I remember acting like a defiant child and getting in trouble with my mother and being sent to my room. We were in the middle of a power struggle. I cried and cried. I don’t even remember what it was about, but I do remember the thoughts running through my mind.
I regularly thought to myself, When I have kids, I’m going to listen to them and understand what they are saying. I’m not going to treat them like this.
Of course, my mom was merely disciplining me, but my feelings were hurt. I did not feel heard or understood. I remember feeling frustrated. 30 years later, I am a mom of two and many days I find myself ignoring my child’s feelings too.
What if I told you there was a brilliant and easier way to teach your kids to listen AND allow their feelings to be heard? And what if I told you it involved only three steps?
Several weeks ago, I was a typical angry mom screaming at the top of my lungs of my Honda hatchback. I had enough. My kids and I were not getting along. They were screaming, I was screaming and we had one big screamfest together. Let’s call it family bonding.
Unfortunately, the screamfest didn’t fix the underlying listening issue. In fact, it drew us further apart.
Then last week I read the Say What You See Handbook from Sandy Blackhard, and I decided to give it a try with my son.
How to stop power struggles using “Say What You See.”
This idea involves making a statement of fact that describes the situation rather than accusing or criticizing. Simply share with your child your exact observations at the moment.
- If your child is jumping on the couch, you can say, “I notice you really like to jump!”
- If you ask your child to brush his teeth and he continues to intently play with his blocks, you can say, “I see that you aren’t done playing with the blocks.”
The goal of this concept is to validate what your child is doing, saying, feeling or thinking at the moment.
You are learning to acknowledge their ideas and feelings back to them. Why? This works because validating how they feel helps your child feel a sense of control and breeds more cooperation in the long run.
After sharing your observations with your child, go ahead and follow up with what Sandy Blackard calls a “can-do.”
Here is an example.
Your child is playing with toys, but it’s time for him to go to bed. You say “It’s time for bed” to which he responds “NO! I’m not ready for bed.“
Step 1: share your observations.
You are here simply to understand the child’s perspective and let the child know you understand their thoughts and feelings at the moment.
I notice that you are enjoying your toys right now.
You like playing with trucks.
Step 2: offer a can-do.
Focusing on what your child can-do keeps the situation positive and helps minimize power struggles.
You can play with one quiet toy in your bed until you fall asleep.
You can play with your toys as soon as you wake up in the morning.
Step 3: share a strength.
When you share a strength, you offer positive reinforcement for your child to make good choices. Acknowledgment helps kids see their strengths and encourages them to draw on these strengths in future situations.
Only three steps seemed a little oversimplified, but we gave it a try in our home several times over the last couple of days, and we are experiencing far fewer power struggles throughout the day!
Here are a few examples:
Standing in a chair during dinner.
- You want to stand.
- You can stand on the floor or sit in the chair.
- You found a way to sit in the chair nicely. You are a problem solver.
Refusing to pick up the toys before leaving the house.
- You aren’t finished playing with your dolls.
- You can bring one doll with you after you pick up the toys.
- You picked out the doll you like the most. You are a quick thinker.
Hitting another child at the park.
- You want to hit something.
- You can hit the slide or pole.
- You found a way to hit without hurting anybody. Very helpful.
After trying this method out for several days, I noticed myself feeling less frustrated and angry as a parent. I also noticed my son engaged in half as many toddler power struggles and experienced about 50 percent fewer toddler tantrums at bedtime. Of course, it doesn’t eliminate every parenting challenge throughout the day, but it does help our days run smoother and improve behavior.