Symptoms: We have all been there. It started out so innocuously. It was a peaceful morning, the birds chirping, a cup of steaming coffee in your hand. There was no way to predict that in the space of 10 minutes, your kitchen would be the site of screaming, stomping, and door slamming. But there we have it. These are the classic symptoms of a power struggle gone wrong.
You had served your four year old her favorite—scrambled eggs. She reached for the pepper. Oh, no. Last week she put pepper on her eggs and hated it. She refused to eat the “spicy” eggs. So why in the world is she reaching for the pepper again? Now, you could have said nothing, and let her experience the “spicy” eggs again, and that could have been a fine response. Except for the fact that you scrambled her the last two eggs in the house. No one else would get to eat eggs that day, and she was going to “ruin” hers with an abundance of pepper. You decide that pepper isn’t going on the eggs this week. And so you say, “No pepper today, love. Remember last week you put pepper on your eggs and then you didn’t eat them because you thought they were too spicy.”
And then the battle begins. Your daughter grabs for the pepper shaker. You snatch it out of her hands. She says, “I want the pepper.” You say, “No, we’re not having pepper today. You didn’t like the pepper last week.” And then things quickly go downhill from there. She screams, you scream, doors slam and the morning peace evaporates like your coffee steam.
You said you wouldn’t yell again—that there was nothing that a 35 lb 4-year-old could do to make you scream—and yet there you were screaming again. OK, so we’ve all been there. It’s not the end of the world, and we ought to be gentle with ourselves, and give ourselves room to make some mistakes. But we also don’t have to get stuck in that nauseating Merry-Go-Round of the power struggle.
Your prescription for avoiding the power struggle:
Dealing with power struggles is often easier said than done. Remember to stay consistent and work on choice, negotiation, and consequences in times of closeness This will give you a reserve to draw upon when problems arise.
To your joy and health in parenting-
The parenting doctors.
Dr. Daniel van Ingen is author of Anxiety Disorders Made Simple: Treatment Approaches to Overcome Fear & Build Resiliency and the upcoming book You Are Your Child's Best Psychologist: 7 Keys to Excellence in Parenting,
Dr. Sarah van Ingen is co-author of the upcoming book Teaching Mathematics Meaningfully: Solutions for Reaching Struggling Learners.