“Instead of assuming a power stance, a parent can become a problem-solving facilitator.” – Janet Gonzalez-Mena
I’ve written about power before, but it keeps coming up.
I get calls from parents who want help with discipline, handling meltdowns, and navigating big feelings—theirs and their children’s—with relative grace and good humor These issues are all rooted in power, specifically; who has it?
“Power struggles” is how we talk about it—meaning who has power OVER whom, or who has the upper hand. Power-over needs to be tagged as the problem. When we try to control another person’s behavior or emotions (especially emotions, as happens often in parenting), we are overstepping our bounds.
Contemporary culture will reinforce this stance (that children need to be tamed, controlled, or “socialized”), so we have to watch carefully for when these thoughts and beliefs creep into our minds. We have to be vigilant in rewriting the scripts that guide us in our behavior. A few trajectory-altering ideas to get you thinking:
Power is necessary.
Think in terms of power-to, instead of power-over. When your child is “power-grabbing,” they are merely indicating to the adults around them that they need guidance and support, or a listening ear and a problem-solving coach. Notice your trigger-happy desire to WIN, and use your higher-thinking brain-state to get thyself calm first. Then you will be able to help regulate the emotional state of your child along with them.
Feeling powerless is upsetting.
When we don’t get what we want, whether we’re 4 or 40, it’s upsetting. Please make room for this upset. It’s the parent’s job to set the limit. It’s the child’s job to feel their feelings about the limit. There is nothing inherently wrong with big feelings, other than the fact that most adults walking around were conditioned to resist and avoid them* (and being with a child’s big feelings often leaves us feeling powerless—you can see how easily the cycle continues!).
Messages about power “stick.”
When we tell children what to do all the time, or curtail their emotional expression, or use punishment and punitive consequences (or threats, bribes, or our own worries and anxieties) to manage children’s behavior, we send the message that “they can’t.” Think about something you WANT to do that you haven’t been able to accomplish. Is there a tiny voice in your head saying, “I can’t”? That voice was wired in, thorough some experience you had. It did not come from nowhere. Through mindfulness and neuroplasticity, you can change that little voice, but why not help kids to wire more competent self-talk to begin with?
We are in a unique position as parents (and teachers, caregivers, grandparents and nannies) to assist the next generation in having very differently-wired brains. Brains that have an easier time communicating with rattled neurological systems—bringing calm and compassion more quickly. Brains that are better at reading the emotional signals of other humans. Brains that are emPOWERed to have good boundaries and healthy relationships.
We want this for our children, don’t we?