Taking The Struggle Out Of Power Struggles
By: Anne Leedom
I remember so clearly the struggles with my firstborn daughter just five years ago when I decided to nurse her. There was no book I hadnít read, no expert I hadnít consulted, and no friend whose brain I hadnít 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.
My second daughter came fifteen months after my first, and somehow I decided to approach this child a little differently. I realized along the way that I was not the general in charge of the troops, but part of a divine team in which I had a starring role. But the knowledge that we were indeed a team, created a whole new experience with this little girl. She nursed exclusively for six months and 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. If memories serve from my childhood I should know that never would have worked.
There were many more opportunities to face this reality that I couldnít simply impose my will upon my child and expect the desired result. Time and time again challenges presented themselves that illustrated to me that building character in my children was going to be a direct result of the methods I chose. By the time my oldest daughter was three she decided she no longer needed her daily nap. The grieving began. I was not only losing my baby, but I was losing a precious and valued part of my day! Peace and quiet for those two hours would be gone forever. 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 ďquiet time.Ē
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. Most of us react much more positively to life when we believe changes are somehow our idea. So 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, playing with all her fun books and toys with no one to bug her.
She decided this sounded ok and we moved forward with our new plan. The catch was that 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 that she can play alone and manage to clean up after herself. The spin is very positive and the power struggle has vanished. Her behavior became very manageable simply by giving her choices and treating her with respect.
There will always be power struggles between parent and child. But building character comes from learning to negotiate what you want and taking another personís perspective into account. We can teach this to our kids through daily examples that show them how to successfully give and take. Choices are critical to help a child deal with information and make positive decisions. This is a skill they will need all their life and itís our job as parents to help them develop this ability.