Diffusing Power Struggles with Young Children

In this episode of The Preschool Podcast, we chat with Stacey Band, Educator, Parent Coach, and Founder of Home Day Hero on power struggles with children. Stacey gives several tips on how educators and parents can be more proactive rather than reactive when these power struggles arise.

Power struggles can be defined as a time when the adult and the child are not on the same page. Often times power struggles occur when the child feels that their boundaries are being affected or violated, as a result, there’s a behaviour that occurs through shouting, anger and non-compliance.

Stacey suggests that the more we can do to give the child appropriate power the better. Just because you’re giving the child power doesn’t mean you’re leaving the adult powerless- you’re providing power within reasonable limits.

Stacey’s top takeaways for eliminating power struggles:

Consider their Feelings and Emotions and Offer Support– Validate their feelings and emotions while giving them choice will help curb the power struggles over all.

Involve Children in the Process- Children may feel that change is happening to them rather than with them. Provide options for the child to choose from- for example 2 different shirts for the child to choose from during the morning routine- either way they’ll be wearing a shirt.

Bridge One Activity to the Next Activity- For example, state to your child “your clothes are on, it looks like you’re ready for breakfast now. ” This allows them to see the sequence between events and better understand what may happen next and lean into the routine.

Use Positive Reinforcement- This will go a long way for children, the more you can say yes, the better. Save the phrase “no” for when there’s a health and safety issue present so the “no” is taken seriously by the child.

Offer Turn-Taking. By offering to take turns, (for example, during lunchtime if the child does not want to use their utensils, offer to take a turn using the spoon to help the child eat one bite of lunch and then invite them to use the spoon to eat one bite) it makes the child feel special that as an adult you gave them a “turn” to do something. This is super impactful for children.

If you’re having power struggles at home or in your classroom you need to step back and observe…what is the trigger and what is causing the problem?

Stacey Band

Stacey recommends that when providing choices to children it’s important to remember that we should avoid having high-stakes choices available. For example stating that the child can either “wear the red shirt or no shirt at all”, with a choice like this you risk the child wearing no shirt at all and that’s not the ideal outcome we want…we want the child to wear any shirt. Instead, try offering the child the option of a red or blue shirt. Make sure the choices you provide are tangible, accessible, and ready.

Interested in learning more about Home Day Hero and how Stacey can help? Check out her website which is full of resources or connect with her on Instagram and Facebook!

Episode 247 Transcripts-

Stacey BAND:

And this idea that you can take the ways we treat children with respect and the ways we provide children with appropriate power and the ways that we offer freedom within limits, and we can extract those pieces from the classroom and we can implement them in other places, in other situations.

Ron SPREEUWENBERG: 

Stacey, welcome to the Preschool Podcast!

BAND:

Thanks so much for having me. Glad to be here, Ron!

SPREEUWENBERG: 

We are really delighted to have on the show today Stacey Band. She is an educator, parent, coach and founder of Home Day Hero. We’re going to chat with her today about power struggles, something that I’m very familiar with, with a one-year-old and three-year-old at home. So, this should be fun – I know I’m going to learn a lot. And let’s start off, as we always do, Stacey, learning a little bit about you and who you are.

BAND:

Sure. Hi, everybody, I’m Stacey Band. I am coming to you from Chevy Chase, Maryland. I’m about a stone’s throw from Washington, D.C. I moved to the area with my husband about 12 years ago. We are originally from Michigan, so right on the border of Michigan and Canada. So, [we] spent a bit of time making our way up to Windsor and Toronto [Ontario] growing up. So, glad to be here with you.

And I actually have a background in child development and a degree in public administration from a school of [education]. And in addition to that, I also have my Montessori certification. And I did teach in a Montessori school for eight years. And I was also their assistant head of school for three. And so I have a wide variety of experience working with children from ages two to six and working with staff and parents as well.

SPREEUWENBERG: 

Awesome! And we’re going to talk to you a little bit about power struggles. And let’s start off learning about what is a power struggle. I think any of us who work with young children have probably had a power struggle. But just to make sure we’re on the same page, what would you define as a power struggle, or like maybe as an example, to make sure we’re on the same page with this?

BAND:

Absolutely. So, a power struggle can basically be any situation where a child and another person – it could be an adult or another child – are not on the same page. They don’t agree about something. And this usually is something that might happen at a transition time when you’re moving from one activity to the next, or you’re trying to move the child through a schedule from finishing breakfast to getting ready to leave the house.

And so power struggles pop up when the child usually feels that their boundaries are being somehow affected or violated. And as a result, there’s a behavior that occurs, whether it’s the child shouts or the child physically struggles or the child just doesn’t comply at all. They just throw themselves on the ground and become that dead kind of weight on the floor.

And so the idea is, how can you preempt these power struggles? How can you kind of guess-timate when these power struggles might happen and do some proactive behavior rather than having to do reactive steps?

SPREEUWENBERG: 

Cool, okay. Yeah, because I always find it’s either sort of like on one extreme or the other. It’s like, we’re being really nice and trying to work nice with the child and they’re just totally owning the situation. Or it’s like on the other end of the spectrum and you’re like, okay, you just pick them up and you’re like, “We’re going now,” and they’re screaming or whatever. So, what are some ways that we can find that better balance?

BAND:

Sure. So, with my background being in Montessori, I would say the more we can do to give the children appropriate power, the better. And by that I mean you really have to think about, what is appropriate power? So, just because you are giving a child power does not leave you as the adult as powerless. Actually, what happens is you have the ultimate power because you are providing power within reasonable limits.

So, for example – I guess one of my favorite examples, is – the child does not want to get dressed for the day. And so what you do is you say to the child, “I see that you’re feeling upset about getting dressed for the day. Do you want me to help you pick out your clothes? Or do you want me to pick out clothes for you?” And so kind of giving that child a little bit of time and a little bit of choice to say, “Do you want to be involved in this process? Or do you need a little bit more help than that?”

And so with my youngest, for example, who’s two-and-a-half, what we usually do is we set out two outfits: two pairs of pants, two shirts, two pairs of socks. He’s not in underwear yet, but if the child is in underwear, then two pairs of underwear. And the idea is that you walk through the process with them: “Okay, I have two shirts. Would you like the fire truck shirt or the dinosaur shirt?” And then he chooses. And then we move on to the pants and he makes his selection. And then, of course, we move on to the socks and he chooses as well.

And so the idea is, you are drawing them in; you are involving them in the process. Because a lot of times what happens for children is they feel like change is happening to them rather than with them. And so it’s almost as though whatever the expectation is, it’s being imposed upon them rather than the child themselves having some power in the situation. And so by inviting the child to choose the components for what they’re going to wear, then perhaps they’ll be better buy-in for physically putting those clothes on their body.

And so then what we do is we say, “Okay, these are great choices,” or, “I love the choices that you made,” some sort of positive reinforcement to let them know that you appreciate their participation, you see their cooperation and you’re ready – you’re ready to do this thing with them.

And so then what we say is, “What should we put on first, your shirt or your pants?” And obviously, the hope is the child will make a selection. They’ll say, “Oh, the shirt, or, “Oh, these pants.” But there are some children – and even my own child – that will say “No,” or take the article of clothing and toss it back at you. And so then I might say something like, “It seems like maybe you don’t want to choose. I can choose. Do you want me to take a turn?” And so kind of giving them another opportunity to buy back in.

And sometimes the child doesn’t care if it’s the shirt on first or the pants first. And so I might say, “Alright, well, today, since you’re seated on your bottom, let’s try your pants first.” And so then I make like a kind of a song about it, sort of a sing-song, like, “One foot, then the other,” whatever tune you have going. And that sometimes helps, too.

And then we do a lot of cueing. So, “Oh, I see two feet. Alright, you got both legs in, it’s time to stand up.” It’s like the same kinds of things that I would do in the classroom if a child had some sort of an accident and needed a change of clothes. It’s basically taking those same things that I would have done in the classroom and then just applying those concepts in my own home. And thankfully I have that experience and I’m able to do that.

And so then when the pants are on, I said, “Alright, the pants are on, you did it. And here comes your shirt.” And we just move right on into it. And then I might say something like, “Where’s your head? Oh, there it is.” And then the shirt is over their eyes a little bit because their head hasn’t pulled all the way through, I might even joke a little bit and say, “Peek-a-boo!” and wait for him to pull that shirt over his head. “Oh, I see you. Alright, one arm and then the other, your shirt is on.” And now you’re ready for breakfast. And so it’s just bridging the one activity with the next activity. Your clothes are on, you’re ready for breakfast. And so that oftentimes also helps.

Some other strategies that I used in the classroom and I also now use at home are countdown’s. “Alright, you have five seconds. Let’s get ourselves to the breakfast table in five seconds. Alright, are you going to help me count down? Let’s see if you can do it.” And then do the countdown, “Five, four…” right? And when the child does it and it hasn’t been five seconds, “My gosh, you’re so fast,” or “Wow, you really walked here carefully.” So, just giving that positive reinforcement.

I would say the more you can say “Yes”, the better. I would say saving the phrase “No” for situations where there’s some sort of health- or safety-based issue so that we the No is really taken seriously.

And so a lot of times working with children who are partaking in these power struggles, it’s usually because they need to somehow feel connected, whether it’s connected to their environment, connected to the teachers or the adults in the space and also connected to the materials and the activities that are in that space.

So, if my son doesn’t care about eating breakfast, then putting on his clothes so that he’s ready for breakfast doesn’t matter to him. But if he knows that I have his favorite breakfast available, then obviously that makes breakfast a little bit more exciting because he knows that there’s something that he’s looking forward to that is waiting for him.

So, I would say if you’re having power struggles with children in your home or even children in your classroom, you really need to step back for a second and observe, what is the trigger? What is causing the problem? So, for my son, it might be because he doesn’t like getting a new diaper. He doesn’t like getting a new easy-up [diaper] in the morning. And he knows that when it’s time to put on his clothes, he has to get a new easy-up first.

So, in my situation, what can I do to make that diaper change or that part of the day better for him? What ways can I involve him so that there’s not a power struggle about clothes? Because the easy-up situation, which is the true power struggle, has actually been addressed. And so getting to the root of it is so important.

Some other things we do are things like, if it’s time for my son to put on his shoes and I know he can do it, but he is hesitating and I can tell he’s edging on what could be a power struggle to leave the house. What I might say is, “Do you want me to put on one shoe and you put on the other?” Or I might even say, “Would you like a turn and then I can take a turn?”

So, I always offer him a turn because I know having a turn is really important, especially for young children. I know he’s only two-and-a-half, but as soon as he was probably like a year-and-a-half, almost two, we were offering him opportunities for a turn specifically related to activities that were familiar.

So, a good example – maybe in your own household, Ron – would be something like offering your child utensils, for example, for eating. “Alright, here’s your spoon. You take a turn, I take a turn,” or however it might look in your home. But the idea of just offering a turn really is inviting for a lot of children and makes them feel powerful, makes them feel special because, “Oh my gosh, mama gave me a turn!”

And the last idea I have is all about choices. And I know I mentioned this towards the beginning, is that providing two choices is incredibly powerful. And the best way to offer two choices is to offer two things where you have no stake in the game. It doesn’t matter, whatever the child chooses, it’s a good choice.

And so, for example, with the shirts that I selected or the pants that I chose for him in the original example, those were all things that were tangible; they were accessible; they were ready. I wouldn’t say something like, “Oh, let’s put on your Mickey Mouse sweatshirt,” if I didn’t know if it were clean or if I didn’t know where it even was because that’s going to set me up for failure as a parent, as an adult. That’s going to set me up for an additional challenge that isn’t desired, especially in these moments where power struggles could be present.

And so I want to make sure that whatever two choices I’m offering, they are things that I can actually provide; they are things that are accessible. And I’m okay with whichever the child chooses. And that way it just reduces the power struggles because it doesn’t matter what the child chooses, the choice is good. And the child doesn’t necessarily realize or know that, but you as the adult – the one with the quote-unquote “ultimate power” – knows that. And that’s what’s really important, especially in diffusing these kinds of power struggles.

SPREEUWENBERG: 

Amazing, those are some really, really great techniques and tips and some that I will definitely be using at home.

BAND:

Good!

SPREEUWENBERG: 

Including the two choices for clothes, I think I could definitely see that one coming in handy. So, other than the obvious short-term frustrations and challenges that can come out of a power struggle, do we know if there’s any other implications to sort of repeatedly not providing children these options and for more appropriate power over a longer period of time?

BAND:

Absolutely. So, if you think about a child that is being given options, that child is being empowered. They are being encouraged to think about what they actually want and to recognize how they’re feeling and what their own needs are.

And so what all of those skills kind of lead to is this idea of independence, confidence and self-reliance. And so by offering these opportunities, you are helping that child to develop their own self, to develop these critical thinking skills and some problem solving and some sequencing. And all of those skills are really good for setting a foundation.

And the best part about all of those components that I’ve shared is that you can start those at any time. It doesn’t matter if the child is one-and-a-half, two, five, seven, you can still empower them; you can still provide choices. Maybe the choices you’re providing are ones that are a little bit more developmentally appropriate, based on their age and their experience. But providing choices is something you can start at any time.

And I think that it’s very powerful. I know that when I would go and I would observe at one of my local public schools and some of my alum would be there and the teacher would always tell me, “I can tell which kids came from the Montessori school.” And I said, “Well, why do you say that?”

[She said,] “Well, those are the kids that are real good problem solvers. And they know how to make decisions and they know how to lead and follow. And you can just tell that they have this love of learning, this eagerness for learning. And as a result, we give them more opportunities to lead small groups here in this first grade classroom.” I said, “Wow, that’s amazing.” And she was like, “Have you heard that from other people before?” And I said, “Actually, I have.”

And so that’s kind of one of the ways that Home Day Hero was born, is the idea that there are all these fabulous components that make up a Montessori classroom, that make up a Montessori experience. And this idea that you can take the ways we treat children with respect and the ways we provide children with appropriate power and the ways that we offer freedom within limits.

And we can extract those pieces from the classroom and we can implement them in other places, in other situations. And so that’s kind of how Home Day Hero came to be a parent coaching company that provides families with solutions based upon the challenges that they have.

SPREEUWENBERG: 

Yeah, it makes a lot of sense. When you think about it, there’s kind of like a really big gap there in terms of the average parent’s understanding of these concepts and how powerful and important they can be, both in terms of your interactions and relationships with your children, but then also those medium to longer term implications, which you discussed in terms of their approaches to problem solving and these things that might have more lasting impacts. So, definitely can see how that makes sense.

Tell us a little bit more about Home Day Hero. So, how do you work with families and folks? How does that work, from that side of things?

BAND:

Sure. Well, the way in which Home Day Hero was actually born was this idea that I would have parent-teacher conferences every year – three times a year at that. And parents were sharing with me their concerns about behaviors they were seeing at home or issues they were having they were concerned about.

And because they trusted me as their child’s teacher… and some of these families, I would have them for four or five, six years. Multiple students would come through the program and they would stay with me for up to three years each. And I had these great relationships going. And I started to basically create a list of what I called the hot topics for parent concerns. And I utilized those topics and I started writing. And now I have approximately 68 articles that are posted to my website. They are free; they are readily available.

And the idea is that parents will review these articles and identify components that they want to implement in their own homes. And they’ll work to do that. And if they want extra support or they experience challenges, then they contact me and I have two-hour coaching packages that families can purchase.

And so I work with them on implementing strategies at home. And I also know that some families already work with specialists for a wide variety of reasons. And sometimes the reports they receive from these specialists are very cumbersome. And as a parent, you want to help your child as much as possible. And if your child has some sort of challenge, developmentally or otherwise, it’s hard on your heart.

And then you’ve got these reports and the reports are telling you the details: what the challenge is, why we think it’s a challenge. And here are all the things, the big laundry list of things, that you can do to help this child, to alleviate some of the challenge or the challenges that exist. And what I’ve heard from a lot of parents is that it’s very hard to look at that long list and be like, “What do I do?”

And so I’ve worked with a number of families to say, like, “Alright, well, what are your top three strategies you think are feasible for implementing?” And then, “Alright, we’re going to start with one,” and then we do that one. We do that one for two to four weeks and then we reevaluate – “Okay, how are we doing? What do we need to change? What’s working well? What’s not working?” And then we determine, “Can we add another one?”

And so just this idea of layering… you can’t go through and change everything all at once because a lot of children – and even a lot of adults – don’t handle change well. And so the idea is that by making simple tweaks, you can actually have a larger impact than if you try and change everything all at once.

And so I do work with the one-on-one. I also have some training seminars that are available for purchase. They are recorded Zoom [online video conferencing] calls and they come with a packet of helpful information. I also have a monthly activity guide called “Home Day Kids”. And the idea behind the activity guide is you, as the adult, as the parent, grandparent, guardian, person spending a lot of time with children, you are going to be the hero in your home and your space.

And so the monthly membership is 10 activities from five different focus areas. So, they are cooking projects, craft projects, music and movement games and social and emotional development activities.

I do have two specialists that work with me. I have a movement expert that’s also into health and wellness. And I have an elementary school social worker that helped me to carry the content for the membership guides.

And then in addition to that, I also have a reading camp program where I do teach the Montessori-inspired phonetic reading method. And those basically last for 10 weeks. So, it’s a 30-minute meeting with the child – one-on-one or in a small group – over the course of 10 weeks.

And then the other piece is a handwriting book. And so the handwriting book is something that I do utilize as a part of my reading camp program. However, that book can be purchased separately from the reading camp program. And so it’s not just about writing words or sounding out words. It starts from the very beginning.

And so the first hand writing book is all about shapes and lines and how they come together and what those shapes are and basic colors. And then this idea of different kinds of line drawing, different kinds of line drawings and line tracings. And there’s like a coloring component, almost like a connect-the-dots coloring component.

And then we have the scissor skills component. So, once the child has worked their way through that content – which I think is, like, 60 or 70 pages – then there is the letter writing component where the child actually has hopefully developed the skills to be able to hold a writing utensil properly and with proper lightness-of-touch and ability to utilize proper pincer grasp and everything is able to write all of the letters.

And then there’s a bonus book. And that bonus book is another, like, 60 pages. And it’s three- and four-letter phonetic words and rhyming words and seasons and months and days of the week. And it’s great; it’s a great resource. The families that I have using those materials really love them. And I look forward to bringing them to more people.

SPREEUWENBERG: 

Yeah, that’s awesome. Sounds like so many amazing resources here. If our listeners want to access your articles, activities, programs, books, or maybe get in touch with you, where can they go to get this information?

BAND:

Sure, they can go directly to my website, which is www.HomeDayHero.com. And everything is there for you. And if I think if you type in my name and Home Day Hero on Google, it’ll probably pop up, too.

SPREEUWENBERG: 

Awesome. Sounds like such a useful resource for our listeners. And I can really see the value of those coaching consultations in sessions, as well. Some of these things can be stressful, speaking from firsthand experience. And even just having the opportunity to speak to somebody who’s supportive and knowledgeable I think really, really goes a long way when we’re pulling our hair out at home, as parents. So, that’s amazing.

Stacey, before we wrap up, any words of hope [or] optimism for our listeners here today who are doing our best, whether that’s at home or in the classroom, to help our children and their development?

BAND:

Sure, I would say, regardless of how challenging things may or may not be right now, it’s important to remember that every day is a new day. And allowing that to kind of be your guiding light, to know that every day is a new day, a new opportunity to connect, a new opportunity to learn, a new opportunity to be together and make progress and know that you make a difference.

SPREEUWENBERG: 

Well said. Thank you so much for joining us, Stacey!

BAND:

Thank you so much. Glad to be here. Thanks again, Ron!

Kiah Price

Kiah Price is a Social Media Specialist at HiMama. Prior to HiMama she was an Early Childhood Educator in a preschool classroom in Toronto. She is the Jill of all trades at HiMama from dipping her toes in Sales, Customer Success, Operations, and Marketing! She enjoys sweating through spin classes, hot yoga, and biking along the waterfront trails in Toronto. She loves traveling and trying new foods and wines across the globe- 29 countries and counting!

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