From a family therapist, parenting expert and respected advice columnist for AOL’s HuffPost Parents comes a unique approach to parenting that can help eliminate drama, meltdowns, and power struggles.
Do you ever find yourself asking . . .
• How can you get your children to do their homework without meltdowns, threats or bribes?
• How can you have a drama-free morning where the kids actually get out the door in time for school?
• How can you better manage your kids’ screen time without making them want to hide what they’re doing from you?
Family therapist Susan Stiffelman is here to help. While most parenting programs are designed to coerce kids to change, Parenting Without Power Struggles does something innovative, showing you how to come alongside your children to awaken their natural instincts to cooperate, rather than at them with threats or bribes, which inevitably fuels their resistance. By staying calm and being the confident “Captain of the ship” your child needs, you will learn how to parent from a place of strong, durable connection, and you’ll be better able to help your kids navigate the challenging moments of growing up.
Drawing upon her successful practice and packed with real-life stories, Parenting Without Power Struggles is an extraordinary guidebook for transforming the day-to-day lives of busy parents—and the children they love.
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About the Author
Read an Excerpt
It probably comes as no surprise that my work with children and parents reflects the truth that we teach what we most need to learn. Like many of us growing up in the fifties and sixties (not to mention the thirties and forties, and seventies and eighties), my parents were caring, well intentioned, and fairly clueless about how to raise kids. They did the best they could, shooting from the hip, consulting Dr. Spock, and more or less following whatever conventional parenting wisdom was available in their day and age. The result was a bit iffy.
I love my parents and thank them deeply for all they did to raise me well—which was a lot. (I mean that, Mom!) I’m also aware that if they had been provided with some basic, yet immensely useful information about child rearing, things might have been a whole lot easier for us all. In spite of the fact that I believe one can always make lemonade from lemons, I for one wouldn’t have minded growing up with slightly less dysfunction and a stronger connection to my authentic self.
I knew I wanted to work with children from the time I was a child myself, first babysitting, and then working after high school each day at a day care center. I suspect my love for kids evolved not only for the obvious reasons—they’re cool, fun, and extremely interesting—but also because, as psychologists recognize, by healing others we can heal ourselves. As I helped children develop confidence, stand up for themselves, or learn to embrace their quirkiness, something in me was also waking up and getting stronger.
While working on getting my teaching credential, I focused on developing ways of teaching children that kept them engaged and reawakened the excitement for learning they were born with; a characteristic that had often been beaten down by the time they’d hit the ripe old age of seven. In my midtwenties I was hired as a private teacher for a family who regularly traveled around the world. With freedom to customize the curriculum for each child, I understood firsthand how passionate children are to learn, when the process is creative and alive.
Eventually, I became a licensed psychotherapist, largely to add credibility to my individual work with children and teens, many with overlapping emotional and academic issues. I seemed to attract a hefty dose of highly creative kids who were quite bright but who often did poorly in school. I also found it interesting that although the majority of the children I worked with had literally everything they could possibly need from a practical and material standpoint, many suffered enormously from depression, anxiety, and a muted sense of aliveness.
One child in particular stands out in my memory to this day. James was the four-year-old younger brother of Aaron, one of the children with whom I was working. Whenever James and his mom arrived to pick up his big brother, I found myself nearly blinded by the light pouring out of him. Talk about joy! James was lit up like a Christmas tree, exuding happiness, curiosity, and exuberance for whatever life had to offer. I saw James again when he was about twelve years old, and my heart sank. He was stooped, sullen, and almost unrecognizable.
I think it was at that moment that I realized I wanted to take all that I’d come to learn as an educator, a therapist, and now a mother, and share it with others. The original title of this book was Please Don’t Let the Light in Your Child’s Eyes Grow Dim, and although I eventually modified it to reflect more of what I wanted to say, that title speaks to the origins of what you are about to read. I believe parents need to act as guardians for their children’s innate light, honoring them as the emissaries of joy that they are. Instead, we often find ourselves battling over everything from homework to chores, watching as that light begins to fade.
When I took my fifteen-year-old son on a trip around the world—including a month in Africa—I was staggered by the brightness in the eyes of nearly every child I saw. The impact of that was all the more powerful given the abject poverty and the hardship with which they lived. Although I already knew in my bones that raising children to be joyful had little to do with their parents’ bank accounts, the experiences I had in Africa fueled my desire to address what I believe to be the universal truths that allow parents to propel their children forward into adulthood equipped to make their lives fulfilling, joyful, and free of depression, regardless of external circumstances.
In Parenting Without Power Struggles: Raising Joyful, Resilient Kids While Staying Cool, Calm and Connected, I’ve taken all the elements I’ve gathered along my own teaching, counseling, and parenting journey and assembled them into a body of information that has the power to dramatically improve your parenting life. I start with the concept of how our kids need us to be the Captain of the ship in their lives. This isn’t about parents’ being in control; it’s about being in charge. You’ll learn how to avoid the power struggles that once seemed inevitable when you and your child don’t see eye to eye. You’ll find out how to find your cool when you’ve temporarily lost it, regardless of whether your children are cooperating and behaving as you think they should. And you’ll discover how to maintain your confidence even in the midst of those parenting storms that trigger the threats and bribes we deliver when we’re feeling anything but powerful.
To lay the groundwork for being the Captain of the ship in our children’s lives, we’ll talk about connection and attachment. When children are deeply and securely attached to us, instincts are awakened that allow them to see us as their North Star and be receptive to our direction. We’ll move on to talk about how to help kids when they’re feeling frustrated, angry, and aggressive by exploring how to diffuse those intense emotions at their source. By learning how to come alongside your kids rather than at them, you’ll discover you can avoid the power struggles that sometimes make interactions with your children and teens feel like dramatic courtroom battles in which each of you is arguing your case like a high-powered lawyer.
Reading on, you’ll learn how to identify and nurture your children’s unique gifts and talents, which for some parents may also mean coming to terms with who your children are—and are not—so you can truly accept and celebrate them as they are. Most parents have what I call their “snapshot child”—the ones who say, “Sure, Mom!” the first time they’re asked to take out the trash or start doing their homework. Disappointment inevitably arises when the flesh-and-blood child in front of you is radically different from that imaginary one. By coming to see and accept the child you have, you free up emotional energy to offer the guidance and parenting he or she uniquely needs and deserves.
Later in the book you’ll learn how to help fortify your children and teens with tools to handle the problems, stressors, and challenges of life as they move toward adulthood. And finally, you’re going to discover approaches that will help you empower your children to create and manifest their hopes and dreams.
Keep in mind there might be instances where I share an anecdote about one of my clients featuring a child younger or older than yours. These stories will allow you to reflect on previous stages in your parenting life when you started using approaches that may have contributed to challenges you’re currently facing. And they’ll help you avoid mistakes down the road, as you parent that grade-schooler, tween, or teen—usually much sooner than you expect!
There are many elements in Parenting Without Power Struggles that began to take shape decades ago, early in my teaching career. Some ideas developed later as my work with more children in a wider variety of situations helped to further shape my sensibilities. But it wasn’t until I became a mother myself that this material was forged in the fires of real life. Everything you read in Parenting Without Power Struggles has been used as I’ve raised my son, who is now eighteen years old. No one has helped inspire me to grow up and be the best version of myself as my son, Ari, has. He is one cool kid. As grateful as I am for my formal education, it’s raising this boy that has made everything in this book come to life.
I’ve made plenty of mistakes. I don’t always get it right. Like you, I continue to learn and evolve on this parenthood journey. I’ve weathered my fair share of storms and have been knocked down more than a few times. But I have a kid who’s happy, kind, and incredibly sane, and I think that has at least a little to do with the things you’re going to discover as you read this book.
One day, Ari gathered up a book and a blanket and took himself out into the backyard for a good read. As he settled himself, he looked up at me, smiled, and said simply, “I love my life.” That about sums up the goal of this book and of my life as a parent: to have a child who can spontaneously express something so pure and so perfect.
I once read that when we have a child, it’s as though our heart steps out of our body and starts walking around on legs of its own forevermore. The pain, the beauty, the helplessness, and the magnificence of bringing up a child are impossible and overwhelming. Sometimes, we look at our children and can hardly catch our breath. The love we feel for them brings us to our knees as we pray that they will be okay, and that their lives—today, as little ones, and onward toward what we hope will be a very long adulthood—will be blessed.
One of my greatest passions is helping children and parents grow into the best versions of themselves they can possibly be. Join me on this journey, and prepare yourself to make today the day that your parenting life gets a lot easier and a whole lot more fun.
Parenting Without Power Struggles
What People are Saying About This
“Susan Stiffelman, who has double standing to give parenting advice, as a professional therapist and the mother of an exceptional son, has hit the nail on the head twice over…her book is filled with practical, real-world ways to minimize the fights and maximize the love.”
"Susan Stiffelman shows parents how to create healthy, loving relationships with children while helping them develop the resilience and authenticity that will serve them throughout their lives. Parenting Without Power Struggles is one of the best parenting books I have ever read.
"Full of wise insights and effective strategies, this book should be required reading for all parents." —Harville Hendrix, Ph.D., author of Giving the Love That Heals: A Guide for Parents
"If there was ever someone who could truly change the course of a family's life, it's Susan Stiffelman. Her effective methods are spelled out clearly in her wonderful book, making it easy to create a parent-child harmony at home." —Susan Avery, More magazine
“Conversational and practical… Stiffelman’s engaging work gives parents tools to navigate confidently in both calm and stormy family seas.” —Publishers Weekly