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Parenting Press: When Just Your Presence Helps

Tip: Power struggles can be avoided when you use your presence as a monitoring tool.

Power struggles with our children aren’t inevitable, but many of us encounter them at some point. Parent educator Jan Faull, M.Ed, defines a power struggle as an emotional battle of wills over who is in control of an issue. They can crop up over clothes, homework, when to go to bed, which sorts of movies to watch—you name it. You have your (reasonable, I’m sure) position. Your child pushes and pushes and argues and argues for something different or more, or less, than with what you’re comfortable. Faull, author of Unplugging Power Struggles: Resolving Emotional Battles with Your Kids, outlines four common symptoms of a power struggle:

  • Your child rebels against your discipline
  • You can’t discuss the issue (or anything) calmly
  • Your relationship with your child is getting worse
  • The issue never goes away.

One of our authors recalls how this issue has surfaced with her 12-year-old. “I have my children do an extra-curricular math program to supplement their schoolwork. You’ll have to take my word for it that it’s needed. The problem is that my son greatly resents the extra work. Each time he reaches a new level in this program, the work becomes challenging for a while, and that’s when we have trouble at home. There’s grumbling, there are loud protests, there’s pounding on the table, there’s resentful body language, and then there’s the passive-aggressive ploys (leaving the top page finished and the rest unfinished—blithely assuring me that he’s “done it”).You get the picture.The work for him, at present, is not so hard, so I’m taking the (relatively) peaceful time right now to think about how to handle the harder times coming up.”

parenting-press-power-struggles

Tools: Faull points out that showing low-key, supportive interest in children’s schoolwork can be very powerful. Instead of giving orders or sitting by them to keep them on-task, she recommends using “proximity control” to provide support.

In our author’s situation, this would mean that she could ask to see the assignment for the day, and then let him know that she’ll be sitting nearby (doing her own paperwork), available to help him, should he need it. This way she can show interest and provide support without taking over.

Faull also recommends giving the child control over variables like where he does the work and at what time in the afternoon/evening he does it. Offering choices is very important in avoiding power struggles. When your child feels like he has some say in his homework, he will be more invested in it.

“Parents frequently solve problems for their children by simply telling them what to do,” comments Faull. “A better approach is to explain your problem-solving process by thinking out loud—for example, ‘Okay, both numbers in this fraction are even, so we know that 2 will go into them—maybe we could start there.’ Or, ‘Hmmm. You could finish this tomorrow. But I think you have Scouts tomorrow evening—right? If you spend ten more minutes now, you won’t have to even worry about this homework tomorrow.’ By doing this, children learn how you went about coming to a conclusion. It’s important then, to honor the child’s decision on the matter. If he decides to put the work off, let him try it. He will likely learn that Tuesday evenings are more fun when he has his math done. Either way, you aren’t telling him what to do. He’s making the decision and retaining control. It is his homework, after all.

You’ll find more practical tips you can use right now in Unplugging Power Struggles: Resolving Emotional Battles with Your Kids by Jan Faull, M.Ed.

 

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