Is this a power struggle or just a typical dialogue between a parent and child? And, is this really about the candy bar?
A power struggle is when a person holds one position and another person holds a different position and both are unwilling to change their positions. Then it becomes a struggle for power. It is rarely about the issue at hand. It is about feeling powerless and wanting to feel more power within the situation.
Let's look at the difference between "authentic power" and "coercive power." Coercive power arises from judging children and situations as "bad" or "wrong" and whose ultimate outcome is separation from our children. Force is used to manipulate our child to do what we, as the parent, want them to do. Force includes the use of guilt, threats, punishment, spanking, sarcasm, criticism, intimidations, humiliation, withdrawal of love, yelling, nagging, or any other attempt to control or force our child to do something against her will. Coercive power motivates through fear instead of love and teaches children to be externally motivated rather than driven by their own set of rules or consciences. This allows children to look for outside sources to blame for their mistakes or for others to be responsible for their happiness.
On the other hand, authentic power does not judge a child as "wrong" or "bad," but works to solve problems in ways that will unite or bond with our children through understanding and loving unconditionally. It's intention is to build positive self-concepts and to make sure that everyone wins. It is the ability to empower others to become motivated through paying attention to their own internal feelings, wants and desires, and to listen quietly for inner guidance. Authentic power teaches children that they are their own source of happiness. The end result is closeness, respect, responsibility, cooperation and a sense of joy and aliveness.
Unfortunately, coercive power is very seductive because it often works in the short-term and it is how most of us were parented so we are comfortable with it. It is very easy to use, but it seldom brings lasting results and it definitely creates strains in our relationships. So, how do we stop using it?
The first step in using authentic power is to realize that your child is not bad. That, in fact, your child is "being" just like you when you don't get one of your needs met.
Secondly, admit that coercive behavior is not getting you the results you want, i.e., more closeness and cooperation with your child.
The third step involves using a combination of the 17 ways to avoid power struggles in this article.
The fourth step is experimenting with the alternatives and acknowledging yourself if you were successful. If you weren't, ask yourself how you will do it differently next time. Gently encourage yourself.
The last step is to choose a method of personal growth for yourself that will unblock your ability to unconditionally love yourself, your child, your spouse, and others in your life. This could be books, personal growth courses, or private counseling, but it will help you help yourself.
The following alternatives are 17 ways to avoid power struggles. These are wonderful ways to use authentic power in your relationships with your children and it promotes positive self-concepts and cooperation. Use any or all of these suggestions and see what a difference it makes!
Everyone wants to feel powerful. Our children are not exempt from these feelings so the more we can do to give them appropriate ways to feel powerful, the less power STRUGGLES we will have with them. If a child feels valued, loved and respected, he will still create power struggles because he is human. But if parents consistently keep in mind why their child does this, the struggles can be effectively handled and many times avoided altogether.
Kathryn Kvols, a national speaker, is the author of the book, "Redirecting Children's Behavior" and the president of the International Network for Children and Families.
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