Inside: Learn the biggest reason why kids engage in power struggles. Plus, get 3 simple strategies to fix them.
In our house, I often joke that someone is always crying. And of course, it’s a bit of an exaggeration, but some days it feels like it!
The past few weeks, my son wakes up in the morning and immediately bursts into tears. I’m usually awake for about three minutes before I start cringing. I thought there would be less push back over every small thing, or at least a little less instantaneous sobbing.
I get down on my knees and look to my son as he sobs. “I don’t want to go to school. I want to watch TV!”
This child would watch TV all day, every day if I allowed it. He loves it. Absolutely hands down is the first thing he’d choose if given a choice.
I look over to him and cock my head to the side. “Of course you don’t want to go to school! You’d much rather stay home and watch TV. YOU LOVE TV!”
He stands and repeats back to me; this time stomping his feet. “I don’t want to go to school. I want to watch TEEEVEEEE!”
Related: How to Stop Toddler Power Struggles
Why power struggles happen.
I used to magically grow lion mane when my kids engaged in a power struggle with me. They’d push back and I’d push back harder. Whoever brings the biggest roar wins, right? We’d wrestle with words until we ran out of energy. And in the end, no one won or got what they wanted.
Through my Language of Listening® training, power struggles started to make a lot more sense when I learned that all kids have three healthy needs: power, experience and connection.
At their core, power struggles are always about meeting a need for power. It could be about wanting to experience something or wanting to connect, but at the core of a power struggle, kids are seeking to meet their need for power. Which means, when kids dig their heels into all these unfavorable behaviors, a child is feeling powerless and seeking a feeling of control.
Once I understood that missing piece of the puzzle, I was able to transform the way I handle power struggles by recognizing three simple things.
1. Connect first, so your child can HEAR you.
Without connecting to your child, it’s impossible to share any guidance and have your child hear you. This is why SAY WHAT YOU SEE®, the first part of Language of Listening, is so powerful.
This is the step of connection, where you literally SAY what you are SEEing without teaching, fixing, questions or judgement. It’s as easy as it gets.
“Of course you don’t want to go to school! You’d much rather stay home and watch TV. YOU LOVE TV!”
If we skip this step and go straight into trying to set boundaries and trying to control our children or even to get them to see how great they are…it can fall flat.
I started saving so much energy by avoiding things like, “You love school! Who needs TV when you can go to school and play with your friends? Turn that frown upside down. C’mon now.” A child engaged in a power struggle can’t hear any of that. It’s like white noise.
When you stop and SAY WHAT YOU SEE, you immediately connect with your child and enter the neutral zone. When you begin to see that everything your children say and do is important to them, the guidance will become so, so easy. It changes everything.
2. Know what you really want out of it.
With power struggles, it’s easy to fall into the belief that there is one winner and one loser in each struggle. I used to feel like I was in this war battle with my kids and I needed to win. I am mama bear — hear. me. roar. But the truth is winning only happens when both the parent and child are on the same team and they both win.
I had to focus on one thing: What did I really want? As in, big picture, what would be a win for me?
When I thought about what I really wanted, everything became a lot easier. I wanted my kids to go to school. I wanted my kids to sit at the dinner table for 10 minutes without saying, “That’s yuck!” I wanted my kids to show kindness to others. And I wanted my kids to go to bed early so I could watch all the adult shows and eat the secret snacks.
Knowing what you really want will free you from a lot of power struggles within power struggles. If I wanted my son to go to school in the morning, then I was going to have to let go of some of the things he wanted leading up to it. Things like playing with me before we left the house, choosing what he wanted for breakfast (within nutritional reason) and wearing mismatched clothes.
3. If your child needs power, it’s okay to give power.
Power is a healthy need. We all have it. If you SEE something you don’t like, you name a CAN DO — an alternative to something the child can do to meet his or her need for power. This is another part of the 3-part Language of Listening framework.
You can meet your child’s need for power in all sorts of creative ways. Kids come up with the best ideas. And if you’re willing to listen, they will tell you how they want to meet their need for power in the face of a boundary.
All you need to do is SAY WHAT YOU SEE and add in the CAN DO phrase:
“Of course you don’t want to go to school! You’d much rather stay home and watch TV. YOU LOVE TV! Hmmm…there must be something we can do about this!”
You can share any CAN DO that would work within your parenting boundaries. Or you can see what your child comes up with, check with yourself, and then decide if that would work.
Oddly, my oldest comes up with the most surprising ways to meet his need for power. The other morning he wanted all of us to walk down the stairs with him going first because he needed to be first. And then he wanted to finish his breakfast first and buckle his seatbelt first. He needed power in other ways, so he could go off to school (a decision that he likely feels powerless over).
When you see your child meeting their need for power in a way that works for everyone, you can name a STRENGTH (the third part of Language of Listening).
Naming a STRENGTH always comes from something the child did, so it’s never fluff or empty praise. It’s grounded in observation and true things that happened.
“Going first is important to you. You know what works for you.”
“You did this. You went to school even though you didn’t want to. You found a way to make it work.”
You anchor the behavior in a way that the child can identify with it. It becomes who they are and their future actions are based out of it. The more you name the behaviors you like, the more your child will show you that behavior. This is the critical piece of why STRENGTHs work so well.
The solution was simple.
We all want our kids to cooperate with us. We all want to be on the same team. To win together and both get what we want.
Each morning my son complains that he’d rather watch TV than go to school. It’s only natural for him to express his displeasure and let me know how important TV is for him.
And each morning I’m thankful for Language of Listening for giving me the tools I needed. Tools to help me avoid dragging my kids kicking and screaming to school. Tools to help me avoid bringing out my lion mane and roar. Tools that create more peace, connection and maybe even a little tranquility while he’s putting on his mismatched outfit.
Want more on parenting?
- One Genius Phrase Every Parent Needs When Their Kid Says, “I Can’t.”
- 10 Game Changing Phrases That Will Get Your Strong-Willed Child to Listen
- One Surefire Way to Stop Entitlement and Raise Kind Kids
- How to Build Cooperation and Listening Using a Printable Daily Schedule for Kids
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