Our childhood experiences shape our behavior, and children devoid of a sense of belonging and self-worth often exhibit misbehaviors. In a previous post, we discussed the behavior of “overly seeking attention”.

Today, we’ll delve into another behavior pattern mentioned in the book ‘Positive Discipline’: the pursuit of power. This could manifest as a child refusing to follow instructions.

Laying the Groundwork for Healthy Parent-Child Relationships

Theoretically, if the groundwork is laid properly during the early years, power struggles should not occur in a household. In a healthy parent-child relationship, children understand the intent behind a parent’s words, a smile, or a gesture. They willingly interact with their parents and carry out the proposed activities joyfully.

Why is this so? Within the family, parents are the guardians and their decisions are to be followed, a rule generally accepted without question. Can children’s opinions be respected? Absolutely! Parents’ decisions are made with respect for their children’s views. Parents may discuss with their child and seek their opinion, but ultimately, the final decision rests with the parents.

Once a decision is made by the parents, a child does not challenge it easily. The child trusts the parents, knowing that they act in the child’s best interest. This bond, established before the age of three, minimizes power struggles later on.

Addressing Power Struggles in the Family

If a child continues their inappropriate behavior despite being told to stop, and responds defiantly or passively resists, this is likely to escalate into a power struggle between the parent and the child.

What can be done in such situations? The first and most effective response when a power-seeking child engages in a power struggle is to step back and not engage in the struggle. Engaging in a power struggle signifies a loss of authority and suggests a lack of definitive leadership in the household. Hence, it’s better to retreat, calm down, and address the issue when emotions have cooled. Once both you and the child are calm, you can collaboratively seek solutions to the problem.

Natural Consequences

Remember, it is important to establish your own actions, rather than dictating the child’s behavior. For example, if you have a rule that the child must clean up the kitchen and they refuse, you can explain that you will not cook dinner and everyone will have to eat leftovers. This is not a punishment, but a natural consequence.

In ‘Positive Discipline’, it’s crucial to distinguish between logical consequences and natural consequences. Jane Nelsen, the author, once regretted introducing the concept of logical consequences, which she initially thought were acceptable. Logical consequences are agreements like “if you do this, then I will do that”. However, many parents have gradually twisted this into a form of punishment. For example, if the child performs poorly on a test, the family vacation is canceled. This seems like a logical consequence but is essentially a punishment that can damage the unconditional love in the parent-child relationship. It can make the child feel that the relationship is not about love, but about demands and exchanges.

Exchanging correct behavior for rewards is a terrible practice. Instead, Nelsen advocates for natural consequences. For example, if you don’t cook, there is no meal. Or if you remind your child multiple times to pack their lunch and they forget, they will have to deal with being hungry at lunch or find a solution, like asking for some food from friends. This is a natural consequence.

Mindful Parenting and Positive Discipline

It’s important for children to understand that parents have their principles and boundaries, and that they may be invited to join the creative process of finding solutions to problems. As the book ‘The 3rd Alternative’ suggests, children can be encouraged to list their boundaries and then everyone can brainstorm together. It’s also important to constantly express love and care to children, which we’ve previously discussed in detail.

Children who seek power often feel unloved and believe their parents’ love for them is lacking. They may perceive their relationship with their parents as a struggle or a relationship based on pleasing their parents. This perception fuels their continuous power struggles.

Remember, discipline isn’t about punishment, but about teaching and guiding. It’s about helping children understand the consequences of their actions and the importance of respect and responsibility. This approach doesn’t just manage behavior – it nurtures the child’s character and helps them grow into competent, capable adults. This is what ‘Positive Discipline’ and mindful parenting is all about.