Every household has power struggles. It can be over when a child goes to bed, whether they clean their room up or not or when they have to do their homework, every day there are power struggles that go on in the home. These power struggles can make or break your day and can greatly affect your attitude towards your kids and other peoples attitudes towards your kids. No one likes a kid who gets whatever they want because they tend to be brats and no one likes a kid who thinks they don't have to respect other adult's or other people's homes because their parents don't make them. What I have found to be the most successful and effective way to handle a power struggle is to refuse to engage in them.
The number one thing I tell myself is that I am the adult and therefore it is my responsibility to keep my cool. Kids are still trying to figure out everything about being human and that includes controlling their emotions so as long as I remind myself that they are still learning it is easier for me to place myself in the role as teacher instead of being the boss of my home. As I have talked to other parents it seems like this is where they struggle the most, they get so frustrated that their kid is challenging their authority that all they want to do is show the kid who is boss. It is either that or they become so intimidated by the situation and are afraid of becoming the bad guy that they give in to the child's demands just to "shut them up" and then they wonder why their kids don't listen. So when you feel your back getting up and the need to flex your parenting muscles put yourself in the role of teacher and it will become a ton easier.
The next thing I do is figure out what I need to teach my kids in that moment. One of the biggest power struggles I recently went through with J was getting him to clean up his messes. It was always too hard and too messy to do it and he wanted me or his sister to do the work for him. He would literally walk into the playroom and just lay there and complain about how hard it was to clean up and he just wanted to play. Believe me it was very frustrating and there were plenty of times where I would get so beyond frustrated that I would lose my cool and yell at him until he was cleaning because he was scared and not because it was the right choice to make at the time. That is the key to parenting and if you can really get the importance of that your life will be so much better - the key is to teach children to make good choices not because they are scared or expect something in return but because it is the right thing to do. K back to J cleaning. What I needed to teach J in this power struggle was that because he chose to make a mess he needed to clean it up and that when his chores were done he would be able to have fun and play.
Now that I knew what I needed to teach him I needed to figure out the best way to teach him that - and that is not by giving in and cleaning up for him or by spanking him and yelling at him for not cleaning. Now I have different principles for cleaning based on where the mess is. Typically the consequence for not cleaning up your mess is that I will clean it up and it will go in a box in the garage where you have to earn it back however we have a playroom in our house that I know J is not the only one who messes up, in fact my 2 yr old O makes the biggest messes in there but he just turned 2 and he is not developmentally able to clean up the entire playroom and I refuse to punish siblings for the mistakes of other siblings so I had to get creative. J loves games, especially video games and for Christmas we bought him the Toy Story 3 Wii video game. He absolutely loves this game so I used this game as a motivator to teach J to clean up without a power struggle. M and J have to have their rooms and the playroom clean and all toys and books out of the living room and kitchen before they are allowed to play video games so when they would ask to play the Wii I would ask them what the rule was and they would both say they had to clean . . . and I would then say o.k. when you finish cleaning up let me know and I will turn the game on for you. The key word there is WHEN, when is my absolute favorite word as a parent because it says so many things in only four letters, it implies that it is not negotiable but is expected to be done, it puts the power in their hands because they get to choose when the task will be accomplished not if it will be accomplished - seriously get rid of the word if and replace it with when and your world will change immensely!
The final step is to follow through! This is the key, once you give the child their choice it is up to them to figure out how to make that choice and up to you to leave them to it. In this case M and J have a choice to either not clean up and not be able to play video games or to clean up and be able to play video games, it is completely up to them. Now just like I don't believe in punishing one sibling for another sibling's choice I will not reward one sibling for another siblings work. M my almost 6 yr old learned a long time ago that I mean business when I give a choice and that her life is so much easier when she chooses to make the right choice so immediately she gets to work and within thirty minutes she would have the playroom, her room and J's rooms cleaned up while J watched her and did nothing to help, so guess what M would be able to play the video game and J would have to watch and not be allowed to touch a wii remote. While M was playing the game I would reinforce to J that it was his choice to not clean up and therefore he chose to only be able to watch. I made it very clear to him that it was his choice. It only took about three days of that happening before J realized he needed to start cleaning up or he wouldn't be able to have the fun that his sister was having and now every morning after he is dressed and fed breakfast he immediately cleans up the living room, his room and the playroom so that he can play video games - the best part about it is that my husband and I don't even have to ask, he will just come up to me and say Mom I am going to clean up so I can play the video game and I say o.k. thanks. Don't believe me? Come over to my house at 9 a.m. and you will see my 4 yr old boy busting his butt cleaning up every toy and book in the house so he can play.
So here are the steps again:
1. Keep your calm, refuse to engage in the power struggle and put yourself in the role of teacher
2. Figure out what lesson your child needs to learn - whether it is that bedtime is at 8 no matter what or that mom is not a short order cook and they will eat what they are served
3. Decide on the best way to teach them that lesson through giving them choices and putting the power in their hands
4. Follow through!!! Even if you feel like you are being the bad guy believe me it is worth every minute of that follow through.