A power struggle with your child can be such a treacherous landmine to navigate. An interaction can begin innocently enough. But before we know it, we are knee-deep going head-to-head with our child and we don’t even know how we got there. All sorts of damage can be done to our relationship with them, and we may not have even solved the initial problem!
A Power Struggle Can Sneak Up on Us
So it was with my client recently. She and her daughter had a history of power struggles. This mom was stressed, frustrated and disappointed in the relationship she had built with her daughter. It was not at all like she had envisioned when her daughter was born.
This mom texted me in a panic on a Sunday night recently. They had just gotten finished with a spring break trip that had been inadvertently planned the week before spring break began, and then her daughter had actual spring break off from school. So this little girl was getting set to go back to school Monday morning after two full weeks off. On Sunday night, she adamantly refused to get on the bus the next morning.
Reaching out for help
My client reached out to me asking for help to navigate this situation, as she anticipated it not going well the next morning. Even over text, I could immediately sense her getting triggered by her daughter’s school refusal. I could tell in her mind she was envisioning arguing with her daughter, tears, maybe even having to physically carry her onto the bus or even drive her to school.
Not at the outcome we want
She was lost, confused and stressed and needed help. Here is what I texted to her:
Remember the iceberg – kids want to do well and when they don’t, it’s because something is preventing them. I’m sure this triggers you and makes you want to dig your heels in. Instead, empathize with her – “You don’t want to go to school today? I bet it’s hard to think about going back after so much time off. Boy, didn’t we have fun on your break? But now it’s time to get back to school. I bet your teacher missed you over these last two weeks and she’s going to be so happy to see you walk into her classroom today.”
This is how you connect first, letting her know you understand how she must feel. Two weeks to a seven-year-old might as well be all summer. But inside many layers of connection you are going to offer her is the boundary that as hard as it may be, she still has to go back to school. Does that make sense? And all along, you must be very, very careful not to get triggered and slip into a power struggle.
THIS is the outcome we want
She texted me the next morning to tell me that the morning went beautifully. She had gotten up early and had extra cuddle-time with her daughter. They talked about all the fun they will have over this coming summer. She even gave her a back rub after breakfast and before school. Her daughter pointed out that cats don’t have to go to school, which prompted her to remember wishing she was her dog when she was young so that she didn’t have to go to school. This way of responding to her daughter’s refusal to go to school – with connection first and holding the boundary second – allowed them such a powerful bonding experience. Her daughter went off happily to school, and my client celebrated a parenting victory!
This way of interacting with and responding to your child works well in so many power struggles. At the end of the day, our children want to feel seen, heard and valued. And by navigating situations like this, we can bypass the power struggle and get right to the effective work of resolving the initial issue.
Steps to Navigating a Power Struggle
Then, hold the boundary.
I have created a FREE worksheet to help you in navigating power struggles and trouble spots with your child using this guide.
I just launched my NEW podcast – Powerful Parenting for Today’s Kids! In the very first episode I talk about this very topic! I hope you will tune in here or here.
AND ONE MORE!
I also uploaded a video of my podcast on my Youtube Channel, which you can access here.