The question below reached us through our “online hotline” button which lets anyone send a question to Lauren Levine, a local counselor — completely anonymous. The email comes in with no email address and no identifying information. We set it up this way so women would feel free to write about anything on their mind.
Question from reader:
My 4-year-old son and I have a difficult relationship. We fight so often about so many different things, from picking his room up to simple things like apologizing to his little brother. I try not to make it a power struggle, but where is the line between discipline and creating power struggle?
He is potty trained but he has started having accidents during the day. I’m beginning to wonder if this is him trying assert his control or could it be something more, and how would I know? I want a loving and more stress-free relationship but I don’t know what else to try.
“Parenting is easy” said no one EVER!!
Yes. Once a parent grabs the bait and engages in a power struggle, it’s game over. There is no “winning.” You sound like a thoughtful and caring mom. Your sense of your son having accidents as a way to exert control may be accurate. (Before making this judgment, however, I would check with primary care physicians to rule out any physical causes.)
Many moms believe that overpowering “authoritarian parenting” is the only way. This style of parenting often includes yelling, shaming and scolding and often results in a diminished sense of self and ability to feel confident in one’s own decision making. There are many more thoughtful, respectful methods of parenting. Here are some ideas:
Instead of seeing child’s ability to “push back” as bad behavior, try to understand it as a positive healthy sign of his development. Consider finding ways to support your child in feeling empowered. When he doesn’t always feel overpowered, he won’t feel the need to engage in a battle as often.
So how does one do this? Always consider offering reasonable choices — choices that you are willing and able to follow through on. Rather than dictating orders ask “this or that.” Rather than saying “Pick up all those toys now” change it to “Which toys would you like to pick up first?” Or “Which shirt would you like to wear today?” instead of “Here are your clothes. Get dressed.” Children who feel respected will disengage from the need to battle.
I often comment that when we parent by the seat of our pants we resort to punishment, but if we have a plan in place we can offer opportunity to work towards reward. And who doesn’t respond better to positive reinforcement?
This is a very short response to huge and ongoing questions.
Make sure to use resources that are available to you. Www.mommybites.com is a wonderful online resource which offers free parenting classes and advice as well as many helpful articles. Many community centers and schools offer parenting support . I often recommend a book called Peaceful Parents, Happy Kids: How to stop yelling and start connecting , by Dr. Laura Markham. It offers practical tools for parenting without a power struggle.
Don’t try and do this alone. Remember It takes a village.”
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