Power struggles develop every day at work, at the store, and even jockeying for that spot in the parking lot. Just look around you the next time you’re out driving; someone cuts you off, blocks you from entering a lane, or rides your bumper. Initiating a power struggle is a way of expressing the frustration of being overpowered by others, the feeling of having little or no power, or being ignored and forced into feeling insignificant. It makes us want to push back for our own power. The same goes for children. When they feel overpowered or insignificant, and want something from us (or know we want them to cooperate), they then initiate a power struggle.
What to Do When They Want Something from You.
Here’s a technique for situations when a child asks for something repeatedly until you cave in. It might be a cookie right before mealtime, a toy while in the store, something they want to play with, or a place they want to go. When your child first asks for the item you don’t want him to have, be firm and loving by stating, “I’m not willing for you to have that right now.” Avoid saying “No” because it might encourage him to try harder to make you say “Yes.” Using the term “willing” sets up a personal boundary and avoids defiance. Children who throw fits to get what they want have been taught to do this by adults around them who have given in to their demands. If he drops to the floor and goes into a meltdown, let it happen. It indicates that you are winning and he is simply using another technique to get you to crack. If you can learn to do this on a regular basis, you will actually teach your child that you mean what you say. He may throw more fits in the beginning as a way of expressing, “I don’t like this new thing you’re doing,” but he will eventually learn to respect you for your boundaries. The most valuable lesson he will learn from your actions is creating respectful boundaries with others.
What to Do When You Need Their Cooperation.
Solutions to handling a power struggle when you want something from them are very different. I suggest replacing commands or orders with clear and appropriate choices. For example, instead of saying, “It’s time to take your bath,” give him a choice by saying, “Would you like mommy to give you your bath or grandma?” I remember picking up my granddaughter from the day care center one day and I could sense that she was overtired. I knew she would not respond cooperatively to my request to get into her car seat so I offered a choice. I said to her in a cheerful voice, “Would you like grandpa to put you in your seat or would you like to do it yourself?” Immediately she declared with a whine that she would do it herself and strapped herself in. Giving your child choices makes her feel powerful and creates less need to struggle with you.