One of the most common parenting challenges I hear about are power struggles. So today I thought I would share some basic information to help set you on the right track and break the power struggle cycle.
First step is to PAUSE: When you see misbehavior your first job should be to pause and remember- EVERY misbehavior you see in your child is always because they are missing a vital NEED. If this is new to you, read my post here. So try not to take your child's defiance personally. This is very hard and you won't be perfect every time, but if you can try to look at the misbehavior curiously (Hmmm... what is this telling me my child needs?) you will stop reacting angrily which will help defuse the situation. Take a breath and move to step two.
Second PINPOINT: Identify that it is in fact a power struggle by how it makes you FEEL. You will feel challenged and angry and might think things like, "Oh you won't get away with this." Then pinpoint which NEED this means they are lacking. You can ask yourself this question (and even sometimes ask your child!) and you will probably get an answer, but generally power seeking children lack feeling capable or in control. Once you have properly identified the misbehavior and missing need move to step three.
Third PRESCRIBE: In the moment you will need to prescribe the right solution. For power struggles first determine what it is you are actually needing from your child in this situation and then offer limited choices. If they won't put on a seat belt this is easy. This is safety so usually we don't have problems implementing these boundaries and children inherently understand the boundaries because the consequences are natural and very bad if there were an accident. So the choice becomes, "We can't drive without seat belts on. Would you like to put on your seatbelt yourself, or would you like my help.?" However, with other things, it can get murky. Let's say you are having a consistent problem where they don't want to eat dinner at dinner time. What is your need and boundary here? You don't serve dinner at multiple times because you want to clean up and be done for the night once everyone has eaten. But you must remember you are not in control of your child's body- maybe they aren't hungry. So then the choice becomes, "This meal is only being served now, so if you aren't hungry, that's fine, but I'm off duty the rest of the night. So you can either eat this dinner now or reheat it (or make a sandwich for yourself) later." And then LET GO of the outcome. Be ok with either choice and make sure your voice doesn't give away which choice you really want them to make (this is hard, ha!). If you do this consistently and the child trusts that you actually are OK with them choosing what works for them, they will stop fighting you.
Fourth PREVENT: These are things you can do in between the power struggles to foster a sense of capability or control for your child so that they then stop displaying power struggles to begin with. A couple major solutions for power struggles are to give them more responsibilities and, as stated above, more choices.
Sometimes giving our children responsibilities is hard because it means it's time for us to let go and trust that our child's got this. If your toddler is fighting you each night about brushing her teeth, maybe it's time she does it herself and you cheer her on when she's done. It might not be perfect, but she will get there! If your tween is fighting you about homework, let it go and let him be in charge of the homework and the consequences that come with not completing it. So sometimes when we start seeing power struggles it's because there is some responsibility we are taking on that our children are old enough to do on their own. Giving them more responsibility will help them feel capable and encouraged because you are showing that you trust them.
As I've stated above CHOICES, CHOICES, CHOICES, are usually the best solution for power struggles. Limit them to what you are willing to do and then it becomes a win-win for everyone. Start letting your children choose what's for dinner, "I can make burgers or spaghetti tonight, which one are you in the mood for?" Wake up time for school an issue? Start letting them decide: "Do you think it's best you wake up at 7 or 7:30 to be ready for school on time?" OR "Do you want to set your alarm for wake up time or do you want me to wake you?" And they may make a choice that doesn't work. That's OK! Let them try something and if it doesn't work let them revise their choice without judgement or telling them I told you so. Also remember- only give them limited choices that YOU are willing to do! Don't sacrifice yourself! If you don't want to make spaghetti, don't offer that choice. If you don't want to wake your child up, don't offer it. But the more choices you can give your power seeking child, the more they will feel capable and in control which means the power struggles stop! And isn't that your goal?
If this is a persistent issue in your house and you would love some insight into your specific situation, please contact me. I have dealt with hundreds of power struggles over the years, so I can relate and help devise solutions!