It's incredible how we, as human-beings, thrive on conflict. After all, it's often entertaining to watch someone fight for something. This is largely the reason that reality television shows are successful. While conflicts may be fun to watch in the leisure of your own home, having a real life struggle with your children is not enjoyable. Unfortunately Super Nanny is usually booked solid so here are a few tips on avoiding power struggles.
1. Don't Take the Bait
A power struggle is essentially a trap. Picture the power in the conflict like a rope in a tug of war. Now answer this, "When was the last time you saw someone playing tug of war by them self?" I'm guessing that you replied "never". Why? Well, it's no fun with just one person and a rope. In fact it's pointless to continue tugging when their is no one tugging back. What makes the game fun is the jerk on the other end of the rope. If you fight back and argue with your children you'll quickly become the "jerk" on the other end of the rope. Yep, I went there because we both know it's not pretty. Don't take the bait and fall for the trap.
2. Manage Your Emotions
No matter how much emotion your child may be displaying, refuse the urge to match them. Instead remind yourself that you cannot control their actions but you can control your RE-action. How your respond will make all of the difference. Anger is simply an illusion. Getting angry doesn't really help you win. It only shows the other person that they can get to you and make you upset. By remaining calm you begin to remove the raging emotion from the conflict and help to create space for dialogue.
If your child is struggling to accept a situation, consequence, or decision, empathy can take the sting out of it. Empathy offers a moment for you to pause, hear their emotions, find common ground, and let them know that you can understand their struggle, whether real or perceived.
You might say something like, "I don't like brushing my teeth before bed either. I wish that the tooth fairy would just come and do it for us. Too bad that she's so busy."
One of my favorite phrases from Love & Logic, with Dr. Charles & Jim Fay is "Oh, that's a bummer". This phrase simply acknowledges that the situation is unfortunate and you're sorry to see your child go through it. Communicate this in a friendly tone even though you might be frustrated and saying "Sucks to be you" to yourself on the inside. A calm, caring tone goes a long way.
4. Offer Choices Within Your Limits
Offering choices allows your child to participate in the decision-making process, yet allows you to still control the outcome. Giving up just a bit of control gives your child some freedom in which they can dialogue with you or simply announce which choice they would prefer. If they refuse to choose, let them know that you'd be happy to pick the choice that you think is best for them.
For a child that is refusing to clean their room could try saying "Would you like to clean your room now or after lunch?"
Some of the best materials that I've seen on Avoiding Power Struggles come from Love & Logic. You can learn more about their program at www.LoveandLogic.com