at work – what your child craves is for his needs and feelings to be seen, and that’s what you want to be talking about.
Here’s how you can reply, instead.
- “You wish you could snap your fingers and have Ethan here, to play, don’t you? I totally get it. I remember how it feels to want to see a friend who couldn’t make it. It felt lonely. Do you feel lonely”?
- “I miss Daddy, too. It would have been amazing if he could come here, right now, and hug us and play with us! I want that, too, sweetie. You miss Daddy”…
- “Wow, you really want that ice cream, don’t you? I wish we could have ice cream now! It’s really disappointing that we can’t have some now. Are you sad and disappointed”?
- “Wow, you don’t want to go to school today, do you? Are you afraid it will be a dull day? I remember not wanting to go to school when I was your age. I had a secret game I used to play that taught me how to make sure every day is a ton of fun! So put your shoes on, and I’ll tell you on our way”.
- “Ugh, watching TV is so relaxing and unwinding in the evening, when we’re all tired. I love watching, too. But, you know what, I can see your eyes are getting sleepy; let’s read a book instead, and I’ll tickle your back until you’re asleep”?
- “Playing at Ethan’s is so much fun! It must feel angering for you that you can’t be the one deciding how long to play. I often want to stay places past the hour, and I know what you feel. Want me to tell you a secret”? Then invent something and tell him once you’re out of the door.
- “Wow, did you have a completely different idea of what this trip is going to look like? Are you disappointed? Come and tell me all about it, and I’ll see what I can do”.
- “It looks like there was this one thing you were hoping for, and you can’t see it in front of you. So tell me what it is.”
- “Wow, you seem to be upset with me if everything I do angers you. Is it more mommy time that you need? Was there something you were hoping I’d say or do, and I didn’t? You can tell me everything”.
In these responses, you meet the child where he is, without blaming him for his feelings, and without feeling guilty for your role in them. These responses will help your child feel seen and heard by you and nurture your mutual understanding because they are like magic when empowering kids to open up.
There still, of course, might be tears and sadness over the desired reality, but there will be no fights, no power struggles, and no tantrums.
How to Avoid Power Struggles with Your Children
When we see our children and accept them for what they are right now and what lives in them, we defuse most fights and power struggles and better the most critical aspect of parenting: our relationship with the kids.
If you liked this list of responses teaching you how to avoid power struggles with your children, and you want to learn so many other strategies to build the relationship you truly want with your children, join me at Positive Parenting VIP!
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