6 tips for transforming power struggles into parent-child collaborations.
Hello, Conscious Parent! Welcome to “Dear Katherine,” a monthly Q&A with real-life parents/caregivers. If you’d like to submit a question of your own, email me at firstname.lastname@example.org.
I am a mother to a lovely, zany, strong-willed 8-year-old girl. I love her to smithereens, but sometimes it feels like we’re in a constant power struggle. Last weekend she wanted to wear a bathing suit to church. Today, she refused to wear a coat—in the middle of winter! I value her firm sense of self and the vitality of her character, but I don’t want to be caught in a cycle of push and pull. What do I do?
The Struggle is Real
Dear The Struggle is Real,
First, I want to congratulate you on raising such an amazing little girl! A strong-willed child isn’t a “bad” child, but a unique person with special gifts and talents. Their innate sense of self-direction and motivation positions them to become amazing leaders. They’re often vibrant and passionate free-thinkers who aren’t easily deterred by outside pressures.
I, too, have a strong-willed child. My daughter Pia had (and shared!) opinions very early on and I had to learn how to effectively communicate with her and meet her needs.
The Struggle is Real, you wrote that you value your daughter’s vitality and sense of self. That’s wonderful! As parents, it’s our responsibility to encourage a strong will, not break it. You can empower your child’s identity and still keep the peace.
Here are 6 tips for transforming power struggles into parent-child collaborations:
- Encourage independent learning. Known for being spirited and brave, strong-willed children learn by experience. She wants to ride a bike without your help? Let her. She decided to cut her teddy bear open and sew it back together? Tell her to go for it. (She may cry later, but you’ll be there to comfort her.) As long as she’s not in any real danger, give her the space to test her limits. She’ll be all the wiser for it.
- Teach self-direction. If there’s one thing strong-willed children crave, it’s being in charge of themselves. Take this opportunity to teach healthy autonomy. Ask her to create her own daily schedule, plotting out blocks of time for activities like school, play, and sleep. Strong-willed kids are quite collaborative when given the freedom to express themselves.
- Give choices, not ultimatums. If your daughter is anything like mine, she probably hates submitting to a parent’s will just because they said so. Explain to her why she can’t wear her swimsuit to church (swimsuits are for swimming), then give her the choice to pick out another outfit. You can even compromise by allowing her to wear the swimsuit underneath a dress.
- Set routines. Most strong-willed kids need to be able to predict what happens next. Setting regular routines helps them know what to expect. Collaborate with everyone though so that each person’s feelings and needs are considered when creating the routines and you will save yourself a lot of agony. If others are included in the conversation, then you have avoided all the power struggles because they were a part of the decision making process. No more trying to sneak in another hour of screentime!
- Practice positive communication. Instead of yelling back when your child is throwing a tantrum (I know it’s tempting), take a deep breath and give them time to wind down before you engage. When everyone’s calmer, ask your child if she can reframe what she needs to say in a more considerate way.
- Listen. When a child violently opposes a simple request (e.g. to take a bath), there’s usually a deeper reason why. Sit down and ask her what’s really bothering her. The art is to do that without asking too many questions but really listening. Listening allows you to sense into what the problem is “behind the problem.” “Seems like something is bothering you” will get you further than a more direct “What is wrong with you?” Finding the real cause of conflict will help you address it at its core.
The Struggle is Real, when your strong-willed child is “acting up,” that’s when she needs you the most. Let her know that power struggles are unnecessary because you’ve got her back and have her best interests at heart. When it’s clear to her that you value her identity just as much as she does, your strong-willed girl will become your best ally.
Love and Blessings,