Human beings are wired to resist being told what to do or bossed around outside of the context of attachment. This is actually a very good thing. By having instincts that tell them to only obey those they are securely connected to, children have an internal safeguard that protects them from wandering off with strangers, or doing the bidding of those who may not have their best interests at heart.
If you’re having frequent power struggles with your child, ask yourself the following questions from my Attachment Checklist. If you answered “No” to some or all of them, work on building attachment with your child before trying to problem-solve. Kids who feel attached also want to cooperate.
• Does my child sense that I genuinely like to be with him or her?
• Do I actively engage in an activity that lets me become more familiar with my child’s interests?
• Would my child say that I am on her side, no matter what difficulty she may be facing, or do I lecture, scold, or advise when she’s facing a challenge?
• Do I frequently tell my child specific things about her that delight me, like, “I love how patient you are with the kitty.”
• Am I a safe person for my child to come to with problems? Does he know that I won’t “freak out” if he tells me he made a mistake or is having a hard time emotionally?
• Do I communicate love to my child in a way that’s a match for her love language — with words, touch, time together, gestures of thoughtfulness, or support?
• Do I make room for my child to express all of his emotions, including anger, fear, frustration, and disappointment?
• Do I play with my child regularly, even if it’s just chasing him around the house or playing Connect Four for a few minutes?
• Would my child say that she feels known and understood by me?
By looking at their connection with the child who misbehaves, instead of trying to come up with ever-escalating punishments or consequences, a parent has the most profound chance of eliciting true, instinctive cooperation. You may also find it useful to read this short article on attachment.
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