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  • Mary Smith

Power Struggle Antidote #1: One Word



POWER STRUGGLE ANTIDOTE #1: ONE WORD

What's the background?

I've mentioned children's hard-wired emotional needs to be seen and feel significant. Significance is the power piece: we need to know that we can make a difference and to feel some personal power over our world. This is what is behind classic power struggles: if children can't exert their free will in positive ways, they will use negative ways to get the control they crave: think of bedtime battles, backtalk, not doing a chore, outright refusal to cooperate – those are all ways to exert power.

What is it?

We make over 2,000 compliance requests daily to our children, "pick up your toys," "unload the dishwasher," "bring down your laundry," etc. That kind of communication gets old and children just begin to tune it out.

One way to avoid power struggles is to not engage. A power struggle is no fun if the other team isn't playing! Reply with one word. This works well when dealing with something that requires no explanation because everyone knows the rules: brushing teeth, doing the chore, handing the phone over before bed, turning the video game off.

Your Script in Action

Power Struggle

Ryan: Can I have some of my Halloween candy?

Mom: Not right now. Dinner will be ready soon.

Ryan: Why not? I'm hungry now?

Mom: You know we don't eat candy right before dinner, Ryan!

Ryan: Yeah, but I'm starving. Come on, just one little candy bar.

Mom: I told you no candy before dinner and that's all there is to it!

Mom: But I'm hungry. Why can't I have something to eat when I'm hungry? Plus, it's mine.

Mom: YOU ARE NOT GOING TO EAT A CANDY BAR BEFORE DINNER. YOU KNOW THE RULES IN THIS HOUSE. AND IF YOU KEEP THIS UP, YOU'LL GO TO YOUR ROOM AND SKIP DINNER ENTIRELY!!

Ryan: 1 Mom: 0

  • Kids can feel that they've 'won' because they are in control; they are able to upset the parent.

One Word

Ryan: Can I have some of my Halloween candy?

Mom: Dinner.

Ryan: Why not? I'm hungry now?

Mom: Point to clock

Ryan; That's so unfair.

This is the hard part: don't engage.

GOT A MINUTE?

Look for one opportunity where your child is simply pushing back to practice using fewer words and not engaging. You'll need a friendly (not sarcastic) voice and a smile. You might have to tell your children ahead of time that you are going to stop nagging so much and that you will be using just one word from now on to say what needs to be done. And notice how you feel to be in control. Let me know how it goes.