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Power Struggles


All relationships have undercurrents of a power struggle. In the parent-child relationship this power struggle quickly becomes too difficult to handle.


It was a cold winter morning. Mother was getting 2 year-old Mishtu ready. They had to go out shopping. She chose a lovely red cap and put it on Mishtu.

She busied herself getting ready, and when looked up again, she saw Mishtu's cap on the bed. She picked it up and put it back on his head. Then she went to wear her sandals. When she came back she found her son playing merrily but his cap was off again. Mama pulled the cap on firmly and gave him a warning look. Mishtu immediately pulled out the cap with a yell and threw it on the floor.

The battle had begun.


What gives rise to power struggles?

For children it is a stage of development. They try to seek greater self-control and be more assertive about their likes and dislikes. Although the situation arises with children of all ages, it is more evident at the age of two and then again in adolescence. Also, children are all temperamentally different. Some are born with stronger instincts to grab control at a younger age-these are our future CEOs. Physical exhaustion such as that on a long shopping trip, hunger or sleep could also make a child irritable. Unable to express himself, the child starts making unreasonable demands.

Parents on the other feel that they know better and children ought to obey. True, parents are usually correct if one considers the issues at stake. But knowingly or unknowingly these battles acquire an ugly shape where emotions run higher than the issue.

A power struggle is nothing but a battle for control. Both parent and child want to decide what to wear, where to go or what to eat. Each seeks the upper hand. The child demands control beyond his age or capabilities and the parents are unwilling to cede. All this time the crux of the matter is the not object under dispute but a struggle against subordination.

All parents face power struggles at some point. Little do we realize that these frequent squabbles gradually get routine and spoil our relationship with our children. We are left wondering as to whether we are bad parents or our children are difficult. These struggles leave us with a sense of disappointment that we have not been gifted with obedient children.


How to cope

Begging, bribing, insisting, threatening may work once or twice but are bound to fail subsequently. In order to find a solution it is important to be less controlling. Consider whether a certain point of contention affects the health, safety and well-being of your child. Then decide if you should be firm.


Don't give in

There are certain rules that just cannot be broken. You cannot allow your three year old to play with a pair of scissors, no matter what!


Give in

Does your child want to wear something you hate? Let him. It doesn't harm him in any way. Put your foot down for more serious issues.


Meet your child halfway

Certain issues are negotiable. Take junk food for instance. Let your child know he can eat that burger for lunch on the condition that he eats greens for dinner.
Give choices
"Do you want to clean up your room now, before you go to play, or do you want to clean it up after you return from the playground, at 7:30?" Don't put your foot down and say "Clean it up right this minute."

What about Mishtu? Keep the cap in your bag. Once he feels cold, put it on. It is more likely to stay on.


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