Empower, don’t overpower, headstrong children

Published 2:12 pm Saturday, July 9, 2016

QUESTION: How do I respond to my child’s headstrong, rebellious, frustrating behaviors?

ANSWER: The goal is to empower, not overpower. From about the age of 2, and at intervals in the developmental process, children are learning the normal process of making decisions, exerting power and declaring ownership. When parents react by overpowering children, the result is children who feel powerless. All human beings need to feel a sense of power in their lives, so the overpowered child may react by seeking power through rebellion and/or destructive or passive (not trying) behavior in an effort to make decisions and maintain control. When a parent can deal with power struggles in ways that reduce fighting and create respectful relationships, both children and parents benefit.

Side step the power struggle. Don’t fight or give in. Stay firm and friendly by offering at least two choices with each non-negotiable expectation. For a child who is refusing to nap, offering the choice of one pillow or three, or Mom’s comforter or a sleeping bag on the bed can be successful. Not giving a 12-year-old permission to attend a risky party can be made more acceptable by offering the choice of driving a few friends to a movie or having someone overnight.

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Find useful ways for your child to be powerful. One possible way to end a power struggle over using seatbelts is to give your child the responsibility of being sure that everyone is safely buckled in their seat belts and the car doors are all locked before turning the key in the ignition.

Do the unexpected. When you feel the climate is ripe for a power struggle, redirect your child’s energy by suggesting an alternative activity. You might suggest that you need some help in the kitchen or decide to go for a walk with your child. Have a variety of 15 minute activity ideas on hand that you can do with your child: make playdough, put a puzzle together; play a card game, polish silver or make rice crispy bars.

Try to hear “no” as a disagreement rather than a disrespectful response. It is a parent’s role to teach a child to disagree in a respectful, appropriate manner. You can listen to your child without changing your mind. Try saying, “You feel strongly about this. So do I. I will listen to you first.” If you do not change your mind, remember how to side step the power struggle.

If you would like to talk about the challenges in raising children, call the toll-free Parent WarmLine at 1-888-584-2204/Linea de Apoyo at 1-877-434-9528. For free emergency child care call Crisis Nursery at 1-877-434-9599. Check out www.familiesandcommunities.org