It always starts out so kind, patient, and innocent, the way I envisioned myself being as a mom. I’ll say things like, “Hey bud, your game time is up, can you please turn it off?” No response.
My heart starts racing, am I being too nice, maybe I need to be a little more firm to get him to actually listen. “Ok, your timer is up, you promised to get off, turn it off now please”
“But mom I need 5 more minutes! I am going to finish this game! No bud, it is time to get off, we have chores to do and gymnastics tonight, we aren’t going to have time to do everything if you don’t get off right now.
Once again, no response.
The fuse blows and I feel like I’m part of the scene in inside out where my anger has risen, I feel out of options, stressed, and out of options other than to put the foot down!
“You’re done, GET OFF NOW!”
That’s when it all erupts. I’m on fire, he reacts, the power struggle begins and it’s all about who can be bigger, who can be louder, and who can hold their ground the longest. It’s never pretty and ends up with threats from both of us, feelings hurt, and everyone ends feeling defeated.
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The Truth of Power Struggles
As much as I’d like to say this was a one-time event, the truth is that it happened often many different times with all three of my kids. Like any mom, I was tired of always fighting, and didn’t want to have to continue like that to get my kids to listen to me. I needed to stop power struggles.
Was it all too much to ask?
I soon found this phrase by Cynthia Tobias “if you want a strong willed child to do something, asking a question that assumes the best in them almost always results in them moving towards what you want them to do.”
Really? But I was already asking questions! Why wasn’t it working for me? I then realized, I wasn’t asking the right questions.
The questions I was asking were inherently flawed for these reasons.
- They all encouraged a yes/no response
- Which meant my kid could either submit to me or assert their opinion
- Which lead to lots of opinions being asserted
- And nobody felt like they had power
- Which led to everyone fighting to feel like they had power
After a lot of trial and error, I discovered these which I now want to share with you.
7 Magic Questions to Stop Power Struggles
“Is it safe?”
Before crossing a street instead of saying, look both ways (which could result in a yes or no response) I ask my 4 year old “is it safe to cross?” which reminds her of the protocol and gives her power while still maintaining my expectations of not running into the street.
“When can you ____?”
Asking my son “when can you take out the trash” gently reminds him of his chore, and puts him in the responsible seat to actually make a verbal commitment for when it will be done. Again, I’m not demanding or taking away his power, he has the power but is still doing what is expected of him. Again win!
“What can you do for ____?”
Instead of telling my kid what he should or shouldn’t do (which would cause a power struggle), to console another person, I ask him to think of something he can do to help make the situation better. If he struggles to find ideas, I ask more questions until he arrives at something that feels right for him. It’s great because we all have to go through that mental process when we’ve hurt another person, so walking them through it at an early age helps give them ample practice. Win!
“What should we do?”
Whenever there is a problem or a hiccup in our day, I state the problem out loud, then ask “what should we do?” to help my kids try to find solutions. If we plan to go to ice cream then a movie but the kids decided to get off their games later than they should have, I tell them “ok the movie starts in 20 minutes, it will take us 15 minutes to drive there which means if we stop to get ice cream, we would be late to the movie and miss part of it. What should we do?” They get the opportunity to solve the problems in our home rather than having me solve them and try to get them to participate. Win!
“What do we do when____?”
I love to remind my kids of their responsibilities by asking “what do we do when we are done with dinner?”. That question is so much less threatening than “pick up your plate and take it to the sink.” As always, the question puts the power in the child’s court and helps them to problem solve. Win!
“What happens when you do ___?”
When kids need to be reminded of a consequence this one comes in handy. “What happens when you don’t buckle your seat belt?” Helps my kids dig into their memory and retrieve the set of rules we established and decide if they want to continue to pursue that course of action. Win!
“Remind me what we do before ___”
When my kids forget about a chore all I have to say is “remind me what we do before I read you stories at night?” and they remember to brush their teeth. Or a simple “remind me what we do before video games can start?” encourages them to get out their homework, empty their backpack, and be prepared for the next school day. Easy!
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These phrases may not be real magic, but they have helped me to not feel like I have to yell to be heard, they help my kids to learn how to solve their own problems and take on their own responsibilities. In my house, after all the yelling and power struggles we experienced before, these questions have truly been as close to magic as I have ever known.
With these magical questions, nobody has to fight to feel in control. I no longer carry the burden of nagging or yelling at my kids as often (let’s be honest, I’m not perfect and I do have my days), and they still get to be the assertive, wonderful, and independent children they were born to be. I call that a win!
What is your favorite tip to stop power struggles?