A child asserting herself is a normal part of development; at younger ages it can be a way of a child developing a sense of herself apart from her parents, or at older ages, developing more independent thinking. Often this behavior is the outward sign of an underlying issue that needs your input, empathy or guidance. It can be a way of testing boundaries or an attempt to gain your attention. It also can simply be a way of coping with change–the child’s way of trying to gain control when the world around him feels out of his control or is unpredictable.
As a parent, your goal is to help develop your child’s ability to communicate his ideas, negotiate and problem solve rather than just reacting! Here are some strategies to redirect power struggles into opportunities to build these important lifelong skills:
- Plan ahead with your child–use a daily and or weekly calendar to talk about what is coming up and review it daily
- Talk in advance about how things will go for specific upcoming events …. Include details–this is where your child will let you know what she doesn’t like and you can begin to problem solve in advance!
- Be clear and consistent with boundaries
- Give choices of 2 (you get to choose the choices) so that your child feels he has some say
- Take “a break” when you or your child is in a heightened state
- Make sure your child is calm before doing any negotiating or problem solving together
- Use a whiteboard or piece of paper to draw pictures or map out options
- Have a range of ways for your child to communicate her idea (drawing, talking, comic strip…)
- Avoid saying no–try to say what your child can do, not what he can’t
- Empathize with your child’s perspective (even if you don’t agree)… repeat it back to her so she then knows you understand her perspective
- Identify the emotion you think your child feels (this helps your child begin to talk about feelings rather than just reacting)
- Let your child know it is ok to have a wide range of emotions, including being angry and model or offer suggestions on acceptable ways to communicate it
- Be “perplexed” in order to engage your child in problem-solving (rather than finding solutions for him)
- Pace your day–give your child time to transition between activities.
Originally published in Maui Family Magazine.