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…
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?
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.