How can I reduce power struggles using GD? - Mothering Forums

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#1 of 11 Old 07-08-2011, 07:46 AM - Thread Starter
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My oldest DD has entered a stage that I can't seem to figure out, and it is driving me crazy! The root of the issue is she has decided she is the "boss" of the family and this is causing quite a few conflicts.

For example, yesterday she ran from me in a parking lot, right behind a running car. Thankfully, they pulled through forward rather than reversing, but it stopped my heart. I was frightened, and told my DD that her behavior means I cannot take her on errands, and that people don't look for kids running alone in parking lots because they are supposed to be with adults. Her answer? "I don't want to hold your hand. You need to tell them to watch for me."eyesroll.gif. I answered that because she ran from me, I was taking away one of her TV privlagea for the day. Cue a screaming, crying, tantrum about how she doesn't want a mom like me, I have no right to take away her TV, etc. Interestingly enough, when DH got home and offered to turn on a show for her, she told him about losing the privilege for running in the parking lot. So I suppose it worked, but gosh the tantrum!

The day before, at 9:30: DD: "Get me some chocolate milk and turn on a show for me."
Me: "Chocolate milk is for after lunchtime, you can have some then. And no, you cannot have a show now because you already had your morning show. You get another show after lunchtime."
DD then makes what I consider to be her frustrated noise, which is a sound of pure exasperation somewhere between a humph and a screem. Then she yells "Get me my chocolate milk now!".
Me: "No chocolate milk. You can have regular milk, or water. Would you like a straw? Cup with a lid?"
DD shreaks then screams "I want chocolate milk! When your kid tells you to do something you have to do it!"
Me: "Please don't yell. I don't like it. My job as your mom is to help keep you healthy, and too much chocolate milk isn't healthy."
DD, still yelling: "It is!"
Me: "no, it is not."
At this point DD screams and runs away crying. I, of course, feel like the Devil incarnate for being not just giving her the milk, but I don't want a sugared up TV zombie for a child, you know?

Last night at bedtime, I asked her to brush her teeth and then I would read her a story.
DD "you brush my teeth."
Me "sorry, I need to put The baby to bed, but if you do it we will be ready for stories once the baby is sleeping."
DD "I can't brush my teeth. You need to do it."
Me: "you brushed them yourself last night and did a good job. Please do it while I get the baby to bed."
DH "I will help you."
DD screams "not you! Mommy!!"
Me: "Once your teeth are brushed, I will read to you."
I proceeded to put the baby to bed. DD proceeded to have a total meltdown tantrum on the bathroom floor. DH tried to help her once again, but she just screams at him. I couldn't help until after the baby was in bed, about 20 minutes later. She calmed fairly quickly once I was there, and we talked about her behavior. She said "having my teeth brushed makes me feel like family.". This of course made me feel terrible, and shows me that she is feeling a lack of attention due to the baby. I brushed her teeth, did the story, and put her to bed.

I guess lately I just feel like she doesn't listen to me or do what i say at all. If I say pick up your toys, she says "you can do it". Same for buckling into car seats, putting dishes in the sink, etc. Everything is a battle. If the consequence isn't clear, nothing gets done. I feel like I am making threats all day long. (loss of privilege, loss of toy, no dessert, etc.)

As a child i was terrified to defy my parents because they spanked. I don't want to raise my child to fear me, but I'm feeling at this point like i don't even have her respect. What can I do to help her understand that I am the parent here and responsible for making and enforcing rules? I feel like the constant threats are not teaching her an internal locus of control, but otherwise I am totally out of control and DD would be watching TV all day, eating sugar, and getting hit by cars. Help! greensad.gif

CD'ing, homebirthing, milk making school teacher. Supporting my family on my income and trying to get out of debt in 2013!
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#2 of 11 Old 07-08-2011, 10:10 AM
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How old it the baby? I'm wondering if dd is feeling like the second fiddle, and is trying anything (even misbehavior) to get more of your attention. It's hard for a 4-yr-old to cope with no longer being the Center of the Universe!


BUT... she no longer IS the center of your attention - and she shouldn't be. It's a tough transition - espcially since she's at an age where she would be testing limits, whether you have a new baby or not.


I am not a big fan of punishment (like taking away TV time for running in the parking lot). I prefer logical or natural consequences - and the logical consequence of running away from you is that she doesn't accompany you on errands for a while, or she has to ride in a stroller in the parking lot - something tied to the behavior.


The chocolate milk and brushing incidents? I think you handled them fine. Our job is not to prevent tantrums - that would be the easy way out! Our job is to acknowledge feelings of frustration and anger, while maintaining reasonable and consistent rules. You don't need to make threats, but you do need to follow through with what you say (such as your one TV show limit). She knows the rules, they are the same from day to day - she doesn't have to like them, but eventually she'll figure out that you mean business, and that the tantrums are a waste of energy.

If the chips are down, the buffalo is empty.

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#3 of 11 Old 07-08-2011, 10:43 AM
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First, I'm assuming she's somewhere in the neighborhood of 3.5 to 4 or there abouts?

One way to reduce the number of power struggles is to save power struggles for only the most important things. You'll have to decide what those are, but if things are not very important, let her have it's way. It sounds counterproductive on its face, but at that age kids start having a huge need for autonomy, and if she gets that autonomy wherever possible, it will hopefully make her fight less at other times. If she's only allowed a certain amount of chocolate milk a day, you could try to make up the chocolate milk early and put it in a special place and let her deicde when to have it instead of being picky about when, for instance, although in that case it might just make the tantrum about her having had all of her allotted chocolate milk instead of when she gets chocolate milk. Still, put as many things within her control as practical. If she doesn't want to wear a sweater but you think it's chilly, don't make her wear a sweater, and just bring one along in case she gets cold, for instance. Basically, really try to ask yourself how important something is before not letting her have her way. This is the age where they do start making a lot of their own decisions, and in some ways it's a learning process for us as well as them what they can handle and what they can't handle deciding.

Those kinds of things will hopefully let you save your strength for the times where something is very important. Because she will have some tantrums before she learns that it's futile and tantrums don't help. It's part of the learning process, and not so much bad behavior as much as her learning a difficult lesson. Just wait out the tantrum and try to endure the phase.

I also agree with the "how old is the baby" issue. My older dd was really good about the baby until she was a few months old, and then all of a sudden got jealous when she realized the baby had changed her whole life FOREVER.
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#4 of 11 Old 07-08-2011, 10:58 AM
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Yes part of this is the age (limit testing) and part of it the new sibling - as the parent of an only, I'll let others speak to that part - You might like Becky Bailey's Avoiding Power Struggles (can get it in CD and listen in the car!) I remember feeling like I was doling out an endless stream of consequences at that age....but it does pass...more or less depending on your child's temperment - my dd is very strong willed and rather impulsive so she still has challenges 'listening' but she doesn't test nearly to the extent she used to (she's 7) - I'm sure it will come around again eventually...


To avoid power struggles I try hard to refrain from ever getting into a situation where I need to MAKE dd do something - instead I lay out the choices and the consequences


You can clean up the toys by supper time or I will do it and  those I have to pick up with go away for a while..For my dd I needed to give her control over how and when - and yes she chose not to at times but I followed through on my promise and took that chance to get rid of some of the JUNK that kids somehow always accumulate...


For getting ready for bed, which she didn't refuse to do but took FOREVER - I gave her a visual timer (shows time remaining in red) and she knew if she wanted a story she needed to be done 'on time' - otherwise she was out of luck - This was a strong motivator for her and I think SEEING the time she had (which was always generous IMO) helped alot - I was nearby for help and attention but she does what she needs to on her own....

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#5 of 11 Old 07-08-2011, 08:55 PM
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Is she 4?  That totally sounds like 4yo behaviour! 


Patience mama, you are doing well and this phase will pass. 


Like a pp I tend to shy away from punishments (the no tv thing).  In the scenario you describe I would have a) not been shy to show her how terrified I was in the moment, and b) insisted on hand-holding in the parking lot for the foreseeable future. 


ETA something I have found with my kids is if there's something that I feel I need to control tightly (chocolate milk timing, tv watching) it is sometimes easier just not to have that factor in our lives for the time being.  For example, ds was getting really out-of-control tantrummy about tv.  We were ok with limited screen time, but in pretty small doses.  It was becoming a nightmare though, with him asking for it all the time, begging for it, screaming for it, screaming when it was time to turn it off, etc.  No choice-giving that we were ok with (like "you can watch you half hour show now, or after lunch") was helping the matter, and we were unwilling to increase screen time.  So we ended up pulling the plug.  It took only a few rough days and since then life has been waaaay better.  I guess I'm exaggerating, but I'd almost say that's the best parenting choice we've ever made!  It made that much of an impact.  Anyway, I thought I'd toss that out there.  If the one cup of chocolate milk (for ex.) becomes some horrible daily power struggle, complete with begging and tears, then maybe it's better to just not have chocolate milk in the house for a while.  Not sure if I'm expressing myself very well, but i hope you get what I'm trying to say.  Obviously I'm talking about things that become on-going issues...

Kate, mom to 7 year old Djuna and 4 yr old Alden. Missing our good friend Hal the cat who died June 2, 2010

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#6 of 11 Old 07-09-2011, 05:19 AM
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The thing that has helped me most is to remember "connect before you correct", always work on the connection first then the discipline. Set up a few rules/boundaries that you will be willing to fight on, anytime and anywhere so choose carefully, and let the rest be up for negotiation. Model the behaviors you want to see in her, I want my kids to listen because they respect me not because I said so/fear of consequences. To work on connection I highly recommend nvc:




Here are some alternate ways to handle the specific situations you mentioned:


*Let her decide when to get her 1 chocolate milk a day. This doesn't seem worth the fight imho, and it gives her some autonomy. Same thing with the tv , does it really matter when she gets her 2 tv shows or how far spaced out they are?


*Let her decide whether to hold your hand/shirt/purse/cart... or if you think she's ready walk next to you. Show her how much it scares you when she runs out in the road, demonstrate this at home with a prop if needed(I've heard of using a watermelon).


*Can you brush her teeth/story before baby goes down? Is she getting enough 1-on-1 time with you? This sounds like a wanting mama's attention issue to me.

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#7 of 11 Old 07-09-2011, 12:03 PM
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I first heard the "connect before you correct" thing here on the GD forums many moons ago, and then again in Pam Leo's book.  I absolutely second the recommendation of NVC and "Respectful Parents, Respectful Kids."  I've found that in the cases of power struggles (at least with my four kids), it usually means that I'm not getting my child's motivation or understanding where they're coming from.  Usually it's not a power struggle just to annoy me, but they're trying to communicate something to me.  


For example,  I had big big issues with DS1 for the longest time.  Whenever he got in trouble, he would react, sometimes violently.  I couldn't figure out why.  Finally (and yes..I'm slow) I got him to talk about why he was so upset.  It turned out he felt that he was being punished more harshly than his younger brother for the same things.  He might well have been, I don't know.  So, we came up with an "if/then" chart--a you choose the action, you choose the consequences type thing.  Now, there's no wondering what the consequence is for biting your sibling (assuming you're old enough to know better). (Note: consequences can be GD in nature, or logical, or whatever--you choose.)  Even the child in question can see what will happen.  It's increased our consistency...reduced conflict...and reduced feelings of unfairness.



Mom to DS(8), DS(6), DD(4), and DS(1).  "Kids do as well as they can."

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#8 of 11 Old 07-09-2011, 09:44 PM - Thread Starter
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Thanks for the tips ladies. I'm hoping this is a stage that will pass quickly!

Some people have asked about baby. She will be 11 months next week. So getting old enough to play with, but still getting special mommy time like nursing and diaper changes.

I talked with her a few times since I posted last, and it sounds like she is a little lonely since I haven't been good about arranging playmates lately and preschool is out for summer, and she was feeling like she wasn't getting enough time with me without baby there too. So I have been working on doing better from an activity/entertainment/interaction level and trying to give her some daily mommy time. Her behavior has improved a bit, but she still has what my husband jokingly calls "issues with authority" and "rebellions against governance." Haha.eyesroll.gif

I know loss of TV time is a punitive punishment, but sometimes I feel like really big things need to be enforced punitively. I'm certain this comes from my do what is right not because you want to, but because bad things will happen if you don't. I struggle with only doing natural consequences for all things, because that isn't the way the world always works. After all, how can locking someone in a cage be a natural consequence for anything? And I fear that the natural consequence for running in a parking lot is getting hit by a car, and I am obviously not willing to go there. Most of the time I do pretty well. Don't pick up your toys? Mommy will and mommy gets to keep them for awhile. Don't want to eat your dinner? Fine, maybe be hungry later and have to wait for the next snack/meal. But the tantrums and selective hearing drive me crazy.

Thanks again for the tips and pointers. Glad to know I am not the only one dealing with a shrieking four year old.

CD'ing, homebirthing, milk making school teacher. Supporting my family on my income and trying to get out of debt in 2013!
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#9 of 11 Old 07-10-2011, 11:20 AM
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Ds will be 4 in aug. Our housemates just adopted a newborn so not exactly the same as the new baby being with the same parents, but we are all part of the same household.

I notice the parents of the newborn requiring a lot more from ds than they did 5 weeks ago. Expecting a higher level of participation, responsibility, impulse control, etc. They see him as this big kid that should be able to do xyz and should *just do it* when asked, because he is physically capable or has done it in the past.

However, he's still just a little kid himself. He (of course) has issues with impulse control. He (of course) acts crazy sometimes. He needs help getting dressed or going to the bathroom although he has done those things alone.

He is my only child so I can see that he is still a baby in many ways. They see this giant kid who *should* be able to do things.

I think sometimes when there is a new younger kid/baby it is easy to see the older one as so much older and more capable. But we have to remember that they still have a lot of needs. Some of the power struggles might be trying to figure out what things you think she should be able to do/decide vs what she thinks those things are. (you want her to brush her teeth independently, but she wants to be able to regulate chocolate milk intake independently. Etc)
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#10 of 11 Old 07-10-2011, 12:24 PM
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I have a four year old too and she is very stubborn and strong willed as well so I get it. For me what worked with regards to running in the parking lot or running away in general was to always have the stroller available (either a double or a single but plan on wearing the baby), and then let her know she holds hands or rides in the stroller and if she tries to run or refuses to hold hands you put her right into the stroller and strap her in. She'll probably cry or tantrum, but she's safe and it at least is a logical consequence. I always just say "I need you in the stroller so I can keep you safe" I think consistency helps too. Ignore the tantrum she'll grow out of it eventually, but just make sure your expectations are really clear.

Jennifer, mama to darling dancing Juliette, and sweet baby Jameson
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#11 of 11 Old 07-10-2011, 02:21 PM
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Originally Posted by tbone_kneegrabber View Post

 I think sometimes when there is a new younger kid/baby it is easy to see the older one as so much older and more capable. But we have to remember that they still have a lot of needs. Some of the power struggles might be trying to figure out what things you think she should be able to do/decide vs what she thinks those things are. (you want her to brush her teeth independently, but she wants to be able to regulate chocolate milk intake independently. Etc)

YES!! One thing I learned to do is to remind myself that DS is only 5... or only 7.... or whatever... (I'd say to myself, "Sami is only 5") and that they were still a little kid as well.  I tended to expect my 5 year old to act a lot more mature than I would any other 5 year old on the street.  


Mom to DS(8), DS(6), DD(4), and DS(1).  "Kids do as well as they can."

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