Dr. Charlotte Howard, a psychologist at Deep Eddy Psychotherapy in Austin, TX, talks about avoiding a power struggle in parenting and the importance of being your authentic self as a parent and in the world in general.
What if you have a defiant child who refuses to listen to you and marches to the beat of their own drum. How can you as a parent step in and still provide them with the model that they need?
What’s important with defiance in children is to understand that they’re testing out their own sense of self and their own power in the world and you really don’t want to shut it down. That’s a really beautiful thing. It’s the thing that’s going to allow them to say, “No, this is wrong,” and to stand up for what’s right in the world as an adult or to stand up to a bully in school. Not shutting down your child’s will helps them develop a sense of self–that what they want matters and they can go after it. That’s just such an energizing, enlivening, beautiful quality.
Avoiding a Power Struggle as a Parent
It can be annoying as a parent to have your kids say no all the time, resisting everything, but I just think that’s an important quality to nurture. In terms of getting them to do what you want, ultimately, you want to avoid a power struggle. With my kids, brushing teeth is one of those power struggle moments. On the times I’ve tried to set a boundary and get my way from a place of control, sometimes it goes okay but others it is a disaster. For instance, “Okay, if we don’t start brushing teeth in 10 seconds, there’s no treats tomorrow,” and then that’s followed by a fit and when I get to 10 no one is brushing. So, “Okay, there’s no treats tomorrow,” and then there’s a bigger fit and we spend the next half hour having yucky energy and getting them back together.
Redirect and Make it Into a Game
The whole point was to get them to sleep earlier and now they’re asleep later. Now, we’ve had an unpleasant experience and bedtime can be so beautiful and bonding. I was able to brush their teeth but they experienced me as a tyrant. So, I learned quickly, as a parent—and the understanding of building a healthy relationship with a child and supporting their development supports this– that you wanna avoid the power struggle and, instead, redirect and make it into a game or find some other way to get your way without them feeling squashed. So, maybe brushing teeth can be more fun and we march in there and whoever does it the fastest wins or something. We’re racing to bed and I’m a monster, “I’ll chase you.”
Talking with Your Child in a More Serious and Loving Way
Creating an environment that supports what you want instead of having a power struggle, as though you’re going to make them do what you want no matter what, allows trust in the relationship that will serve you later when you don’t have control over them and they have to listen to you out of respect and trust that you have their best interests in mind. The key is to keep them safe and healthy without them feeling controlled in the process. If it really comes down to it, you can talk to them in a more serious, loving way. You might say, “You know, I’m really confused as to what to do because I really want to have a peaceful bedtime routine and I want it to be easy, but you seem to not want to brush your teeth. But I have to get you to brush because it’s important for your health.” You just talk to them about it, “What can we do together because I want it be loving and fun and I know you do too. Is there some way that we can work this out?” You start to get on their team and understand what their resistance is.
How important is that direct honesty, not just with children but with anyone? I think a lot of us get tricked into the thinking that a facade or holding back is better. What’s the advantage of direct communication and how can therapy allow you to arrive at a place where that’s your set point?
Being honest with others is really important in terms of being able to have a healthy relationship with yourself. As soon as we start hiding parts of who we are then we start to believe there’s something wrong with us or something to be ashamed about. We wouldn’t be hiding unless we’re bad and that becomes very toxic and starts to erode our sense of self and feeling of peace in the world. Being who you are and being authentic is really important in terms of your mental health and it also creates deeper relationships because then you can say the hard things and be vulnerable and real. That’s where closeness and intimacy happens, so it’s really important in all relationships, including with children. We don’t put our issues on children, but we do need to be clear and open with them, and be authentic so they can feel and trust our hearts.
Starting Parental Counseling in Austin, TX
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