Avoiding Power Struggles By Practicing Mindfulness

Erica Moltz, MA, NCC
Clinical Director and Parent Coach


Perhaps when you think about mindfulness you conjure up an image of a person sitting cross legged on the ground, with eyes closed, peacefully meditating, away from the trials and tribulations of everyday life.  Although practicing mindfulness in this way may be helpful for some, it won’t provide you with useful parenting strategies when your eight your old daughter is ignoring your third request to shut off the computer and get ready for bed, and you are ready to “blow a gasket.”   At these times, when it takes all your will power to keep from screaming and yelling at her, you need concrete suggestions.  During these predictable, challenging parenting times, practicing mindfulness can be an effective tool.  By de-escalating your own emotional volatility, you can more effectively handle conflicts with your child and avoid repeated “no win” power struggles.  

Step 1 – The first step in practicing mindfulness is to press the “pause” button and take a brief time out for yourself so you can be aware of what is going on inside of you.  You may want to leave the room or just take a quiet moment. Start with scanning your body.  Where are you holding the stress?   Is it in your shoulders, your back, your head?  Breathe in calmness to that part of your body and imagine that on the out breath you are breathing out the stress.

Step 2 – With compassion and non-judgment (two important tenets of mindfulness),  name the thoughts and emotions that you are experiencing.  Imagine that you are on top of a tall mountain and you are looking down at a beautiful town from a distance.  This new perspective will allow you to view the whole picture and ask yourself a few questions.   “Do I have realistic expectations of my daughter for her age?  Am I being triggered by memories of my childhood –  remembering how  my mother demanded respect and never would have permitted me to ignore her command? Am I feeling so angry because I am tired and had an especially hard day at work?  Do I feel disappointed because  we had such a great day together yesterday and now she doesn’t seem appreciative at all”?

Step 3 –Use PLACE, an effective mindful strategy so that you can respond with intention, using deliberate action to have a different outcome and avoid a power struggle. 

Playfulness – convey a sense of lightness, hope and openness with the use of facial expressions, eye contact, voice and rhythm, gestures, postures and tones.  You could even try singing your request to go to bed or racing to bed to see who gets there first.

 Loving –Get yourself in touch with your lovingness. Use kindness and firmness at the same time in a loving way.  Remember that in the long run, the quality of the relationship between your and your daughter is far more important than enforcing discipline and getting compliance.

Acceptance – Practice seeing your child as perfect just the way she is.  Work at acceptance even when he/she is being most challenging.

Curiosity – get to know your child from the inside out. Be fascinated, and wonder why she doesn’t want to go to bed.  Aim to understand and grasp the meaning of her behavior, and make sense of it before responding.  Is your daughter fearful about going to bed; does playing on the computer get her too keyed up before bed; would it be best to  play a quiet game with her; is she reacting to the closeness you had yesterday and the “back to usual today?”

– help your daughter “feel felt”.   Try to purposefully let go of your own point of view.   Put yourself in her shoes and try to imagine the world from her point of view. 

We want to hear from you.  If you have tried PLACE to avoid a power struggle with your child, let us know!   

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