Children And Power Relationships

Illustration: Elements of Positive Feedback

Accepting __ Affectionate __ Ambitious

Assertive __ Attractive __ Considerate

Consistent __ Dependable __ Decisive

Energetic __ Fair __ Flexible

Gentle __ Giving __ Hard-working

Helpful __ Honest __ Involved

Loyal __ Moral __ Open

Patient __ Playful __ Positive

Predictable __ Relaxed __ Responsible

Spontaneous __ Supportive __ Tolerant

The behaviors in the Illustration represent ways in which adults give positive feedback to children. The behavior is healthy and very unlike that seen in power relationships.

What is a Power Relationship? In its simple form, it is one person controlling another because he or she is bigger, older, stronger, or can do undesirable things to the other. This is the kind of relationships many parents get into with their children and that many abused and neglected children have experienced. It also is the kind of relationship that child-focused professionals and skilled parents consciously avoid. They understand power relationships in their healthy and complex form.

A healthy power relationship is one in which both people have power and transfer power to each other. It works like this. If you and the child are interacting, power is not either of your abilities to force the other to do anything. Instead, power is in the ability of each of you to be who you are, think what you think, feel what you feel, and act on your best judgment.

For example, it would be tempting to try to force a twelve-year-old to go to bed if he refuses. This would use simple power. Better would be to say, 'My best judgment is you should go to bed now. I am not going to try to force you. That is not the way we deal with each other. I want you to know three things about me. First, I think you should do what I have asked. Second, I feel frustrated and not very positive right now. Third, I will remember this and think about it. I do not know right now how it will affect our relationship; but it is a problem for me.'

What if the child does not go to bed? That is easy. He will be very tired the next day. Also things will come up where the child wants you to do something. You may then say, 'Recall when I asked you to go to bed and you would not? Well, I do not feel like giving you what you want now. That is how things work. Life here in our home is a two-way-street. We treat each other in ways that cause us to want to do things for each other. Maybe I will want to do what you want next time, but not this time.'

'Yes but,' you say? You may get reduced to simple power sometimes. When it happens, you need to see the child also has reduced to the same level. He is putting his power to defy up against your power to force. The older the youngster gets, the more powerful this ability to defy gets. Eventually, he wins the war and looses the opportunity to mature.

Conclusion: The war was the wrong approach from the beginning. It is not the approach of a child-focused professional or skilled parent.

What is the better approach? It is being sure your relationships with children reflect the characteristics listed in the Illustration as much as possible. This also gives them a model for how to relate that they can use as they move into the rest of their lives.

By Gary A. Crow, Ph.D. March 23, 2017