Put an End to Tug-of-War


Power struggles are the Tug-of-War of human relationships. One side pulls, the other side pulls back. I’ve seen these power struggles in the classroom, and I’ve seen them in my home. I’ve been involved in my fair share of them, trying to get children to behave the way I want, to do the the things I want, when I want them done. I push, and they push back, with both sides losing patience until the situation that began with nagging, ends with tears, hurt feelings, and frustration. Why won’t the kids pick up their toys, do their homework, put clothes in the hamper, remember to feed the dog, or go quietly to bed? How many conversations have started with “How many times do I have to ask you to…..?”

What would happen if we stopped the struggle and the nagging, and let natural consequences take care of things? I’m not talking about watching a child touch a hot stove or poke a utensil into an electrical outlet. I’m talking about letting children experience some cause and effect in order for them to develop a sense of personal responsibility.

Tired of reminding your child to put their dirty clothes in the laundry? Tell them what you need them to do, and remind them that it’s their responsibility to do it within a certain amount of time. Then let natural consequences take place. If they pick up their clothes, they will have clean ones. If they don’t, they won’t. When they run out of clean clothes, it will be a natural consequence of not putting things in the laundry.

Does your child love to pull toys out of the toy box, but hate to put them back? Again, let the natural consequences occur. Remind your child that if they want to have nice things, they need to take care of them. Model how you want the job done, then set a timer to have your child put them away. If he refuses to help, put the things into a bag or box, and refuse to let your child play with them until he can be responsible enough to put them away in the toy box. Suggest to your child that in order to get new toys, they have to take good care of the old ones first.

At school, I have had parents come to me and ask what to do to get their child to go to bed on time. The child always wants to stay up late and then is very tired in the morning. I suggest to them to agree to 10 minutes of staying up late time. Then turn off the TV, put all the toys away, and just sit. Don’t allow them to play, watch TV or enjoy the computer. They will soon become bored, and ready for bed.

In Tug-of-War, there are two outcomes. One outcome is that the stronger side pulls the weaker side over the line. There is a clear winner and loser. The other outcome is a draw where both sides give up. Create a winning situation with your child by setting clear expectations and using natural consequences to develop a sense of personal responsibility.

Josie Michaels is a teacher and mother who enjoys the adventure of educating as well as learning from little children.


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