Dealing With Power Struggles

Q: My 11-year-old daughter is kindhearted but tends to be very opinionated and stubborn. Bli ayin hara, we have a number of other children at home, and this middah of hers sometimes creates undesirable tensions within the family. My husband tends to feel we should “hold our ground” just for her to learn to compromise, but it feels like a daily tug-of-war when we respond in this manner.

What is the best way to deal with such a power struggle? I would really want to redirect my daughter’s middah in a constructive fashion.

A: Being strong-willed can be an asset in life. Great people are driven by their determination to attain lofty goals. However, strong-willed people also need to learn flexibility.

It is advantageous for a stubborn child to be one of several siblings, for if such a youngster were an only child, it would be more difficult for her to acclimate to society. She would constantly wonder why things did not go her way and be angry at the prospect of change or about things constantly being out of her control. Learning to share is an important developmental task for all children, especially stubborn ones.

Parents must attempt to be consistent with all children, and even more so with a stubborn one. Such a child will “corner” her parents if they are inconsistent, find the chink in their armor and crawl in to get her way! If parents weaken in the face of her incessant whining and crying, this will only encourage her to engage in similar behavior in the future — because if it worked once, why not try it again?

Though parents should not easily capitulate to the demands of a child, they should also not be excessively demanding in order to “put the child in her place.” Stubborn, demanding parental behavior is the least desirable conduct parents would wish to model for their child. Rather, they should make a statement in a more controlled, neutral, unemotional manner. This way, the parents make their authority clear without creating an emotion-filled confrontation.

Avoiding confrontation is an important preventative measure. This does not mean that parents should hide toys or candy as a way of preventing a child from demanding them. A child need not be protected from absorbing the message that she cannot receive everything she wants.

Avoiding confrontation is accomplished by parents who watch how they speak. Stubborn children are challenged by ultimatums and severe threats, resulting in their perception of having entered into a power struggle with their parents. Adults need to give children limits and guidelines, but their tone of voice can reflect the difference between a limitation and an ultimatum.

The skills of negotiation and problem solving are techniques that can be very successfully taught to strong-willed individuals. Though your child is young, there are times when problem-solving techniques are very helpful. A child can learn to redirect her desires and respond to someone else’s wishes. Parent and child can jointly discuss what they want and attempt to brainstorm ideas that might lead to more of a compromise. (Clearly, this is not to be used on a continual basis for a child’s every request!)

As in all situations, the importance of giving praise must not be underestimated. A stubborn child whose self-esteem is nurtured will more easily learn to be flexible. Inner security is created when one’s self-esteem is strengthened. This will allow the child to listen better to others, as the changing world around her will be less of a threat. Thus, she will be less stubborn in her responses and actions towards other individuals.

Hatzlachah in this most worthwhile endeavor!