Kids & Company Blog

Dropping the Rope – Reflections on Alyson Schafer’s Presentation

Guest writer Michelle Nelson talks about the presentation by Alyson Schafer, who spoke at our Parenting Conference in November.

Michelle Nelson is a marketer with 15 years experience in education and not for profits and enjoys a bit of blogging on the side. Food and parenting are her topics of choice. She lives in Toronto with her seven year old twins and husband.

This fall, Alyson Schafer spoke at the Kids & Company parenting conference. I like Alyson. She’s funny, self-depreciating, and she doesn’t make you feel like a terrible parent when you reveal that you had the exact same struggle with your child for the past 3 years. (Though, she might point out, very nicely, of course, that the definition of insanity is repeating the same action over and over again but expecting a different result.)

She talked about power struggles and suggested that they aren’t really struggles at all. They are contests. And, the thing about contests is that there is always a winner – and a loser. We want to win so that we can get on with our day and get out of the house in the morning, or finish dinner, or get those 172 toys picked up. At some point, children realize that there is incredible power gained by NOT doing what mom/dad/care giver wants them to do. Many grasp this from a very early age. Perhaps you have one or more of those children in your household. I happen to have a matching pair of kids like that – I think they discovered power contests in utero. (One of the many perks of being a twin.)

Alyson likens these power contests to tug-of-war. Just as in tug-of-war, some people try to pull you over to the other side of the line. Others dig their feet into the sand and refuse to budge. Either way, the point is to not lose any ground. When kids act this way, many parents react and they pick up the other end of that rope and start tugging themselves. The result? A power contest.

So what’s a parent to do when their 18 month old won’t eat her food, or a 2 year old won’t put on a stitch of clothing or an 8 year old who refuses pick up the hundreds of Pokemon cards littering his floor? Alyson suggests you drop the rope. Don’t engage in the conflict. Stop trying to win and just work toward the end result. Realize that you are complicit in the power conflict and take the stigma away from reaching the desired result. The goal is to work toward cooperation rather than negotiation.

Great, I say. How do we do that?

Here’s her handy acronym. D. R. O. P.

D – Determine if you are in a power conflict
R – Reassess the situation
O – Offer an olive branch
P – Plow on positively

Over the next four blog postings, we’ll explore each of those in depth. I’ll give you specific examples of how I’ve tried to use this in everyday life with my kids and some of Alyson’s suggestions that you can use immediately with you own.