First thing this morning, N and I had a classic, Mom-versus-kid power struggle. It began with a mess of toys on the floor; gradually escalated into an back-and-forth in which I demanded that she pick them up and she refused; and ended when I got angry, after which she finally began picking up her toys.
When it was over, I felt discouraged—although I had “won” the battle, it sure didn’t feel like it. It felt as though I had lost.
When I was a kid, there was no question who was in control—definitely my parents. I think most parents of their generation felt that kids should be taught to behave and respect authority, and they disciplined their kids with that goal in mind.
Parents of our generation also value good behavior and respect for authority. But we have other goals too—to help our children become confident, competent people who respect themselves and others. We want our children to be happy and feel good about themselves. I’m sure our parents wanted those things too, but then it was a different world with a different understanding of how to help children grow into contented, self-assured adults.
In our time, we have gained new understandings of how children develop, which has led to experts offering new methods of discipline. My personal favorite is the Positive Discipline method by Dr. Jane Nelson—she has a great series of books and her website (www.positivediscipline.com) includes instructive videos as well as letters from parents with very familiar-sounding pleas for help.
Dr. Nelson gives many suggestions—she calls them “tools”—for identifying the reasons behind a child’s misbehavior and handling it in a way that doesn’t make the child feel bad about herself.
I thought a lot about our “power struggle” this morning. At first, I asked N nicely several times to pick up the toys, but she ignored me. I didn’t use any of Dr. Nelson’s “tools” and instead went straight to demanding that she pick up the toys—which certainly got her attention, but it certainly didn’t help matters. She became stubborn and refused to pick them up, at which point I got angry.
One of Dr. Nelson’s parental “tools” is humor. What if I had gotten her attention with humor instead of demands and anger? I could have easily turned into the tickle monster who would get her until she started picking up the toys—or I could have fallen to the ground dramatically and said, “Woe is me! The toys are making a mess! N, whatever will we do?”
It’s hard to be that creative all the time, especially when we are in a hurry to get out the door in the morning. It’s hard to keep our emotions in check when our kids are pushing buttons we didn’t even know we had. But kids are wonderfully forgiving of our mistakes—after this morning’s meltdown I apologized to N for getting angry, and she hugged me and replied, “Best friends!” In that moment, I hoped she would stay three years old forever!