Proverbs 22:15 explains, “Foolishness is bound in the heart of a child; but the rod of correction shall drive it far from him.” It is important for parents to understand how to avoid power struggles with their children. Understanding reasons behind your child’s desires to control a situation can help you know if this is just a part of growing up or if your child has crossed the line into outward defiance.
Power is one of the strategies people use to get their needs and wants met. As children grow, you will see them trying to gain power in order to become more independent. When your child was an infant, you had almost all the power. They communicated that they were hungry or uncomfortable by crying; that was the only power they had. As your child grew older, they took on more responsibility and with more responsibility came more power. They learned to pick up after themselves, and they also learned that refusing to do chores gave them some power. They learned to do their homework-and refusing to do it also gave them power. Remember, there is no such thing as positive or negative power: it’s simply power with positive or negative ends.
One of the biggest things to remember is that children and teens don’t see the world the same way that their adult parents do. But, most kids don’t have the maturity to perceive the big picture of what is going on around them in their world. We also know that most children and teens are inherently self-centered in their thinking. Their natural inclination is counter to the way God wants us to be. By the time children become teenagers, their perception of their world fuels their willingness to fight, argue, and engage in defiant power struggles. For the most part, this is healthy. It may be annoying for the parents, but this is natural and necessary for teens to find ways to handle authority appropriately.
When I work with parents who are frustrated with their children, I try to encourage them that their goal should not be to take away all the power struggles. Instead, the focus should be on taking the defiance out of the power struggles. As children grow and graduate through the various stages, they need to learn how to challenge their parents appropriately in order to become more independent. Your children have to learn that they cannot get what they desire by being abusive, hurtful, or obnoxious. Your children also have to be taught how to have power struggles in a way that does not turn into personal attacks.
When a police officer pulls you over, if you don’t agree that you’ve made a mistake in traffic, you might find yourself in a power struggle with him or her. If you get out of your car and start screaming, that won’t get you anywhere. Instead, you try the tactic of calmly and respectfully explaining your position. Whether or not they still give you a ticket, you’ve been able to present your viewpoint in a way that doesn’t get you into more trouble, and might in-fact solve your problem. In the same way, ultimately we want our kids to learn how to advocate for themselves by engaging in actions and conversations which increase their autonomy-without getting them into more trouble.
Teaching your children that they can disagree in respectful ways are important in helping them learn how to separate, individuate, and form their own opinions and feelings. But, modeling this acceptance of your children’s ideas and showing understanding about their desire to have more control ultimately helps foster more respect within the relationship of parent and child. This authoritative style of parenting displays high expectations and yet high warmth and love. This style of parenting closely resembles Christ-like love.
Tagline: Michael Linn, M.Ed., is a Licensed Professional Counselor and is the director of Safe Harbor Christian Counseling of South Central PA with office locations in Chambersburg, Gettysburg, and Carlisle. Please visit http://www.safeharbor1.com for more information or call 717-264-0614.