Maintain parental authority under challenging circumstances

  • By Janice D’Arcy The Washington Post
  • Friday, July 20, 2012 5:38pm
  • Life

Summertime for families is already primed to be a battleground, particularly because kids often do better with structure. Add to it the epic heat and, for some areas, storm damage, and behavior can quickly devolve.

Susan Stiffelman has some advice. She’s an expert on family dynamics who is a popular speaker on the subject and the author of the recently published “Parenting Without Power Struggles: Raising Joyful, Resilient Kids While Staying Cool, Calm and Connected.”

Stiffelman is adamant that it’s best for all involved if a parent maintains a position of authority during skirmishes.

Here’s an excerpt from our Q&A:

Q: What is your philosophy on how a parent can maintain the authority role in the face of challenges?

A: There are four basic elements in my approach which support a parent being calmly and confidently in charge.

The first is attachment and connection. When kids feel close to us — when they know that we like them and enjoy their company — they’re naturally inclined to cooperate rather than resist and negotiate.

By inviting a child to spend time with you before she asks, or acknowledging something you love about them, you help prevent those power struggles that can wear you down.

The second is … parenting from strength, rather than neediness and desperation. I counsel parents to avoid making requests that begin with, “I need you to,” because it puts the child in the position of either satisfying our need, or creating drama around resisting it.

The third is helping kids handle frustration so that it doesn’t turn into anger and aggression. As tough as it is to see a child struggle with disappointment, it’s better to help him feel his sadness than it is to try to talk him out of his unhappy feelings or fix his problem.

And finally, I teach parents to stay cool and calm, rather than turning on what I affectionately refer to as “Mom TV.”

We often encourage our kids to engage in power struggles with us because our reactions are so interesting and dramatic. By looking at what we’re making our child’s behavior mean and not taking it personally, we can stay out of the drama, negotiations and battles that allow power struggles to happen.

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