1. Avoid power struggles by using routines and rules. That way you are not bossing them around, it’s just that “The schedule is to lights-out at 8pm. If you finish things in time, we’ll have time for two books,” or “In this house, everyone must finish homework before screen time.” The parent stops being the bad guy.
2. Remember that strong-willed kids are experiential learners. This means they have to see for themselves if the stove is hot. So unless you’re worried about serious injury, it’s more effective to let them learn through experience, instead of trying to control them. And you can expect your strong-willed child to test your limits repeatedly–that’s how she learns. Once you know that, it’s easier to stay calm and avoid wear and tear on your relationship–and your nerves.
3. Your child wants mastery more than anything. Let her take charge of her own activities. Don’t nag at her to clean her desk “Is there anything that needs to be organized before the next day?” If she looks blank, give her a short list: “Every evening we make beds, clean desk and ready the backpack. Now, what do you still need to do before we hit the bed?” Kids who feel more independent and in charge of themselves will have less need to oppose. They may take responsibility early.
4. Give your child choices. If you give orders, he will almost certainly bristle. If you offer a choice, he feels like the master of his own destiny. Of course, only offer choices you can live with and don’t let yourself get resentful by handing away your power. If going to the dentist is non-negotiable and he wants to keep watching tv, an appropriate choice is: “Do you want to leave now or in ten minutes? Okay, ten minutes then and please no fuss. Hope you will switch tv off 2 minutes early so we are not late.”
5. Give decision-making authority over their body. “I note you don’t want to wear your blazer today. It’s cold so I am definitely wearing mine. You are your own boss but I’m afraid that you will be cold once we are outside, and I won’t want to come back to the house again. How about I put yours in the backpack in case you change your mind later?” Once she won’t lose face by wearing her jacket, she’ll be begging for it once she gets cold. It’s just hard for her to imagine feeling cold when she’s so warm right now in the house, and a jacket seems like such a hassle. You don’t want to undermine that self-confidence, just teach her that there’s no shame in letting new information change her mind.
6. Don’t push him into opposing you. Force always creates “push-back” – this is true with humans of all ages. If you take a hard and fast position, you can easily push your child into defying you, just to prove a point. You’ll know when it’s a power struggle and you’re invested in winning. Just stop, take a breath, and remind yourself that winning a battle with your child always sets you up to lose what’s most important: the relationship. When in doubt say “Ok, you can decide this for yourself.” If he can’t, then say what part of it he can decide, or find another way for him to meet his need for autonomy without compromising his health or safety.
See Part 2