Google+ Authentic Parenting: Side Stepping Power Struggles By Being Playful

Wednesday, January 30, 2013

Side Stepping Power Struggles By Being Playful

Children sometimes act in ways that seem unreasonable to us like a two year old that doesn't want to pick up a toy they have thrown or a five year old that cannot stop playing to help set the table. Often, they are not actually being selfish or unreasonable, just feeling, thinking or deciding something different than what we are.

These differences can sometimes lead to power struggles, unless that is we can pause and take a moment to understand the situation, not just from our point of view, but from the child's point of view too.

Just the other day, a doll went flying through the air. I saw it being thrown and land on the ground. I sat there contemplating for a moment…I wanted my daughter to pick up the toy and stop throwing. I had two choices: I could rashly insist that she pick up her toy OR I could pause, connect through play and try to better understand the situation.

Let's pretend I took the first route. Insisting:

Mom: Pick up the doll you threw down.
2 year old: NO.
Mom: I said to pick up the doll.
2 year old: No!
Mom: I said to do it NOW!
2 year old: NO…nope…No!

I could go on to threaten a consequence, insist, battle, engage in the struggle my defensive side against hers!  I could also just give up and do it myself since that would be the fastest solution…  Exactly what would I be teaching my child with that attitude? That I’m always right? That she shouldn't have any will or her own thoughts?  That it’s alright for grown up to push kids around? I've gone down that road before and really I felt so exasperated and my child so deflated –  is it worth it? Did we learn anything? NO... It would just have been a power struggle and everyone is left feeling badly. 

What about connecting with PLAY and trying to understand the situation better? 

Mom: Oh look at that doll on the floor…how did it get there?
2 year old: I don’t know!
Mom  (smiling): You don’t? It must have been a bear that came into the house, got upset and threw the doll. Did you see the bear around here – I think he is mad, maybe he needs a hug!
2 year old (half smiling) Uhm…I not seen a bear. I need a hug - there not a bear here.  The dress [on doll is] not closing.
Mom: That made you frustrated?
2 year old: Uhmm…uhm…
We hug.
Mom: Feel better?
2 year old, now smiling: yes
Mom: So what can we do about the doll?
2 year old: I get [the] doll, you help [with] the button?
Mom: Yes!

As hard as it may be in the moment, I find that if I can take a breath, forgo blame or the need to be right, skip the power struggle and instead aim to understand my child’s motivation and needs I find that we can not only accomplish whatever the task is at hand, we do so while embracing opportunities to learn, connect, and be together. Choosing to do so while being  playful also makes it a moment that I know my children can fully relate too and can remember with a smile.

Have you tried to side step a power struggle by using play and connection before - what worked  for you?

Ariadne has three children and is a certified Positive Discipline Parenting Educator.   She is a regular contributor to Authentic Parenting and the creator of Positive Parenting Connection, a resource for peaceful, positive and playful parenting. Connect with Ariadne at the Positive Parenting Connection and on Facebook



  1. I love this Ariadne. Play is such a great way to smooth over possible friction in parent-child interactions.

    Thanks for posting!

    Be well.

  2. Nathan - thanks for stopping by and for your feedback! I've been hoping over to your site and reading bit and pieces when I can,it's always lovely to read another positive, peaceful voice out there :)

  3. Delightful example, Ariadne! She quickly identified with the bear's feelings and felt validated. Nothing to struggle against there! Yay! Another voice in our corner!

  4. Delightful example, Ariadne! She quickly identified with the bear's feelings and felt validated. Nothing to struggle against there! Yay! Another voice in our corner!

  5. Thank you Sandy! It's so wonderful to hear the connections kids can make like that through play :)

  6. My son went through a phase between 3&4 years where he wanted to keep toys that belonged to his friends, or that he played with in a waiting room or saw on tv. He'd get very upset that he couldn't have them. We tried explaining that he could have a list and we'd get something off the list for his birthday, but he was still getting frustrated and whining/throwing fits. I found 2 approaches really fun for both of us. 1) I'd sing "if I had a million dollars" (by the bare naked ladies)and sing all the things he wanted into the song. when I did that he'd laugh. 2) I'd whine back at him telling all the things I wanted (careful not to mock him, but to express things I really did want in a frustrated whiney tone) the first time I did, he gave me this look like "Oh! You're frustrated too!" my whining communicated that to him, in language he understood more than when i tried to simply explain "there are things I want, too but we can't have everything that we want."

  7. Lia - what a fantastic way to solve that!!! The million dollars song sounds like fun for both of you :) Thank you so much for sharing that experience.


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