Stop The Power Struggle!

Whenever you have to deal with little kids, you can expect a drawn-out, gut-wrenching power struggle that may reach epic proportions. It just goes with the territory, right? Well, no, actually. It really doesn’t have to.

Although every parent is bound to occasionally lock horns with her small fry, if you play your cards right those power struggles can be more the exception than the rule.

How? By turning those “commands” into choices. Children love an opportunity to exercise some control in their day-to-day lives and that’s not surprising. Because when you think about it, they don’t have a say in most of what happens to them. So it’s nice to give them a choice whenever possible.

But as long as they’re little, the possible selections they are choosing from are made by you. That way, it’s a win-win. You get the result you want and they get to have a voice in deciding. For best results, don’t overwhelm them with a lot of choices. Keep the number at two, and make sure the two things they are deciding between are equally acceptable to you.

Let me give you an example: Say it’s bath time and your little gal is not in a particularly cooperative mood. You could try to get around it with a dialogue like this:

YOU: Okay Annie, it’s just about time for your bath. Do you want to turn on the water or should I?

ANNIE: I want to.

YOU: Great. Let’s do that. Now, do you want to take your clothes off all by yourself or should I help you?

ANNIE: I can do it myself.

YOU: You sure can. But should I time you, or do you just want to do it the regular way?

ANNIE: Time me!

YOU: Okay! One, two, etc.

ANNIE: All done!

YOU: Wow! That was really fast. I wonder if you beat the record? Now, hop in quick! What do want to take in with you? Your duck or your baby or your dishes?

So, you get the picture. It’s a great way to keep things moving along and it also keeps you engaged with your child in a friendly manner. And, it gets the job done! Hoo hoooo!

When they get a little older, you can switch gears a bit and give them more leeway. For example, a first or second grader can be given more say in the timing of when things happen. Again, it’s not if they happen but when, or how. And again, always according to what works for you:

YOU: Jameson, you know you have some homework to do. You can either do it right now and have it done with, or you can do it after you’ve had a chance to play outside for 20 minutes. What do you think?

JAMESON: I want to play outside for awhile.

YOU: Okay, that sounds good. So let’s set the timer for 20 minutes, and then as soon as it goes off, I expect you to come right in and get started, okay?

One thing to keep in mind though: always give them a little bit of time to switch gears before expecting them to hop-to-it and change from one activity to another.

It’s pretty simple – just give them a few minutes warning with something like: “Okay, Jack, you’ve got five more minutes before it’s time to clean up and get your PJs on.” But make sure that you stick to the time limit that you set up. Don’t let 5 minutes turn into 10 minutes if you want them to take you seriously.

So, that’s it. Go ahead and get creative. Keep it fun and say adios to all that constant, no-fun begging, bribing and threatening.

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Ellen W. Schrier, LCSW, is a family therapist and the mother of three adolescent/young adult kids.


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One response to “Stop The Power Struggle!”

  1. Power Struggle, Preschool Style

    […] For more Mamas on facing the power struggle, check out this post from awhile ago … […]

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