When I sat down recently with ZisBoomBah’s psychology expert, Beth Lonergan, PsyD, to talk about kids using food to assert control (read “Power Struggles, Part 1″), she said something so utterly eye-opening (as usual); I couldn’t wait to share it with you:
“Back off the notion of resistance we label kids with. That’s what creates the power struggle, if you assume your child does not want to cooperate.”
Wow. That’s powerful stuff. How do experts come up with that? “From a psychological perspective, this is called ‘motivational interviewing,’” Dr. Lonergan explains. “It’s an approach that came out of substance abuse therapy.” (Not an obvious place to look for parenting advice.) “What it does is it helps the therapist, or the parent in this case, to back off the notion of resistance we label kids with.” What she is saying is that, as parents, our words and actions are driven by the expectation that we need to use authority to get our kids to do whatever we want them to do at that moment, and that they will fight it.
So, my child will cooperate as soon as I stop assuming that she doesn’t want to cooperate? That’s easy to do. Or not? “Know that people are always in a state of change,” Dr. Lonergan says. (See, I had a feeling this was going to get more complicated!) “We want an equilibrium, as human beings. We always want that balance.” This I understand. I’m a Libra. So what happens when parents and children vie for control? Our expert explains, “It is not until there is something that creates imbalances, that disturbs homeostasis [that’s psychologist speak for our tendency toward that stable equilibrium], that I am motivated to do something differently.”
So what’s a parent to do before the scale tips? “Engage your child,” Dr. Lonergan advises. “Uncover what is uncomfortable for them. Uncover what it is that makes them uncomfortable, what’s their real motivation, instead of assuming they just don’t want to cooperate.” Getting children to articulate what troubles them takes practice and patience. Here again it is helpful to model the behavior you expect your child to learn. Create a space in your days where you pause together. Lead by example and be open and honest with your child about what’s on your mind. Then invite your child to share, too.
What’s going on at home?
Our psychologist tells parents to look around the home environment. Is there an upset in the family that could be affecting your child? Is an older sibling pushing around your younger child? Also, “Kids are very tuned to money problems. Don’t think you’re hiding it. Put it on the table in an appropriate way,” Dr. Lonergan suggests, adding that there are many useful resources available on how to talk to children about money troubles, divorce, transitions and so on.
Do you have a question for Dr. Lonergan? Email us or share your comments below!