Getting unstuck from parenting power struggles


October 24, 2016
parenting struggles

Meghan is the parenting columnist for the Washington Post and a certified parent coach. She is the mother of three daughters and lives with her family in the Washington, DC, area. You can follow her online on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram.

* * *

There are so many places to get stuck while parenting: From power struggles to chores, from sassiness to ignoring, there is no shortage of ways and reasons to struggle with children.

Before you can deal with the drama of your children, you must figure out why you are struggling with your children.

Key questions to ask yourself about why you are struggling:

  • Am I having the same struggle over and over about the same topic with my child and expecting different results?
  • Am I angry, resentful, or sad about something from my childhood?
  • Am I always disagreeing about parenting with my partner?
  • Am I overworked, stressed, or not taking care of myself (emotionally and physically)?
  • Do I not understand my child’s development?

These questions are crucial in helping you get unstuck from the parenting struggles. If you don’t understand that a 5-year-old cannot remember to clean his room daily (on his own), you will be perpetually stuck in power struggles and frustration. If you don’t realize that your own parents shamed and hurt you, you may not know that you are also shaming and hurting your own child (causing more and worse misbehavior).

So, how do you begin to extract yourself from some of ways you get stuck struggling with your children?

  1. Start by taking complete responsibility for your own behavior and emotions. This is the most mature act you can take as a parent. As soon as you acknowledge that your child doesn’t “make” you angry, tired, frustrated, or mean, you can begin to deal with most of your parenting struggles.
  2. Stop talking when you are angry. I don’t mean to do an angry freeze-out where you stomp out of the room and refuse to speak to your child. Instead employ what I call “compassionate silence.” When you are trying to correct your child when you are angry, you will often resort to punishments, bribes, commands, and demands. This can make the situation worse, and your children will often answer with their own anger. Things can quickly spiral. Unless your child is in mortal danger, there is very little you absolutely have to say or do in the moment you are angry.
  3. Allow your actions to speak for you. One excellent way to get results (especially with young children) is to physically guide your children to do what they need to be doing. Rather than remind them to brush their teeth, over and over and over, lovingly guide your child to the bathroom and place the toothbrush in your child’s hand. Since you are not bossing and commanding and demanding your child around, there is a better chance that your child will cooperate.
  4. If you are getting stuck in the rules you have created for child, begin by not creating rules when you are angry. You can set aside a time with your family and set up the boundaries that you would like to see enforced as well as the consequences if the boundaries are broken. Write these rules down, hang them up, and revisit these rules often.

It is important to remember if you are stuck in the day-to-day drama with your children that parenting is really a long game. Yes, every day is important, but you are instilling values that you may not see for many years to come. Remember that the mundane parts of parenting add up to an important whole and that children can be equal parts joyful and tiring. Staying kind, within boundaries, and not stuck in the little things will help you to enjoy your children and your parenting life.