by Cecilia Kosak, LMFT
It’s Friday morning, 10 minutes before you have to leave for school and Jimmy doesn’t want to put the toilet paper on the roll. You’ve now asked him three times and begin to have that familiar building pressure in your gut. . .anger, adrenaline (whatever you’d like to call it) and before you know it, you’re yelling at Jimmy over toilet paper. The truth is, this isn’t really about toilet paper. This is about wanting power and control as a parent, and hence, the power struggle.
Kids will take many roads to assert their independence and when this happens you may feel that you have lost your authority as a parent. This is a test, but not the kind you think. Kids need to establish their boundaries with you but also need to develop their own autonomy. Sometimes, it’s a matter of taking a step back and ask yourself, “Is this worth it?” Yes, you want Jimmy to listen to you, but perhaps toilet paper isn’t as important as not hitting his sister.
Here are some tips and tricks for dealing with the classic power struggle:
- Never underestimate the power of a deep breath. Taking a breath helps you take a pause and acknowledge the facts of the situation, (i.e. we are arguing over toilet paper). This also allows you to access your rational brain again, the one that lets you make logical decisions not emotional ones.
- Know your own triggers. Knowing what upsets you allows you to identify what the real reason for the argument is. Perhaps it’s about respect and you can sit down and have an honest conversation about respect with Jimmy when you are both calm.
- What if I mess up? Sometimes, boy, we dig ourselves deep don’t we? We wanted Jimmy to listen and now he’s lost all his privileges for the weekend. Deep down we know this is overreacting, but now how do we go back and fix it? It’s never too late. Kids need to know that we make mistakes too and so they can make themselves vulnerable to come and admit when they’ve done so. It is okay to come back and say, “mommy got upset because she doesn’t like when you don’t listen” and adjust the consequence accordingly.
- Lastly, always come back to the conflict and make sure there is resolution. You want to reduce these conflicts in the future. I usually ask, “Are you ready to talk about this now”. Having a calm dialogue and a hug is important to build a bond after contention.