With a 5 & 3-year-old, The Power Struggle has been a part of my household. I am strong willed like my kids, stubborn like my kids and constantly feel like we are butting heads.
Do you find that your kids never take you seriously? You hear another mom say “If I hear that, this will happen”, and it works for them but why doesn’t it work for me?! I must be doing something wrong right? After reading what she had to write below I seriously need to work on the consequences!
I met Kazima on Instagram and fell in love with her posts about parenting and I am so glad she is sharing her valuable knowledge with us today.
Why Contingent Consequences Are a Game Changer in Parenting.
Often times, I find parenting like an endless dodgeball game where my children & I are the only ones left on the court and I am haphazardly flinging every ball that comes my way while my little one automatically hurls them back. Add another child and now I’m outnumbered, exhausted and pretty much defeated.
The Power Struggle
“If I hear y’all bickering one more time, I am canceling the birthday party!” If this sounds familiar, you have probably experienced a power struggle or two or seventy-six in your parenting life.
Battle after battle, it seems like an endless cycle that never ends. But why do these power struggles happen? Why have our children made it their mission to push us off our parenting thrones?
We parents are wired to have a need to command authority and panic when we feel it slipping from our hands. When a child doesn’t obey our wishes we attempt to “discipline” and depending on what the behavior is we try to hit them where it hurts by taking away things they love or look forward to the most.
Didn’t finish lunch? Can’t play with friends. Didn’t do homework? No birthday party. Rude to the sibling? No sleepover.
What is a Consequence?
A consequence is defined as a result or effect of an action or condition. We think the consequences we have given our children are a result of the actions that they have shown yet they are in no way related.
Our consequences generally have no rhyme or reason and simply arise from our need to keep our authority in check.
Ironically, it isn’t our absence of consequences that is taking our authority away. It is that our children are complacently able to see through our facade. They see that there is no direct correlation to the consequences thrown at them.
Basically, the consequences are not “contingent”. They see our consequences as unfair (which essentially they are), which leads to our children questioning and losing faith in ours…And thus continues the cycle of The Power Struggle.
3 Ways to Finally Put an End to The Power Struggle
Stop seeing yourself as an authority figure
Any sort of authority figure to us is intimidating, be it a boss or the president of the United States (well, maybe not the current one) but the same applies to your child.
Culture and society have created strict divisions between the parent and the child. There is a saying frequently said in Urdu when a parent caves into a child’s desires, “Is he the child or are you the child?” The child and the parent are always expected to be at different levels, never at the same level of the child.
Throw culture and society out the door for a minute and see the world at your child’s level. No one likes to be to told what to do or spoken down to. Practice empathy and humility with your child. It’s ironic that the values we struggle to instill in our children are the ones we tend to lack the most.
See yourself as a guide that shows them the way and helps them find solutions to their problems. This instills independence, confidence, and not to mention an amicable relationship.
Allow for Contingent Consequences.
I use the term allow and not enforce because consequences of behaviors should come naturally. Contingency is the relationship between two events, one being the consequence of another event. I always think of a Jack in the box. Turn the knob and the scary little joker pops out.
The school of Behaviorism sees all behaviors as a response to an antecedent and driven by consequences. Essentially that means that the desired behavior is only possible by a related or contingent consequence.
For example, instead of taking away playtime from your child when he/she doesn’t finish lunch let them feel hungry. Sounds scary to a parent but I promise you’re not starving your child. It is directly related. It is contingent.
Explain the cause and effect relationship to them prior to the event. “If you don’t eat your tummy will hurt and you’ll be hungry.” Then allow nature to take its course.
It may take a couple of attempts to reinforce the behavior but eventually, your child will learn if they don’t want to be hungry they must eat their food. Think of our favorite childhood storybook, “If You Give a Mouse a Cookie.”
“If you give a mouse a cookie, he’s going to ask for a glass of milk.”
If you do not share with your friends, they won’t want to play with you.
Allow for the consequence to naturally take form. There must be a direct if/then relationship between the action and the reaction to appeal to their logic. This applies to other behaviors as well. Of course this does not mean we don’t guide when our children make wrong choices. Give them the reasoning and allow them to make their own choices.
Often times we find it difficult to adhere to a behavior because we haven’t acted upon it frequently. It takes multiple repetitions of a voluntary behavior to become involuntary. Consistency is key to reinforce any behavior or parenting skill. Children know how to call bluff and staying consistent yields the ability to anticipate what will come next giving them a sense of security.
Being aware of contingent consequences and applying them to your daily parenting life is a step closer to effective parenting.
You may still find yourself in that dodgeball game but this time you will be confident and better equipped with precise aim and skill.
I hope this post was useful. What is your biggest issue with power struggles?
Kazima is a Speech Language Pathologist with a background in Psychology specializing in pediatrics. Her passion for children and child psychology is the driving force in all she does.
In 2017, Kazima published a children’s book, Mikaeel and Malaika The Quest for Love, and shortly after began a blog focusing on how to functionally understand a child by seeing the world through their eyes. She enjoys supporting other parents via Instagram by consulting and educating on parenting and education approaches. Kazima is co-creator of Parenting Fuel, a live Instagram series dedicated to discussing and targeting pertinent issues in raising children.