It’s happening. In spite of all your good intentions, you and your child are in the middle of an argument. No going back and changing the circumstances that led to this point: you need help now!
Avoiding power struggles is always preferable, but the best of us have days when we’re hooked into a fight before we see it coming. When you realize what’s happening, you want to unhook as quickly as possible. Here are some simple techniques that can help you disengage from the struggle. Internalize the ones that work best for you, and make note of the others; you want a large arsenal of parenting skills at your disposal!
Try to see the situation from your child’s perspective. “A soft answer turneth away wrath” is more than an ancient proverb; it’s a natural result of empathy. By genuinely trying to understand how your child feels, you can step back, regroup, and make a start at defusing the situation.
Use “I statements” rather than “you statements.” “You know better than to turn on that television now” is an accusation and makes you a bully in your child’s eyes. If you say, instead, “I know it must be very frustrating when I say no TV until your homework is complete, but I promised to hold you accountable for your schoolwork,” it may not make your child any happier about the situation, but at least he can see your side as reasonable.
Validate your child’s feelings. Young children often need help identifying what they are feeling. By naming the feeling you can better address it, demonstrate empathy, and start building a bridge to reconciliation.
Excuse yourself from the situation. We are only human and can get caught up in the heat of emotion; but we are also adults, capable of understanding that the responsible thing to do is not always the instinctive thing. Sometimes the best way to take control is to stop trying to wrest it away by force, and to remove ourselves from the room so everyone can calm down.
After things cool down, debrief together with the ABC method. “A” for Antecedent (the factors that led up to a situation), “B” for Behavior, “C” for Consequence. Talk with your child and review how the argument started, what could have prevented it, what did happen, and what to do about it now. This is a great way to reassure your children they are in control of their feelings and the outcomes of their behavior.
Ask yourself what’s more important to you–the love of power or the power of love. Power struggles happen when a parent wants to control a child, rather than helping the child develop internal values and standards. If you become dictatorial every time your child disagrees with you—implying that it is wrong for him to have his own thoughts, ideas, and feelings—he will either become rebellious or develop a victim mentality. Our job as parents is not to control, but to guide and teach in love.