Chatter on Children

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Getting What You Want In Parenting

Have you ever noticed that everything is a battle with your child? If it is, then one of three things is happening. Your child, you or both are in a competitive need cycle. What is a competitive need cycle? As humans, we are all born with five basic needs that we are genetically programmed to attempt to meet. They are survival, love & belonging, power, freedom and fun. Without getting into the detail of the developmental model described in Nancy Buck’s book, Peaceful Parenting, power and freedom combine to make the competitive need cycle. When people are in a competitive, need cycle they are most strongly driven by the need to gain more power and freedom in their lives.

With a parent and child, this is typically represented by the parent refusing to consider to allow their child to do something. The parent is attempting to meet the power need by keeping his or her child safe and the freedom need by extricating him or herself from the worry of wondering about his or her child while the child would be engaged in the forbidden activity. The child, on the other hand, is attempting to meet the power need by having new experiences and exploring the world and to meet the freedom need by gaining time away from restrictive parental supervision. When a parent and child are both in their competitive need cycle, naturally a power struggle ensues. I have four examples of situations and possible solutions if you, the parent, are willing to consider focusing on your cooperative needs of love & belonging and fun instead.

Why do you, the parent, have to be the one to it differently? Because it is you who are dissatisfied with the situation. Whose behavior can you control? Hopefully, you understand that you cannot control your child’s behavior as much as I know you’d like to at times. The only person’s behavior you can control is your own. Since it is you and not your child who is reading this article, I’m talking to you about what you can do to improve the situation. Staying focused on changing your child will only lead to your frustration and a break down of your relationship. You won’t be successful at long-term change in your child. He or she may acquiesce while in your presence but there won’t be the required internal motivation to change required for any long-term transformation. So, let’s look at what you do have control of---the way you respond to your child’s push to meet his or her power and freedom needs. Rebecca: The first situation I want to talk about involves ten year-old Rebecca. Rebecca’s parents came to me frustrated over the fact they were unsuccessful enforcing Rebecca’s bedtime and she would frequently be grumpy because of lack of adequate sleep.

They also were hoping for some down time to spend some quality time with each other without children around. After, evaluating what was really important, the parents spoke to Rebecca about no longer enforcing her bedtime. They explained that she could go to bed whenever she pleased as long as she was able to get up in the morning, get to school and be relatively pleasant with family members. However, there would be a household quiet time that would begin at 9 PM. At that time, everyone needed to be in his or her own bedrooms engaged in quiet activity. These parents couldn’t wait to tell me how great it worked! Since Rebecca had no parents fighting with her to go to bed, she could no longer meet her power need fighting with them. Consequently, she began to go to bed when she got tired and stopped fighting sleep. Steve and Mary were able to get the quiet couple time they needed so everybody won. Veronica: The second situation involves my friend, Denise, and her daughter, Veronica. Veronica is 11 years-old and wanted to have her hair highlighted like all her friends do but Denise was opposed to the idea.

While discussing the situation with me, Denise realized that she was concerned about the maintenance costs of highlights and the damage that will be done to her daughter’s beautiful hair if she starts applying chemicals to it at her early age. Of course, Denise had explained none of this to Veronica. What she did say was, “No, you are too young to have your hair highlighted. Just because everyone else is doing it doesn’t mean you should.” Does that sound familiar? What I suggested instead is that she tells Veronica her concerns. Denise started by saying that she wanted to revisit their conversation about highlights. Denise agreed to Veronica’s initial request to be given the highlights as a birthday gift. But then, she asked Veronica what her plan was for upkeep. Denise explained that she would have to have the highlighting process done every two months or so and that it would cost approximately $60 each time. Denise offered to give Veronica money for helping out doing extra chores around the house.

Since Veronica had agreed to this before and failed in the follow through, Denise asked another question. She said, “Veronica, I know you have agreed to do extra chores in the past and you didn’t consistently follow through. If history repeats itself and you don’t have the money you need for the highlights, are you prepared for what your hair will look like once the roots grow out?” She also discussed with Veronica the concern for the health of her hair. She said that starting to put chemicals into one’s hair at eleven did not bode well for maintaining healthy looking hair into adulthood. Denise marveled at what happened next. She said that what had been a heated battle between them for months turned into a non-issue. Veronica decided she no longer wanted highlights in her hair. She realized that she probably won’t do the chores to earn the extra money needed and that she doesn’t want to look “weird” while her hair is growing out. It’s amazing what happens when we align ourselves with our opponent’s resistance.


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