These moments can often evolve into an ugly exchange between parents and children, as parents escalate their efforts to force their children to comply. I was waiting in the Miami Airport, and observed a classic example of this.
Mom and Dad were from Australia and had two young children. Both parents were likely tired and frustrated, and mom was trying to get the kids to sit in order to eat some lunch. Mom directs her son, Peter, to, “SIT DOWN AND EAT NOW!”
Peter, approximately age seven, simply looks at his Mom and shakes his head. Mom repeats, “I SAID SIT DOWN NOW!” Peter just stares at his Mom and seems empowered, offering a stronger NO. Mom gets furious…quickly furious.
Mom now yells, “YOU SIT DOWN NOW…DON’T YOU DEFY ME… I SAID TO SIT DOWN NOW!” Peter is resolute. He doesn’t budge.
Everyone within 10 boarding gates is wondering who will win this battle of wills! The drama was intense as all eyes were on mom and Peter. Before completing the story, let’s first discuss:
How to Avoid Losing in a Power Struggle
Here are my top tips for avoiding such struggles.
1.) Never try to teach during ‘crunch time.’ Teach in the daily moments.
A team cannot be prepared to play a game, unless there has been practice. For these traveling parents, I have no doubt that this scene is only the tip of the iceberg. It is clear from the exchange between mother and son that this was not an unusual situation. They have been down this road before, and Mom needs a better game plan, but you can’t test this in the airport, if you haven’t practiced at home. (Well, you can, it just won’t work.) If at all possible, you don’t want to end up in an airport, and find your story in the newspaper. That would be a bummer.
Instead, there is a solution to dealing with an oppositional “NO” from your child, but you need to use your parenting wisdom during daily moments of resistance—and not worry about public moments so much. These public situations will be fine, if you handle the small daily struggles with ease.
2.) Give up controlling language. It makes us look foolish.
Notice how this Mom began the exchange. Her first communication with Peter was, “Sit down now.” She is speaking to her son as if young Peter is under her personal control.
We must accept this reality: we don’t have control of our kids. We can influence them. We can teach them. We can reinforce and support and nurture them. But we don’t control them. Peter is proving this to his mom! (And a child easily ‘controlled’ by a parent will be easily controlled by someone else someday and we don’t want that!)
When we communicate by using controlling and demanding language, we will often get an oppositional response—especially from temperaments that are more oppositional in nature.
Most adults don’t like to be told what to do. Do you like when someone demands something of you? Do you like to be ordered around? Probably not. The same is true for children.
There are times when the biggest changes are made just by a simple shift in how we speak to our children. While this works in some situations, it is not the answer all the time. It is the essential, respectful first step. Other changes must also take place. The next step is to…
3.) Learn to ask or inform…not command. The magic words: “It’s time to…”
When we give up commanding, we still need to communicate. Sometimes simply asking is the easy thing to do. At other times, we need to inform the kids that some action is now required.
I find the most useful phrase on the planet is a very simple one: “It’s time to…”
You are not demanding anything from the kids, but simply informing them of an event. Just make sure you keep the energy moving in that direction. Do not wait on them to respond. Keep moving. In the example above, mom would simply start unpacking the lunch and hand it out. Don’t wait or demand…keep moving.
While there is more behavioral action needed, this is a critical step in creating a calmer, more respectful home. We will complete this next week, with the final three steps to eliminating such defiance from your home. Until then, get started with these changes today, and watch what happens. It may not be perfect…but things will improve.