Read an Excerpt
A New Perspective on Power Struggles
Winning for a Lifetime
"Like a great mystery, power struggles are never solved until the real culprits have been identified." -- Diane, mother of two
On the surface power struggles look like a tug of war. Parents and kids pitted against one another. Opposing forces pulling in different directions. Two individuals at odds with each other, both determined to win!
The trouble is that if you win by simply outmuscling your child, you still feel lousy. There's little pleasure in victory when your child is left distressed and angry. If you lose, it's even worse. What kind of a parent can't even get a child to brush her teeth or finish her homework? Power struggles are frustrating. You don't have all day to negotiate. You just want to get out of the door! And power struggles make you angry. Aren't you supposed to be the parent in charge? Power struggles can leave you feeling scared and helpless. If it's like this now, how will you survive your child's adolescence? And power struggles can make you sad. Screaming at your kids wasn't part of your dream.
What I've learned after more than twenty years of working with families is that daily fights are not inevitable. You don't have to walk constantly on eggshells in order to avoid the blowups. You don't have to doubt yourself or feel exhausted from defending yourself. Like a diver discovering the beauty of a coral reef, going below the surface of a power struggle can take you to a new place, a place where parents and kids are working together and power struggles are few and far between. Below the surface,you'll discover that power struggles are about feelings and needs'yours and your child's.
Recognizing those emotions is the key to stopping power struggles before they ever start. Responding to those emotions builds the relationship that makes your child want to work with you.
Discipline isn't just about winning or losing. Every power struggle offers you the opportunity to connect with your child or to disconnect. The relationship you will have with your child when he's an adolescent lies in the words and actions you use today. Ultimately your real power is in that emotional bond.Why Emotions?
Over the years as I've worked with families, I have found that every family experiences power struggles. I've heard parents express frustrations over kids who've looked right at them, smiled, and then done what they've just been told not to do. Kids who've vehemently declared, "You're not my boss!" Capable kids who've suddenly refused to walk upstairs alone, finish their homework, or cried "Don't leave me!" when it was time to go to bed, even though they've been going to bed on their own for months or years.
The parents have told me they've tried time-outs, reward systems, insisting that their kids "toughen up" or stop being a "baby," and even spanking, but the struggles haven't stopped. I finally realized that the struggles continued because reward systems, time-outs, demands to "not feel that way," and spankings put a "lid" on the behaviors but failed to address the real fuel source behind them. As a result it was as though someone had put the lid back on a pot of boiling water but failed to turn down the heat. The water continued to boil and inevitably the lid popped off again.
Emotions are the real fuel source behind power struggles. When you identify those emotions you can select strategies that teach your kids what they are feeling and how to express those emotions more respectfully and suitably. The pot doesn't keep boiling over because ultimately the kids themselves learn to recognize the heat and turn it down! That was true of Kyla.
Whenever she was bored, ten-year-old Kyla would ask her mother Anne what she could do, but every suggestion made was rejected. No, she didn't want to call a friend. No, she didn't want to bake or read a book. And she was not the least bit interested in playing a game with her mother. Exasperated, her mother would ask, "Then what do you want to do?" But Kyla would only snap at her and complain about the "stupid" suggestions. Pushed to the boiling point, her mother would finally send Kyla to her room, which resulted in a screaming fit and nasty retorts like, "You're the meanest mother in the world!"
But all that changed when Anne learned that Kyla wasn't trying to frustrate her. There was a feeling and need that were fueling her behavior. It was a feeling that Kyla couldn't label and didn't know how to express respectfully; as a result she was irritable and disrespectful. But Anne could help Kyla to identify her emotions and choose more suitable ways to express them. Instead of offering suggestions, she chose to ask Kyla questions such as: Do you feel like doing something inside or outside? Do you want to be with people or alone? Do you want to do something active or quiet?
By asking questions instead of offering suggestions, Anne taught Kyla how to figure out what she was feeling. When she understood her feelings, she could choose an activity that truly met her needs. Instead of frustrating each other and disconnecting, Anne and Kyla learned to work together.
What I've discovered as I parent my own children and work with the families in my classes, workshops, and private consultations is that understanding and working with emotions can totally change relationships. You become aware of what you and your child need and what's important to you. Kids who are emotionally smart are self-motivated, willing to cooperate, and able to get along with others'even their siblings.Kids, Parents, and Power Struggles. Copyright © by Mary Sheedy Kurcinka. Reprinted by permission of HarperCollins Publishers, Inc. All rights reserved. Available now wherever books are sold.