“You’re Not The Boss of Me!”
Power struggles are among the more frustrating parts of the parenting package. Why? Well, as Rudolph Dreikurs points out in his book Children: The Challenge, “Children are by far more clever in a power contest. They aren’t inhibited by social consequences of ‘appearances’ or dangerous consequences of their action.” Sad but true.
One thing you can do as a parent is to acknowledge that you can’t force a child to do anything. You can try, but if you’re honest with yourself, I think you’ll agree that at best, what we can do is to create an environment that encourages our children to make the same choice we would hope they would make. That’s not really the same thing as having the control to “make” them do something. And once we hit that point in a power struggle, no one really wins and the message we were trying to convey at the beginning of all this has gone completely out the window.
So admit it. Try saying to your child, “You’re right, I can’t make you do your homework/clean the table/walk the dog.” With some kids, that’s all it takes to gain cooperation. Honestly! Give it a shot and see if it doesn’t diffuse the tension, at least a little bit.
You might not be able to make him walk the dog, but let’s face it: the important parenting challenge is not to get the dog walked (I’m sure there are lots of ways that problem could be resolved); it’s to instill in your child the importance of following through on his responsibilities, and fostering a sense of empathy (in this case, for the dog who needs to tinkle and for the other family members who have already taken a turn walking around the block). So, now that we have acknowledged that we can’t force him to do anything, try asking for his help. Like any human, kids like to be asked rather than commanded. Instead of saying, “You have to walk the dog as soon as you get home from school tonight because we have to leave right at 4.00 for hockey”, experiment with “Could you please walk Zippy as soon as you get home from school so we don’t have to rush to do right as we’re running out the door to hockey?” A small change, yes, but an important one in the eyes of a child.
It starts with “You’re not the boss of me!” and it’s all downhill from there. This technique is not about giving your home over to chaos, it’s about modelling the respect you’d like to see them show. Treating them as competent and capable, and as individuals with their own thoughts and feelings, is one tactic to help diffuse those power struggles.