Avoiding the Power Struggles with Your Child
Avoiding the Power Struggles
Here is a scenario that I am sure every parent can relate to at some point in parenthood. Your child behaves in a way that tests your patience in some form. They may want to keep playing a video game when they are supposed to be doing their homework. They may say that they need to use the computer for school and you come up and find them on social media chatting away. They may refuse to do their chores. They may have a few choice words to say to you. By the time children are toddlers, they’ve usually engaged in a power struggle with their parents – not wanting to eat a certain type of food, avoiding brushing their teeth, or refusing to go to sleep.
As a teacher, I witness all kinds of power struggle ensue when children misbehave in a way publicly to test how the teacher will react in a given situation. It could be a disrespectful comment made or a flat out refusal to abide by a rule or request made by the teacher. In these times, teachers have some choices to make as to how they will react.
- Do they confront the behavior head on and reprimand the child?
- Do they make a threat that they will send the child to the principal’s office if they don’t shape up?
- Do they use humor to make light of the behavior?
- Do they blatantly ignore the behavior?
How do power struggles happen?
From working with children for over 20 years, I’ve learned that power struggles typically do not end well. In order for a power struggle to take place, there needs to be at least two parties involved. In a power struggle, it feels like one person has to win and the other person has to lose. For example, let’s say that a student continues to verbally abuse a teacher or continue to ignore requests made by the teacher. Both are considered power struggles. However, one is an aggressive form and the other is more passive.
“A power struggle collapses when you withdraw your energy from it. Power struggles become uninteresting to you when you change your intention from winning to learning about yourself.” ∼George Bernard Shaw (Irish playwright, critic, GaryZukav (American spiritual teacher and NY Times Bestselling Author)
Let’s say the teacher decides to call for an administrator to escort the child out of the classroom and to the office to speak with the principal. It may appear that the teacher “won the battle” in removing the problem behavior and getting the child a consequence for their action. This kind of victory is short-lived and didn’t solve the problem for the next time the child is in the classroom. At the same token, it may appear to the student that they’ve won the battle in that they didn’t have to stay in class. Yet again, this non-compliant behavior places them into an environment where they are getting disciplined, losing valuable instructional time, and falling farther behind their peers.
Ways to avoid a power struggle
So what do you do with a child who is oppositional, aggressive, or apathetic to your requests? Whether you are a parent, teacher or anyone faced with the challenge of a child demonstrating defiant or non-complaint behavior, the first and most important thing that must be done by the adult is to stay calm. Although inside you may be feeling apoplectic about the situation, showing your frustration outwardly is the trigger that ignites the power struggle. Instead, remain calm, address the situation objectively by using a neutral tone of voice, communicating in a calm, yet assertive manner addressing the behavior.
If it was something that was said inappropriately, respond by stating objectively to the child that the remark was inappropriate and will not be tolerated. Follow that by stating the consequence that will ensue with that continued behavior. From there, disengage in the conversation and move onto a different topic of discussion. This will immediately take away the need for the child to “save face” by having to fight back. This is what is called an interrupting tactic, which deescalates a child’s behavior.
If the behavior is mildly annoying and no one has been directly threatened, I would suggest to ignore it and don’t give it life. However, if it is serious enough to have insulted someone or challenged your authority, then re-state the expected behavior, along with a prescribed consequence for that action and shift gears onto a different topic or activity to disengage from a potential power struggle.
For more de-escalating techniques and ways to avoid power struggles with a child, you can refer to chapters 4 and 5 in The Ultimate Guide to Raising Teens and Tweens where you will learn about:
- Teaching children about consequences,
- Setting boundaries,
- Practicing compromise over control,
- Instituting the C.A.L.M. technique for effectively disciplining your children.
Related: Avoiding Power Struggles
Douglas Haddad, is an award-winning educator and best-selling author. You can go online or to a local bookstore and order his best-selling-book The Ultimate Guide to Raising Teens and Tweens: Strategies for Unlocking Your Child’s Full Potential, you will find specific strategies to help guide your child with time management, setting goals, and motivation to achieve greatness in their life. www.douglashaddad.com
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This post originally appeared on our September/October 2019 Magazine