Reassess the Situation
Part 3 of Michelle's reflections on Alyson Schafer's talk
We’ve determined that we want to drop the rope and stop power contests with our children. We’ve used the D in the DROP acronym to determine that we are in the midst of a power contest. Now it’s time to R – reassess the situation and hand back responsibility.
In power contests, we lose sight of the goal and engage in the struggle itself. We want to MAKE our kids do what we say. Our kids want to retain their power. Two simple ways they do that are to refuse or ignore our demands. Getting on a coat evolves into a lesson about respect and manners and sometimes includes stories about the kind of spankings handed out when we didn’t listen to Grandpa.
Instead, try looking at the needs of the situation. Figure out what the end goal is – that’s what we need to work toward. And, in working toward that goal, let our kids take on the parts of that goal that they are able to manage. Try to give our kids back some of their power – through responsibility. Very often, kids feel powerless because we micro-manage them and take their responsibilities away. It’s simple to understand why we do this – it’s easier and faster! Watching a 2 year old dress herself can seem like a form of torture. Six year olds don’t load the dishwasher the way we would.
But, while it seems more efficient to do things ourselves, we unintentionally rob our children of the exact things they need to help feel in control of their world. When children are able to handle a task, hand it over to them. For a toddler, this might be putting on their clothes, choosing which fruit to have with lunch or when they are allowed their glass of juice. For an older child, it might be when they do their homework or watch TV. (You decide how much TV they may watch, but they decide when). Arguments that happen repetitively are probably a good indication that your child is ready for more responsibility in that area. This will take time, some trial and error, patience and self-restraint on your part, but in the long run, kids will be more cooperative because they control part of the process.
When you have a goal, explain it and then let them decide if they choose to participate. What to do when your kids don’t want to cooperate or participate in the shared goal? Let them feel the consequences of their actions. Unless your child is going tobogganing, not wearing a coat won’t hurt them. She may be cold and uncomfortable and that natural consequence will help inform her decisions over time. (If she is going tobogganing, explain that the rules of the day include having the coat. She may not want to wear it right now, but everyone will have one on there because that’s part of the uniform).
In the case of my son who always wants to play hockey in the backyard, I tell him what needs to happen that evening (say, homework, speech therapy practice), reminded him that he was really hoping to read another chapter in Harry Potter and then let him make his choices. Sometimes, he doesn’t manage his time well, and he goes to bed without reading or playing games with his brother. There are occasional tears (on his part) but lots less yelling (on my part).
Next we’ll discuss “O” - offering an olive branch to help diffuse a power contest.
Offering an Olive Branch
In previous blogs, we’ve determined that we are in power struggles with our children, we’ve reassessed the situation, figured out the end goal and given them back some responsibility. Now, it’s time to “O” - offer an olive branch.
It’s not easy to be the Switzerland of parenting, especially when things have gotten heated and there are loud voices and tense bodies. One way to make peace is to change your tone, quiet your voice and touch your children. Come in close and speak happily, respectfully or calmly. Relax your body. This response might puzzle your child but they will find it harder to continue fighting.
Talk to and listen to your child. Ask them about their point of view or their reasons for not doing what you’ve asked. Really listen to their answers, and try to be open-minded to what they say. You are trying to create the feeling that the child is understood. It’s important not to talk too much yourself right now. The more you negotiate, the more the child will find points to argue with what you say.
Just because you are listening to your children doesn’t mean that they will get their way. Sometimes their reasons won’t be especially rational, or relevant, or helpful, even if they are real to them. Sometimes it won’t matter if clothes feel funny because nudity is frowned upon where you are going. But, if you are able to mirror back their feelings, so that they child feels truly understood, this often helps. “Clothes feel like they are pulling on you and you can’t move around the way you’d like to. When we get home, you will be able to take off all of your clothes if you choose. For now, let’s find something that feels less funny”. “Hockey is great and practicing is important to you. You really enjoy getting better and having fun. Now, it’s time for piano, but there is a free hour this afternoon that would be a perfect time to go outside.”
Sometime this will work, sometimes this won’t. But either way, what you’ll want to do is “P” – plough on positively. We’ll discuss that in my next blog posting.
We want to drop the rope and end the power contest tug-of-war with our kids. The steps we’ve covered to DROP are:
D – Determining we are in a power struggle
R – Reassessing the situation and handing back responsibility
O – Offering an Olive branch
The last step is to “P” – plow on positively. You’ve determined that you were in a power struggle and dropped the rope. You’ve focused on the goal at hand, and if your child isn’t on board (and he won’t always be, or else we wouldn’t need this handy acronym), you’ve talked to him or her and listened to what they’ve had to say. Now, the goal needs to be accomplished, so it’s time to plow ahead.
Stick to the task at hand and move ahead with a good attitude. Your child may choose to join you happily (ha, right?); your child may choose to join you unhappily but most likely, your child will choose to join you. If you need to head out of the door, and nicely announce that you are going, picking up your bag and keys, this will illicit some interest from Junior.
Over time, a couple of things should happen. People (including your kids) who feel understood and respected are more flexible and are more willing to work toward common goals. Your children will test you to see if you truly have dropped the rope and whether you can be drawn into power contests. But, if you’ve given your children some age-appropriate responsibilities and returned some power to them, they will probably be less inclined to try to seize power in other places. Over time, new power struggles are probably a signal that your child has matured a bit and is ready to take on new tasks in their life.
It will take time and effort, but if everyone in the family is involved in problem solving and reaching goals, there will be more cooperation and fewer struggles. These cooperation skills will serve them well out in the world as well as at home. And, the healthy balances of power in your household will also make home a happier place day to day. What do you think? Has giving your child some responsibilities worked for you? We’d love to hear about it!