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Defusing a Power Struggle—Good Parenting

Dear Dr. Debbie,

Everything seems to provoke an argument from my six-year-old.

In the morning, I tell him how to dress, according to the weather, but he’ll insist on an outfit that doesn’t fit the forecast. At first I can be calm – offering two alternatives to choose from, but it quickly escalates because . . . the colors don’t go together, the collar is too tight, no pockets on the pants, whatever. Getting out the door on time doesn’t concern him until I’m raising my voice and sounding like the mother I never wanted to be.
Last year with him was much more pleasant. He was so agreeable! He even took well to having a new baby sister. Should I just resolve to “choose my battles” rather than hold my ground every time he challenges me?

Struggling Not to Abuse my Power

Dear SNAP,

Age six can be ornery. They like to be right, even when it wouldn’t seem to matter. He may also have additional stress factors going on – that little sister may be encroaching his play territory of Lego building / markers and paper / toy cars; school may be adding pressure to his day to follow directions and master demanding academic tasks; a friendship that was previously smooth may have turned rocky (because the friend is also six-years-old). Or maybe the realities of family life have him (or you) coming up short on: sleep, exercise, good nutrition, and or family fun. If so, make adjustments accordingly to keep him, and you, in less volatile moods. It’s hard for him to see, when both of you have swords drawn, that you just want what’s best for him.

Anticipate the conflicts that cause him to challenge you. Have a planning meeting with him during a calm moment about an issue that has caused friction between you. As you’ve probably noticed, when you get agitated it only fuels his fire. If you’re feeling rushed in the morning this could trigger his resistance to cooperating. You could include checking the weather as part of his peaceful bedtime routine, between teeth brushing and story reading, to help him lay out an outfit for the morning.

In general, reliable family routines and consistent house rules can minimize conflicts because, well, “it’s just how we do things.” Pick the best time of day or week for tasks that are difficult for him – and or are important to you. Give him predictability to avoid recurrent battles, such as how many hours of screen time he has in a day (up to two hours is plenty, and unused hours don’t carry over).

Since getting dressed in the morning is a trouble spot, make standard associations he can follow. This could include the requirement to wear two layers on his torso under his jacket if the temperature, factoring in wind chill, is below 50 degrees F. Include him in your weather check – he can learn to read the forecast from your cell phone or get in the habit of asking Google or Alexa as he gets ready for bed.

A Reasonable Point of View
The more you can anticipate, and understand, his potential battles, the easier it will be to head them off. You can even include him in a thoughtful evaluation of the patterns surrounding the quarrels between you. Maybe mornings just don’t work for the two of you for effective conflict resolution. If so, eliminate decision-making at that time with smarter time management. (See the recommendation above for settling the clothing issue the evening before). Maybe the household flow of laundry doesn’t give him enough weather-appropriate clean clothes to choose from. If so, have him help you tighten up the weekly chore chart, with more active participation from him, to keep the laundry operation up-to-speed. Or maybe he is tuned into some fashion criteria among his social set you are unaware of. Let him guide you toward a compromise that meets your weather-based standard but takes into account his reasons for his choices, which may include the current peer trends by which he is judged.

To avoid an escalation of emotions, use the strategy of agreeing that he is right. His preference (of a particular shirt, or to engage in a particular activity, or to avoid a particular activity) is indeed, his preference. Add a statement or two about why, from your best appraisal of his point of view, this would be his choice at this time. For example, “You’ve had a long day at school, so you really would rather do something more active than your spelling homework when you first get home.” When he agrees that you’ve correctly captured his point of view, he will understand that you are, in fact, his biggest supporter. Now you can work as a team to resolve a recurrent conflict while you are both calm and aren’t embroiled in it.

Empathy is the best way to neutralize a would-be opponent.

Dr. Debbie

Click here for more parenting advice by Debbie Wood.

What do you think? Email your comments or questions to Dr. Debbie at editor[at]chesapeakefamily.com



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