Power Struggles: Who is Misbehaving?
The most common question among parents is how to cope with the ongoing power struggles between parents and kids…bedtime, cleaning their rooms, cooperation in the morning, it goes on and on. These are the common complaints of misbehavior. I remember so clearly the struggles with my firstborn daughter when I decided to nurse her. There was no book I hadn’t read, no expert I hadn’t consulted, and no friend whose brain I hadn’t picked.
I was sure this nursing thing would be a snap. Of course, the only thing that snapped was my patience and confidence in my mothering ability. By four weeks she was lapping up bottles like a lost kitten and I was drowning in frustration about what I could have possibly done wrong.
I soon realized I was not the general in charge of the troops, but part of a divine team in which I had been given a starring role. This knowledge created a whole new experience with this precious little girl.
I took her needs into account to create the proper circumstances and she nursed exclusively for months. I was humbled at the power of learning right from the beginning to work with my children instead of signing them up for my boot camp.
By the time my oldest daughter was three she decided she no longer needed her daily nap. As I thought about what was changing I realized that both she and I still needed that break from each other and our daily routine. Once again I was faced with the unpleasant prospect of the dreaded power struggle as I implemented a new routine of “quiet time.”
Knowing that she would not respond well to my dictating to her a new reality that made no sense, I quickly began concocting a way for her to somehow feel a part of this process. I sat down with this bright little girl and explained to her that I understood she no longer needed a nap everyday. However, I felt she did need to spend some time alone, resting or playing quietly.
She decided this sounded ok and we moved forward.
Of course, after five minutes of playing in her room she decided she was done and wanted to come out. This was not going as I had hoped. As I walked her back into her room, I noticed she had made quite a mess and I was struck with an idea.
I explained to her that she could decide how long her quiet time would last. The only requirement I had was that when she was done she had to clean up her room or she could not come out. It only took a few days for her to tire of having to clean her room up just moments after she had made a mess. So the length of her quiet time began to increase.
Eventually, she gave up the power struggle and now enjoys playing for long periods of time until she is truly ready to come out. She cleans her room up and resurfaces feeling refreshed and proud of herself, knowing that she can play alone and manage to clean up after herself. The spin is very positive and the power struggle has vanished. I never lost my authority as the parent and nurtured her self-esteem in the process by giving her a sense of control over her environment within the limits that I set.
It isn’t always easy, but I think parenting is often a game of percentages. The fewer battles we do have, the easier it is to navigate the ones that do inevitably present themselves.
Anne Leedom is the Founder and Editor-in-Chief of www.parentingbookmark.com and AnneLeedomPR.com. She lives in Northern California and is frequently quoted in national media. She contributes to a variety of national online publications, including Beliefnet.com and DrLaura.com.