Kids need limits. Every bit of philosophy and child development studies point to this very simple fact. Without limits, without boundaries, children are unable to feel secure.
A child without rules acts out randomly, just to see what will happen. They take unnecessary risks, or may refuse to take any at all. The entire focus of their behavior is simply to see what they can get away with – to understand the rules of those around them.
What’s important to keep in mind is that clear rules and consequences let the child know:
- how things should be,
- how they can behave, and
- what’s acceptable.
Adults are quick to take for granted that they’ve spent their life living and developing their own set of ethics and morals. Their compass is set. Kids don’t even know where to begin when developing a set of rules to live by, and must be given one by their parents.
Putting Your Foot Down
The power struggle can occur in children as young as two. We may not recognize it at first for what it is, even if we’re doing our best to raise our children in an environment with rules and boundaries.
When it does happen, though, some parents may be unwilling or unable to put their foot down. To them, a “power struggle” means needing to overpowering your child, to rage and yell and intimidate until they see things your way.
Nothing could be further from the truth.
When you parent through intimidation, you teach your children only that they should be afraid of you. They don’t learn the lessons necessary to navigate their way through life. You don’t teach that you’re right, only that you’re not to be crossed. That’s what bullies do.
Power Without the Struggle
So what then can parents do? There are options for both those without the backbone to set limits, and those who can but seem to find themselves in endless battles with their willful young ones.
1. Sidestep the battle.
When you tell your child the rules or to do something (go clean your room) and they push back, there’s no need to meet them head-to-head. Give your child options. Do they want to make their bed first or clean up their clothes? By giving options, you give them a sense of control despite the fact they’re still doing what you’re asking of them.
2. Make them responsible for their mistakes.
Power struggles aren’t always yelling and fits. It can be subtle, with the youngster charming their way through getting what they want. Don’t tell them to clean up after themselves, and then huff and do it anyway. This only teaches them they can get away with it if they ignore you long enough.
3. Pick your battles.
Just because your kid wants to fight doesn’t mean you have to. When you have clear rules and consequences, the consequences do the fighting for you. No enforcement needed. No homework means no going out, period, and leave it at that.