Podcast 005 - Parent Power
Today we are going to talk about The magic wand of parenting – Parent Power!
This is an important topic for you to be aware of because so many parents accidentally misuse this power making it run out way before it's time and or building a relationship with their child that totally relies on them (the parent) having this power forever. Which means when it naturally runs out (right about the time your child becomes a teenager!), you have nothing…no magic wand; just brute force, tough love or ostrich behaviour (i.e. bury your head in the sand).
In case you are reading and you are not currently parenting a young child; then this will still be relevant to you if you work in a position of authority… especially over children, but it could also be a boss/employee situation. So if you are a teacher, coach, leader (4-H; Cubs…), daycare worker, grandparent, referee, babysitter, police officer or boss of other people, the idea changes a little but will still be applicable. For ease of conversation I'm going to talk about it solely from the parenting perspective, but hopefully you can pull out the relevant pieces if this is not the case for you (or send me an email and I'll do my best to help).
What is Parent Power?
Parent Power is the right you have as a parent to tell your child what to do and expect them to listen, which as you likely notice – leaves a lot of room for interpretation. We are not told we have this power – it's just a given, in fact, anytime you are responsible for the well being of someone else it naturally arises, but the dynamics of it can really change depending on the age and upbringing of the people you are in charge of.
As parents we naturally have this power, except we are not shown how to use this tool effectively AND we are definitely not educated in what we might be doing to undermine its effectiveness. I see this as a critical oversight and therefore a great topic for discussion.
In Chapter 9 of my book Break Free of Parent Pressures I share a story about when my youngest started going through a stage of not wanting to join us on family outings. Not a big deal if he was 12 or older and could be left at home alone, but he was not – so unless one of us adults wanted to stay home, he needed to come with us.
At first, if it was possible, we let him get his way and one of us would stay home. But this wasn't always possible (a lot of my errands were done when my husband was a work) and I could see it was teaching him to dig in his heals and see what he could get away with.
I tried a variety of things to get him to come willingly – bribery, cajoling, explaining where we were going and why (i.e. appeal to his human side), threatening, yelling...I even envisioned bodily carrying him to the car, but I knew most of these were not good long term solutions. Not only would many of them set us up for a miserable time at whatever we were heading to, but they could lead to a power struggle and I really wanted to avoid that at all costs.
So I put on my parent creativity cap and started thinking about what I needed, why I needed it and how I could possibly make it happen. I figured out that what got my child's attention the best was privilege removal. With that in mind we had a conversation…my part sounded something like this.
"Sometimes a mommy or daddy simply need their child to cooperate – so if you won't listen and it's causing a problem for the rest of the family, I will use my Parent Power to make it happen. This means when you decide you won't come with us I can and will start removing things you love like TV time, movies, computer time… and will continue to take them away until you listen."
I removed these things one day at a time, so after this initial "set-up" the very first time this problem arose I launched right into it:
"You need to come with us and we need to go now. You have 10 seconds to decide to work with us and then I start using my parent power to take things away." (I counted silently so it didn't feel so threatening, but would announce when I was at 5 since he didn't have a strong concept of time yet).
"There goes the computer for this evening... the computer for tomorrow… the computer for Wednesday… Thursday...Friday...Okay, we're moving on to movie time…there goes movie time for this evening…"
I focused my energy on staying calm, being consistent, respectful and following-thru on whatever transpired.
I always allowed ways for my kids to earn back whatever they lost, because ultimately my goal was to get them to listen to me… not to take away the things they loved. Incidentally, this worked despite the fact my kids were only allowed one hour total for all those things combined on weekdays and 2 hours on weekends.
The first time I ended up taking everything for two weeks (panic!) however when it became apparent I wasn't stopping, I got compliance. In the end these things were only taken away for a week due to good behaviour (i.e. not arguing about lost time, being helpful, willingly going with us on other outings, and so on). I only had to use this one other time and then this problem became a thing of the past.
5 Tips for putting this into action...
Put your energy into controlling yourself: Your wand only works when you are calm, cool and collected – similar to how a photocopier that seems to know when you are in a hurry or stressed about something and get's jammed up or runs out of toner...our kids seem to sense when we really need them to comply – so it's important you don't allow your emotions to run the show.
Getting emotional leads to a power struggle (which we'll talk about in another episode) and the adult cannot win a power struggle – EVER!
Pick your battles: you must be sure before pulling out your parent power, that this is in fact a battle worth having. Sometimes we dig in our heels without a lot of thought and later realize it wasn't worth it…so be sure this is something worthy of your power.
Be clear about what you need from them: Sometimes we think others know what we are asking and they really do not. When I was struggling with this, I didn't muddle the conversation with things like, "honey, we have to go shopping in order to get your cheese sticks. You really like those right? Wouldn't you like to come?"
This kind of conversation – which would be fine to have in another circumstance – opens the door to them getting to choose to go to the store and totally falls apart if they decide they no longer care about cheese sticks, but you still need eggs, bread and almond milk. If the trip to the store needs to happen, you don't want to give them that option.
Be clear, "We need to leave and we need to leave now…You have 10 seconds to head to the car."
Once you commit to it – stand strong: Part of our kid's job is to test… to try and figure out where they can push boundaries and where they cannot. When you really understand this, you can use it to your advantage because you no longer need to feel like a meany…you are simply helping them learn that some rules need to be listened to.
Use your power wisely: just because your power works really well – be very careful not to overuse it! Barbara Coloroso says "A tool known is a tool blown" and an overused tool has a good chance of this happening. Plus as your child gets older your parenting power naturally decreases and when this happens you will need to rely on the mutual respect you have built with them during all those years that you had your power.
Staying calm, being respectful, being consistent and following thru without fail helps to build mutual respect. Bullying, demanding, insulting, threatening - do not!
So, there you have it…5 tips for using your magic wand in a manner that will help your power stay strong as long as possible; allow you to get your way when necessary; and minimize the number of power struggles you have in your home.
A place to start...
Begin to notice when, where and how you are using your parent power – which is anytime you insist they do something they don't want to do…notice your language – how clear and important your message is, your emotions, your consistency and how things are working out. You can't re-establish parent power once it is lost (at least not easily), but you can start building mutual respect at any step along the road. It's a tougher row to hoe, but if that's where you currently are, then it's an important part of your journey and you might as well embrace it.
Remember you are the perfect person to be you – whether that means being the parent to your child; the teacher to your students; the boss to your employees; etc – that doesn't mean you have to do everything perfectly…but it does mean you are ideally suited for the job.
With much respect for you and the journey you are on...I wish you a vibrant and powerful day!
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