Anatomy of a power struggle
WHAT IS IT? A power struggle typically happens when two people don't agree on something and neither one is willing to step down. Power struggles with children can show up as early as six to nine months of age. (Ever tried to put a diaper on a squirming infant when she has other things on her mind?)
ACTIVE POWER. By the age of three to five years old our kids have developed new weaponry to do battle with us: now they have language on their side. This is when defiant remarks such as "You're not the boss of me" make their debut. Now we have an active power struggle on our hands, and it includes drama specials such as arguing, making demands and temper tantrums -- sometimes performed in large public venues, such as your local grocery store.
PASSIVE POWER. Struggles in your home may be more passive, but just as provoking. These involve resistance in less obvious ways, the most common being dawdling. ("Oops, I just need one more thing from my room," says Amy as she darts up the stairs, leaving other family members simmering in their winter coats at the front door.) Stubborn and forgetful behaviour also falls into this category, and without realizing it, we may end up giving in and overserving our kids.
QUICK FIXES. Look at the "hot spots" in your day. These are the times when you are most pressured and get more easily unglued: mornings, mealtimes, homeworktime and bedtime.
These times become even more pressured when you need to have certain "standards" met -- that list of things your child must do and not do. If power struggles are a problem in your home, pick one of these hot spots and reflect on how you can smooth out the process.
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Telltale signs that a power struggle is heading your way
1. Self-talk or thoughts that fuel you.
"You aren't going to get away with it this time!"
"Why can't you just listen for a change?!"
"That's it. I've had it!"
2. Self-talk that fuels your child.
"You can't make me."
"Why do you always get to decide?"
3. Both of you are feeling angry, provoked, challenged or a sense of powerlessness and defeat.
What YOU can do -- typical reactions to avoid:
Warnings: "Touch that once more young lady...."
Demands: "I don't care if you are watching TV -- turn it off now!"
Threats: "If you don't come down right now, there will be no dinner for you."
Controlling: "No, you can't go for a sleepover tonight. You need your rest."
Criticizing: "What is the matter with you. Can't you remember even the simplest thing?"
Directing: "Hurry up, will you? We are going to be late for school again."
Managing: "I need you to brush your teeth, wash your face and get into your pyjamas. Then it is storytime."
Punishing: "You stay in your room until I tell you to come out."
Giving in: "Do what you want. I'm tired of fighting with you."
Typical child reactions to watch out for:
• Provoking behaviour escalates.
• Your child looks you in the eye and continues to provoke you.
• He argues, ignores you or withdraws.
• He gives lip service ("Yeah, I'll get on it.") but does not follow through.
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