By Jaclyn Harwell, Contributing Writer
Parenting is hard. I’m pretty sure I’ve said that before, no less than a thousand times. Because it’s true. All kids test boundaries and want to have some level of autonomy over themselves and their choices. Unfortunately, kids don’t always know what’s best for them, so what’s a mama to do? If you want to avoid power struggles with your kids instead of engaging in a constant battle, read on for some tips!
Why Power Struggles Emerge
While it’s important for children to be respectful and obey rules, it would be naive to think they’ll obey every time, without question. When a child’s own ideas clash with the things expected of them, they tend to rebel.
That certainly doesn’t mean that we cater to them in order to avoid power struggles, but we should look at some of the reasons these struggles emerge:
Children Don’t Feel Heard
Just because we expect our children to follow our rules doesn’t mean that they don’t have their own feelings and ideas.
Children Don’t Feel Loved
When children don’t feel like their feelings matter, they don’t feel important, or loved.
Clear Boundaries are Lacking
Children feel safe when there are clear boundaries in place; chaos and changing rules lend themselves to power struggles. Consistency in holding the boundaries in place provides the security needed for kids.
There are Overbearing, or Arbitrary Rules in Place
When children feel trapped, they may fight for some freedom.
Children Don’t Understand What is Expected of Them
Sometimes kids just don’t fully understand what exactly it is we want them to do. We think we’ve explained ourselves, but frustration ensues for both parent and child when our expectations aren’t met.
5 Ways to Avoid Power Struggles with Your Kids
Talk to Your Kids
My kids are really curious. About everything. They ask lots of questions. I’ve said from day one, I will always be honest with them and explain to them as much as is appropriate for their age, or as they can understand.
So when we had to be on a super strict healing diet, I explained to my kids why we were eating the way we were, even going so far as to explain leaky gut and what poor food choices do to our bodies. With my oldest who has struggled with behavioral disorders, I found that teaching him which foods are “brain foods” was really helpful, so that if he wanted to eat something that was not a “brain food,” I could remind him that we wanted to eat foods that would help his brain function its best.
If we demand compliance of our kids (especially kids who are strong-willed and want to understand things) without giving them an understanding of why we demand they comply, they will likely struggle with obeying. (Read: How to teach your kids about the fruits of the Spirit for more on talking to our children about behavior and obedience.)
Granted, there are rules I don’t welcome my children questioning, like why they have to do chores or school work (although, I have explained to them that the bible says if you don’t work, you don’t eat!). But in general, I don’t mind satisfying their curiosity about most subjects.
Speak Your Child’s Love Language
If your child doesn’t feel loved, he or she will act out in disobedience.
I know that most of us feel like we do a pretty good job of loving on our kids: we make them foods they love, spend time with them, give them hugs, and tell them we love them. However, each child has a unique love language that will really speak to them and fill their love tank right up!
If you have multiple children, this may seem overwhelming, and I do honestly struggle with meeting all of my children’s love needs all the time. One child demands lots of attention, while another child wants lots of cuddle time, and so on. It gets overwhelming, particularly when I’m just trying to meet everyone’s basic needs.
But, if you will learn your child/ren’s love language, and make an effort to meet that need in some small way each day, it will improve your relationship with your child. Feeling loved, your child will be less likely to engage you in power struggles, because your child will further trust that the things you do are because you love him and are working for his good.
An excellent resource to help you learn how to speak your child’s love language is The 5 Love Languages of Children: The Secret to Loving Children Effectively.
Create Clear Boundaries
I find that when I’ve been slacking on being consistent with rules in my home, chaos ensues and my kids’ behavior begins to rapidly deteriorate. One day, I get angry about them doing something, and the next, I don’t have the patience or energy to deal with it, and let it go. That’s so confusing for kids, and they will definitely take advantage of inconsistency.
I get being rundown by your kids. I have four boys, and they just plain wear me out. A lot. So, it’s easy to let things slide because I don’t feel like dealing with a behavior.
However, Matthew 5:37 tells us “let your ‘Yes’ be ‘Yes,’ and your ‘No’ be ‘No.’” If I want my children to obey, I must have clear boundaries that they do not question, because those boundaries were the same yesterday, and they’ll be the same tomorrow.
Don’t Have Too Many Rules
While boundaries are necessary, arbitrary rules set a parent up for failure.
Recently we shared about how different families have different rules and standards, which is to be expected! But you have to learn to pick your battles.
For instance, if my oldest isn’t tired at bed time, we let him stay up and read. This serves several purposes: one, it’s a great thing for him to grow his mind through reading; two, it makes him feel grown up and loved that we let him make the choice for himself when he’s ready to turn the light out; and three, it allows us to avoid power struggles with him over bed time.
Ephesians 6:4 tells us not to exasperate our children, but to train them up in the Lord. Are you implementing arbitrary rules that are exasperating your kids?
We’ve recently been able to relax on our diet, and it’s been awesome letting our kids choose some foods for themselves. When it was necessary, I was very strict and rigid about food rules, but now, being joyful in what we eat is more important!
If there are some low-stakes areas you may be able to relax the rules and let your child have a little more autonomy, you will find yourself engaging in fewer power struggles.
Make Sure Your Kids Understand What You Expect of Them
I know that when we’ve told our kids the rules, we think they should understand what we want them to do and not to do. I get frustrated if I’ve told my kids to do something and then later find out they didn’t do it quite right or that they did something else altogether.
Sometimes, however, I find that I have not given my kids clear enough instructions. I’ve found that when I tell them to clean their rooms, I have to specifically remind them, for instance, to also make their beds, clean out from under their beds, and pick up their closets.
When I explain precisely what I expect from them, they are able to do a good job at what I’ve asked them to do, and if they don’t, I can easily remind them what is expected of them.
It’s a win-win for everyone and makes for happier kids and a happier mama, for whom there are fewer power struggles.
Ultimately, You are the Parent
You make the rules, and your children should obey, but if you’re finding that your kids are constantly fighting you on the rules, there may be a few easy changes you can make that will help things go smoother for everyone.
Love your kids, listen to your kids, give them clear rules and stick to them, and you’ll be able to avoid power struggles in no time!
How do you avoid power struggles with your kids? Give us your best tips!
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