Hey, Who’s in Charge Around Here Anyway?


 Anyone with kids has probably wondered, “Hey who’s really in charge around here anyway?” The answer to this question might surprise you:  Sometimes you have the power. But sometimes your child has it. The key is in discerning the difference.

Now don’t panic. I am not suggesting that parents defer to their kids. No. You have been placed in authority over them. Maintaining this authority is easiest, however, once you understand exactly where your authority is and where it is not.

For example, if a child is having a meltdown and is screaming, sobbing, and flailing and his mom tells him, “Stop that right now! I mean it! That’s enough! If you don’t stop this right now I’m going to…” You know how this ends. In this situation the child holds all the power to stop crying or not.

This mom has no real power to stop it. Ok, I just heard the murmur of a parent saying, “I can make him stop! When we overpower them in our own frustration, we damage the relationship which is our most powerful discipline tool and we become the enemy rather than the misbehavior being the problem. 

The more the parent tries to make the child stop, the more the parent diminishes their real power. The more the child notices, “Hey, she can’t make me stop can she? Wow, I’m totally in charge here.” And being in charge is a very insecure place for a child to live.

So use the power you do have.

Parents’ real power with a child having a tantrum:

  • “I know you’re angry, but if you can’t be quiet in this store then we will have to leave.”
  • “You are really out of control. So sad. I thought you had figured this stuff out already.”
  • “I see you are upset, but I won’t let you hurt others. I can hold you or you can have time alone in your room.”
  • You have been working on getting their emotions under their control (no one likes to be controlled by their emotions) so you say, “I’m going to time how long you cry and see if you are making progress.” Then just set a timer.
  • We can’t throw a fit here so I will have to move you.
  • “Dad is going to take you outside to sit in the car until you feel better.”
  • “You really are angry/sad/frustrated because of ______. I get it. As you get older you will be able to handle these situations better. Mom and Dad will help you. Let me know when you’re finished.”

The above choices are actually MORE powerful statements than those from the parent who tried to force them to stop. Once the moment has passed, even more power awaits in the follow-up teaching. Talk about better solutions to frustrations. Talk about maturity. Add up their minutes of crying in a day and talk about wasted time or progress made or necessary consequences. Talk about how sometimes kids make mistakes. Talk about self-control. Pray for wisdom and patience and self control for you both.  

If a serious and frequent pattern of tantrums exists and the child is old enough to understand what is happening, then find a whammy. (Lots of options when you click the link)

  • “Oh no, we can’t go to the zoo this week. I’m not sure you have these tantrums under control yet. Let’s see how next week goes and we’ll watch for changes. I sure love you though!”
  • “Early bedtime tonight!” Child is shocked, “WHY?” “Oh honey, I’m not sure why you keep struggling with these fits, but I need to be sure you are getting enough sleep… Or not having too much sugar… Or not watching too much TV/video…”

Won’t This Mean More Tantrums?

Now of course the child will probably become upset and perhaps have another tantrum. But here’s the key: you have the power now to keep the consequence. And your verbal response subtly wields your power, “I know. You want to watch your videos/stay up/eat treats, but let’s see if this helps, and if you can stay in control then you will be able to try them again when you are a week older.”

See the trap? The child knows that you have the power to shape their environment. They know you control the TV, the food, and turning the lights out at night. They also know they want to be mature and in control of their emotions. They should also want to please you. That’s a lot of power you have at your disposal.

Think of their tantrum as its own self-inflicted mini-punishment. It can’t be fun for them. We must stop trying to end tantrums and instead embrace them for what they are–a challenging display of emotions that can’t be any fun for the person struggling.

We can’t make kids eat, use the potty, sleep, say “thank you,” stop crying, etc. When we step into these areas as a power struggle…the kids win. If we lose control of ourselves, they win BIG.

Demonstrate your real power by teaching, guiding, and having consequences outside of the conflict.

And sometimes even in the moment you may have plenty of power: Leave the party. Jump in the pool to get them. Put the toy back on the shelf. Put the child in the car half-dressed. Take the stick out of the child’s hand. Don’t serve the treat. Pick the toddler up to stop the misbehavior (rather than yelling at them to stop.)

As the parent you are the one  in authority, but your power will not be maximized until you realize what power you do have and what power your child has.





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