Since springtime is about growth, renewal and life, it’s the perfect time to renew and enliven your relationship with play. Play helps children in so many ways. Here’s how it can be used as a parenting tool to stop power struggles.
Real life power struggle scenario:
My boys were playing in the Childwatch room at the YMCA with a sweet young boy. His mom and I came to pick up our kids after working out. Our boys were having so much fun together that our new friend did not want to go. At first he refused to put away toys and started to get upset. I said, “Hey, let’s play a game. Let’s see which dinosaurs win the race jumping into the bin!” He immediately got excited about playing the game and the boys put away all the dinosaurs laughing while having fun. Next I said, “who wants to push the dinosaur train to the shelf? Whoo-whoo!” All boys took a side pushing the box of dinosaurs together and lifted the box on to the shelf. Next the boy refused to put his slippers on. His mom spent some time trying to convince him to put them on and with each minute, his stubbornness began to grow stronger and stronger. I finally stepped in saying, “Do you know how an inch-worm moves?” This immediately stopped his tantrum. I put my finger down near his slipper and inched it along showing him. I asked him playfully, “Can your toes walk like an inchworm into your slippers?” He smiled liking the idea of his toes walking like an inchworm and in seconds both slippers we on his feet. I assured him that we would see him soon and play with him again. He said, “Okay” and left with his mom without a struggle.
How did I know how to help this child? I am not a miracle mom who is just magical with children (there are some who are, but that is not me). The truth is, I had just started reading a book called Playful Parenting by child psychologist Lawrence J. Cohen, PhD. He talks about stopping power struggles in this way, which does not come naturally to many parents, including me. I often step back and see myself getting caught up in the “treadmill of life”, focused on completing tasks that I have for the day. I remember thinking when I was a young child, “why are adults so serious? They can do anything they want, so why don’t they choose to have fun?” My answer to that now is, we adults often forget we have the choice to make life fun.
Some parents might say, “I don’t have time to play every time my child gets upset.” Or “the child should just learn to listen.” Or “I don’t want to be too lenient with my child or he/she will think he can get away with everything.” Cohen says that when a young child is locked in a power struggle, his/her mind does not have the ability to learn or reason. The child becomes mentally focused on what they want (or don’t want), making them more and more distraught and feeling more and more isolated. In this isolation, the child feels unloved and misunderstood. This sets up an antagonistic relationship with the parent, does not make the child want to behave the next time, only more resentful, especially if more reprimanding occurs. This resentment will be released later as seemingly unreasonable, bad behavior, passive aggressive behavior or powerlessly giving up in hopeless dissociation. What works to break the child’s negative focus is to connect with the child. You can try to sit a child down to talk with him/her or hug him or try to look her in the eye, but in many cases, the child will turn away. Playfully connecting breaks down that wall the child protectively builds in a light and easy way. It is quick, quicker than arguing or trying to convince your child to behave. It changes that antagonistic relationship to make them feel like you are on the same team. Playing and laughing together makes them feel loved rather than disciplining him/her for having emotions. Children release feelings through play. Instead of talking things out, they play through their feelings to work through their emotions and that helps them to let things go.
Ways To Stop A Power Struggle:
-Connect through play.
-Make the child laugh.
-Turn it into a game or something fun.
-Do something silly or ridiculous to make them laugh or distract them.
-Talk to them in playful way.
-Use laughing together as a way to connect.
After making them laugh and play, they will be open to listening to your direction or request and feel happy to do what you ask. It works like magic!
Image Credit: Happy-Bandits