A New Goal in Power Struggles

My 5 year old threw her backpack and demanded I carry it home from school. She stared right at me, defiant. Heat rose up to my face. 

In the past, I used power struggles to teach kids respect and responsibility.
I would have locked eyes with her, insisted she follow directions and laid out the consequences if she didn't. I would have wanted to teach her to be respectful of me and responsible for her belongings. 

But my underlying goal would have been to get her to comply for fear that she may take advantage of me in the future and grow up spoiled. 

She would have complied.

After really examining my own feelings during power struggles I set a new goal.  
During such a power struggle I feel mad and righteous with a hardened heart. Those feelings are red flags to me that something's amiss. I thought through my motivation for using power struggles to teach respect and responsibility. "I'm afraid that she may take advantage of me in the future and grow up spoiled." I heard my fear. 

My new goal in power struggles is to be kind.

I believe that in every power struggle we can choose fear or kindness. 
When we respond with kindness we have to trust that this one interaction is not going to make or break the kid's chances of growing up respectful and responsible. And we have to believe that even when we're kind we can still hold kids accountable.

Choosing kindness takes more time. But it's worth it. 

  • We have to stay calm
  • Remember that a mad looking child is really hurting inside.
  • Run the risk of embarrassment when others see us choosing not to punish a back-talking child. 
  • Be present in the moment and truly listen to the child's feelings.
  • Stay firm, stay close by and repeat our request until the child can hear us and follow through. 
  • Return to the discussion with the child a time after the struggle to talk things through. 

We don't always have time. I often have four other kids running circles around such a scene and I can't/don't always commit to this process. But when I do, I know I'm teaching respect, responsibility and kindness through my modeling - the mother of all teaching tools. And if I'm being honest, I don't really feel proud of myself when I just "win" a power struggle with a five year old anyway.

In the end, she did pick up the backpack. And as we walked out of the school building we were holding hands - calm and connected - both feeling proud of our choices.