Solving the Power Struggle Problem at the Boston Aquarium
Whether you like it or not, children about 18 months and up need power. Which means that parents must be careful that the boundaries and limits they set up for their children are not so tight and controlling that they cause them to crave more power. If they do, it could cause the children to fight harder to obtain their own sense of power in other more destructive ways. The best thing you can do is to give them appropriate power. Look for examples of ways to do this and they will be less likely to take that power on their own terms when you need their cooperation most.
Let me relate an example to you. My daughter brought home a flyer that her class was looking for chaperones for their class trip to the Boston Aquarium. I signed up and showed up that morning on the day of the trip. I was the only dad in a group of about 5 other Mom’s. The teacher took me aside right away and said, “Listen, I’ve broken up the children into groups of 3. You have your daughter and two boys.” It’s important to note here that the teacher had no idea I was developing my business as a parent educator. She explained that she had put her worst behavior problem in my group because she was thinking since I was a man; perhaps he would listen to me and behave on the day trip. She said that if it didn’t work out and he didn’t behave for me, she would take him back into her group. On the two hour bus trip to the aquarium, I carefully watched this boy to see what I was in for. Instantly I noticed that he was totally out of control, jumping from one seat to another, pulling girls hair, throwing things, punching kids., etc. It was my best guess that he craved power and had found ineffective ways of getting that need met. It was possible that his parents were controlling him too much at home, or there were few or no boundaries for him at home.
The bus finally arrived at our destination and all the kids quickly exited the bus, running off to the main entrance. I held my little group back and got down to their eye-level. I said with excitement, “Ok guys, I need a boss. I need someone who can be in charge of the order we see exhibits in, while we’re in the aquarium.” Even though all three raised their hands, I strategically picked this mischievous boy (let’s call him Bobby). My goal was to provide him with the power he was craving in hopes of gaining his cooperation while we were in the aquarium. Bobby excitedly accepted his role and attempted to run toward the main entrance. I stopped him in his tracks and humbly asked all three for help in coming up with the rules of being the boss. All three of the children began to offer ideas on what the boss should and should not do. They had basically developed the job description with things like “make sure we walk in single file,” and “make sure we talk with our inside voices.”
When the group appeared to be fresh out of ideas, Bobby stepped out in front and declared, “O.K everyone, follow me!” The other two children fell in behind him and I brought up the rear. It was so humorous for me to see Bobby marching and leading our little parade right into the main entrance of the aquarium. Once inside the main hall, he directed us all to stop. You could just see the excitement and power he felt at his new “job.” He carefully selected which exhibit we would go to first and led us there. While the other boy, my daughter and I were all examining the beautiful fish swimming in the huge cylinder tank, Bobby was scoping out the other exhibits to determine where we would be headed next.
For the rest of the morning, we marched from one exhibit to next, led by our leader Bobby. The boy was so absorbed into his responsibility and power as the leader. He was completely engrossed in it to the point of shear excitement. The funniest thing happened about midday. Our little marching parade crossed paths with the teacher who stopped in shock at the sight. Her mouth literally dropped open and she froze in place. She caught my eye and she mouthed the words, “What did you do??!” And what DID I do? I gave a little boy appropriate power in a way that would help me get MY needs met. Was it fair to my daughter and the other boy that I selected Bobby as the boss? Absolutely not, but who says life is fair. I had to harness his desire to be powerful. I hope this example inspires you to be creative in situations with your own children who may be exhibiting a need for greater power, value, and importance.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Bill is the author of the award-winning parenting book series, Love, Limits, & Lessons: A Parent’s Guide to Raising Cooperative Kids (in English and in Spanish) and the executive producer and host of the public access television show Creating Cooperative Kids. He is a Western Mass native and grew up in the Northampton area. As a member of the American Psychological Association and the North American Society for Adlerian Psychology, Bill provides parent coaching and keynote presentations to parent and professional audiences across the country. He sits on the board of the Network Against Domestic Abuse, the Resource Advisory Committee for Attachment Parenting International, and the management team of the Springfield Parent Academy. Bill’s practical experience comes as a father of 3 grown children, a grandfather of two, and a stepdad to three, and resides in the area with his loving wife Elizabeth and teen step daughter Olivia. You can learn more about Bill and his work at www.CooperativeKids.com.