Avoiding Power Struggles
“You can’t make me!” yells our darling child.
Instantly our breathing quickens, our heart rate elevates, our blood pressure rises and a throb starts at the temples.
At times we feel like we “have to” make our children do some things against their will. Brush their teeth. Take a bath. Get dressed. Take their medicine.
Unfortunately, our children are taunting us with the truth. In the long run, they are right. We can’t make them do anything against their will. We can physically force them to do something, but we win the battle only to damage a peaceable relationship that should be built on trust.
How can we avoid these power struggles with our young children?
First, side step confrontation. We can’t control our children’s behavior, but we can control our own. When we hear, “you can’t make me,” simply move to leave the room and invite cooperation by saying, “Please, let me know when you’re ready to cooperate.” Then go on with your activity. Brush your teeth. Get dressed. Take your vitamins. Sweep the floor. Hum. Hum some more.
Avoid pushing back and the resistance doesn’t have any buttons to push.
Give choices when appropriate. Would you like to brush your teeth before or after your
bath? Do you want bubble bath tonight or no bubbles in your bath? Do you want to wear your
red shirt or your blue shirt?
Notice that the choice is not do you want to brush your teeth, take a bath, or get dressed–or not. The choice is when.
Giving choices invites cooperation. As you give choices also listen for your children’s suggestions, as in, “No, I want to wear my yellow shirt.” The yellow shirt may not be the choice we gave, but is an offer of cooperation.
Side stepping confrontation and offering choices to gain cooperation lead us to a win/win situation. Our relationship with our children shouldn’t be a contest with winners and losers.
We can also invite our children to problem solve with us. “It’s important to me that you have clean healthy teeth. Would you be willing to think of ways to make sure you have clean healthy
Our children are full of viable ideas if we give them a chance to think and ourselves time to listen. When the solution comes from our children, we have buy-in and a commitment to make a situation better.
Can’t make me do it? Remember, sidestep confrontation, invite cooperation by giving choices, and invite win/win problem solving.
Maren Schmidt is a certified Montessori teacher with the Association Montessori Internationale (AMI) and holds a Master’s in Education from Loyola College in Maryland.