Positive Parenting

The Need for Power

“You can’t make me!”

Does your child ever push back, try to tell you what to do, or refuse to obey?  Do you find yourself feeling challenged, threatened, or even defeated by your child?  Consider these feelings to be a signal that your child is fighting hard for power.

A child may crave power because they are developmentally ready for more responsibility than their life is giving them.  Or, they may be trying to create order in the midst of chaos in their life.  Another reason could be that they have a strong will or are a natural leader and need a positive outlet for those healthy personality traits. By understanding that defiant behavior can stem from a need for power, a parent can avoid wasting their energy in a power struggle or feeling victimized by the child.

Decoding this misbehavior provides a chance to empower and redirect potential conflict. Give your child small opportunities to be in charge you empower them and redirect potential conflict.

Simple ways to give your children power:

  • Give them choices.  By selecting the options you maintain control, but you offer them an opportunity for self-agency by choosing what option they prefer.  For example, “We will read one book before bedtime.  You get to choose if it’s the truck book or the dinosaur book”.
  • Give them small tasks or chores.  Allow them to pour their own drink or help you bake.
  • Do not engage in power struggles, but rather, remind them of their responsibilities. “You don’t want to obey, but I am the leader and your job is to obey.  When you do your job, you get to do fun stuff.  I wonder what happens when you don’t do your job? (And let them tell you).
  • Allow them to struggle with the small stuff without you swooping in to do it for them.  “You want me to do that for you, but I think you can figure it out on your own if you keep trying…. Wow, you did that all by yourself! You didn’t need my help.”
  • Give them boundaries for them to be in charge.  “You need to do this right now, but later let’s play a game where YOU TELL ME what to do.”  “I am the leader of our family, you are the leader of your toys.”
  • Allow them to explain things to you.  Play dumb, don’t correct them.  “Wow, you really know a lot about Legos! Thanks for teaching me.”
  • and lastly, make sure they have lots of unstructured time to play.  Play is where they are truly in charge, and without the time or space to play a child will be at a deficient.

When a child’s need for power is met you will know because they will be confident, content, and capable.  They’ll be less likely to challenge you, because they have been empowered to control the appropriate things in their world.

What little things have you noticed make a big difference in your kid’s sense of power?  My 13-month-old beams with pride when she turns off the light switch and my 3-year-old announces “I did it myself, I didn’t need your help!” after repairing his Lego creation.

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