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Break Free From Power Struggles

You want your daughter to wear a dress to the party. She wants to wear jeans. You want your toddler to take his medicine. He does everything he can to keep that yucky stuff out of his mouth. The more you insist, the more they resist. You can break free from power struggles and turn turbulence into positive growth opportunities by putting a few helpful tips in place:

* Step back and view the big picture. How do you respond when your kids challenge your authority? If you view your kids as "willful," or "bad," consider this: it is developmentally appropriate for kids to test their boundaries. As children grow they have a natural desire to make their own decisions and do things for themselves. They want to separate from their parents and function under their own power. Instead of viewing this as threatening, view it as a necessary part of growing up.

By taking on a big picture view, your emotions won't overpower your judgement when dealing with power hungry kids. When you exert your will through force and intimidation, one of two negative side effects occurs: either your children give in and lose motivation to make decisions for themselves, or they rebel, fighting back against you. When children push for power, remind yourself that a positive response from you can set a course for cooperation and empowerment.

* Break negative patterns. Power struggles follow a pattern like the steps of a dance. They do "this," you do "that." Change the pattern and you change the course of your relationship. Anne has a pattern of engaging Mom in power struggles over her curfew. Anne tells mom, "I'm staying out late." Mom says, "No you aren't." Anne protests. Mom yells. Anne glares. Mom punishes. Anne seeks revenge with rebellious behavior. It's always the same pattern. Once Mom recognized the pattern, she made a conscious decision to change it. The next time Anne said she wanted to stay out late, Mom had a new response. She said, "You really want to stay out late tonight don't you dear?" Anne started to protest out of habit, then looked at Mom in shock. "Yes," Anne said, "I want to stay at Kims house until 11 p.m.." Mom listened to Anne's feelings assuring her that when she got older, she could stay out later.

* Allow kids to make some choices. Lots of parents report success at sidestepping the initial power struggle. Then, they slip back into yelling out orders which sets the pattern back in motion. This can be avoided by giving kids choices that allow both your needs to be met. Judy doesn't want to wash her sticky fingers. Instead of fighting with her, Dad gives Judy a choice, "Do you want to wash with bar soap or liquid soap?" Judy picks liquid soap.

Kids want power. When you give them choices within reasonable limits, it's much easier for them to cooperate. The key to making choices work is to only give choices you are willing to accept. Give "real" choices not manipulative ones, such as this: "You can choose to eat your tuna fish sandwich or choose to lose television for the day." That's not an empowering choice. When you allow children some sense of power in their life, even if it's something small, like what color cup they drink from, what bedtime story they hear, or whether they want to do homework before or after dinner, their esteem grows as they enjoy some control over their lives.

* Empower your kids. When you cannot seem to break free from a power struggle, ask yourself, "How can I empower my child in this situation?" Jane argued with Michael about eating junk food. Every time her back was turned, he devoured everything. Jane decided to give Michael power by telling him, "Michael, I bought one box of girl scout cookies. I will not be buying more snacks until next week. You are in charge of how you want to eat your snacks. You can eat them quickly or make them last throughout the week." Michael counted the cookies in the box and made a remarkably sensible plan for snacking. No more power struggle.

* Do the unexpected. Using humor helps to side step power struggles. Breaking out into a foreign accent or cartoon character voice can lighten the mood. When things are getting tense, wave your hand in the air and say, "Lets erase this whole conversation and start over again." Walk out of the room and come back in, starting over on a calmer note. This can be enough to set things back on track.

* Focus on solutions. Power struggles create a win-lose attitude. No one truly wins unless you both win. Teach kids the importance of listening to and considering each person's point of view. Show them how to look for solutions that work for all. You can say to your child, "Lets see if we can come up with some ideas that take both our needs into consideration."

* Disagreements and disrespect are two different things. Do you believe your children should never say "no" to you? Instead of viewing "no" as a sign of disrespect, view it as a disagreement. We encourage our kids to say "no" to drugs and peer pressure. While teaching kids to stand up for themselves, we must realize there will be times they will stand up for themselves with us. The key is to teach kids to show respect during disagreements. When Andy said, "You can't make me eat those peas. Get them off my plate," it didn't go over well with Dad. He sidestepped the power struggle by saying, "Andy, it's easier for me to be helpful to you if you say something like, 'Dad, I would rather not eat peas with dinner.'" Every time you take a respectful approach with your children you model peaceful ways of dealing with disagreements.

Marilyn Suttle presents parenting and work/life communication keynotes and workshops for corporations and associations. To receive her FREE e-newsletter: Life in Balance: Thriving Kids/Thriving Parents, visit: www.SuttleOnline.NET, or reach her directly at 1-248-348-1023.

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