Parenting Power Struggles


Beth was having hard time putting her son Robby to bed.  She found herself in a power struggle with a three year old over who could make whom go to bed when!
Beth knew that the issue was not sleepiness or disobedience.  She was in a power struggle because she was dealing with irrelevant surface issues.  However, instead of pulling back on the tug of war rope with Robby, she disengaged herself emotionally from his provocative behavior.  She caught herself:
1.  Wanting her own way (“I want make him be quiet, so I can take a nice, hot bath.”);
 2.  Following her parents’ example:  (“Do what I tell you and do it now!”);
3.  Taking his “disobedience” personal;
4.  Trying to control her out-of-control child;
Instead, Beth was now free to respect herself as a worthwhile human being in spite of her faults and imperfections.  Her worth as a person was not contingent upon getting Robby tucked in before 8:05 p.m.
As a competent, independent human being, she has a choice she did not have before.  She chose to replace her old problem solving techniques with the new ones she had learned in counseling. She was able to address the real issue,  which was Robby’s anger.  She focused on his anger by saying:
Beth: “It makes you angry when I put you to bed, doesn’t it?”
Robby: “It’s the trees, I have to listen to the trees.”
Beth: “What is it about listening to the trees that makes you angry?”
 Robby: ”It scares me.  There’s ghosts out there, and I don’t know what to do.  I’m afraid I’ll be all alone with the ghosts.”
Beth: “I’m glad you could tell me that.  I didn’t know you were afraid of the trees.  Well, I’m not going away.  I’ll be right here.  You aren’t alone at all.”
Robby  went to sleep and the nightly power struggles have stopped.
 In the old days, Beth would have dismissed her child’s fears: “Oh, don’t be silly.  There aren’t any ghosts.”  In so doing, she would have invalidated her child’s perception of himself as a worthwhile person in his own right.  He would have thought he was “dumb” for thinking there were ghosts.  After all, his mommy wouldn’t lie.  There must be something wrong with him!
He might have concluded that the those who are supposed to love and protect him do not help when you need them the most.  They only make things worse!  He would have felt emotionally abandoned.  He would have learned to distrust his mother.

Mother and child image available from Shutterstock.

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Shared by: Aaron Karmin, LCPC, Contributing Blogger

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