“He’s always grabbing for power,”

“She wants to control everything,”

“I have to show them who’s boss!”

I hear statements like this from parents a lot. Our cultural environment doesn’t help; with its unrealistic expectations and tendency to judge how well a parent parents, by how well a child behaves.

Parents are told clearly and often that they should absolutely be controlling their child’s behavior. This framework is simply unhelpful, for both parents and children.parenting path

I offer you three different ways to think about power, and parenting:

  1. Know that there’s more than one kind of power. I learned in a teacher training about two types of power: power-to and power-over. Our goal as teachers (and parents) is to promote the former and diminish the latter (unless safety is a concern). It’s worth noting that children whose power-to gets regularly thwarted, will seek to gain power-over with their peers (and siblings) whenever possible. The more respectful we can be as big people, even when we do need to take charge with little people, the better.

  2. Remember that you have plenty of it. One of the feelings that triggers me most often is one of feeling powerless. It’s no fun, and it leads me to a panicky, freaked-out zone where I’m totally ineffective as a parent. When I start thinking with my “emotional brain,” I need to do something to jog my memory so that I realize I still totally have power. I can always choose to slow down, take a breath (or two) and regain some calm, even in the midst of a storm.

  3. Tell yourself a new story. Just today I was triggered and feeling powerless (with a layer of anger on top) about my child’s behavior. Ironically, I desperately wanted him to change his attitude and story about something that had not “gone his way,” but then I was escalating because I couldn’t do that exact same thing! When I changed my internal story from, “My kid is terrible, driving me crazy, and I don’t deserve this,” to, “This has been a rough day and no one is able to self- regulate but this too shall pass,” it all just felt better.

When I’m really losing my cool, feeling powerless, or worried that my kid is a control freak, it helps to remind myself that no matter how “badly” my child is behaving, he does not deserve to be treated poorly, yelled at or punished.

These avenues are always counterproductive.

Next time acknowledge the “power-to” you do have, take a pause (and perhaps a deep breath) and tell yourself a new story. Since it’s up to you, make it a good one.