Things can become chaotic in our lives, or at the very least, overwhelming at times and in those moments, we search for a sense of power and control. When we focus on what we have control over in times of distress we are better able to manage our mood, our thinking, and our actions. When we have power and control, we feel safe. This is no different for children.
Children often attempt to control their environment which, when they are unsuccessful, can lead to them displaying negative moods and behaviors. A helpful way to guide your child through difficult moments is to share power with them when you feel it is appropriate. Continuing to use this technique even when the child is not in distress can also prevent negative situations from occurring.
When I talk about sharing power and control, I mean giving your child some say over what occurs in their day-to-day life. You are the parent or caregiver, so you remain “the boss” in the situation however you can give the child control in small ways. Examples of shared power include allowing your child to choose between two outfits, allowing them to choose between two activities, giving them the option to do chores now or later, etc.
When your child is in distress, try to talk in a calm and understanding tone; your child wants to feel heard. When you feel you’ve gotten all of the information they want to share with you, make a statement of shared power and solve the problem together. For example, if your child is refusing to go to bed, let them talk to you about their thoughts and feelings for a moment. Once you have all of the information you can say something like this: “I completely understand. The problem is that it’s bedtime and we need to get ready for bed and lay down. So, what do you think we should do about this?” Your child has the opportunity to share power with you in that moment.
Now, I understand that some of you are reading this and thinking of several scenarios in your mind where, despite sharing power, your child continues to be defiant or emotional and you can feel your patience thinning. Yes, this will still occur at times and yes, no parenting tool works 100% of the time and yes, it is extremely hard to stay calm when you are being screamed at for a long period of time by your child. You are not alone. No parent is perfect, and no child is perfect; just do the best you can.
Anytime you put a new parenting tool in place there is a chance your child will test it to see if you are going to follow through with what you are saying will happen, whether it is a reward or a consequence. The goal is to use the sharing power tool as often as you can. Give praise when your child responds well and appropriate consequences when they choose not to. Once the entire family is used to speaking with one another this way it will just become a part of the daily routine.
Remember that your child does not have the skills that you do and sharing power with them engages them in learning those skills. Skill building is occurring when you are helping them regulate their mood, when you are talking through their thinking with them, and when you are helping them problem solve to take the right actions. Sharing power helps your child grow and develop.