Giving Your Child Some Power
I am reading The Three P’s of Parenting by Jennifer Jones, Ph.D. Are you thinking patience, potty training or poop?
Those elusive P’s are: power, protection and prediction. Jones explains that the P’s correspond with the chief insecurities that plague children.
She states that “when a child lacks power, he feels helpless, so he will assert himself or try to control others. […] When a child cannot predict what will happen or what those around him will do, he will focus his energy on controlling the behavior and responses of others so that his world feels more certain.”
Sounds like common sense, right? How come, as parents, we don’t follow these models? Why do only formally trained mental health professionals and doctors look deep into our children’s behaviors when the reasons behind the behavior seem so simplistic?
The explanations for protection and prediction seemed more self-explanatory to me. Of course children want to be protected. We are sometimes guilty of protecting children too much and not allowing them to learn about the world on their own. Prediction is the one thing that pediatricians do instill in their parents – routine, routine, routine.
Power, however, seems to be more of a grey area. Jones stated that “we only test power when we are uncertain of it. Adults who feel secure in love and work seldom seek attention or conflict. Children are the same; they only commit misbehavior when they have an unmet need.” This concept is so potent. We can learn so much about ourselves, our children and our parenting if we view behavior through the three P’s.
Children seek power because they have so little. Jones explains that “many [parents] worry that empowering their children will involve yielding authority to their children or permitting them to make decisions they are not permitted to make. On the contrary, a child cannot be empowered or feel stable without clear parental authority and leadership, and is it that leader that will ultimately serve as a model for him.” There is a clear difference between giving your child power versus letting them overpowering you.
Children live in constant admiration of our power. Children feel powerful when they please parents with achievements. However, sometimes they also feel powerful when they shock parents. Jones explains that when children run ahead of you on the street or use “hot button” words or phrases to get your attention, it is to make them feel powerful. Your shocked reaction makes them feel powerful. Power becomes more complex when it overlaps with discipline and bad behavior.
What happens if the child’s need for power translates into rule-breaking, sabotaging themselves or others, or acting aggressively? This is where the situation becomes complicated. Your child may be misbehaving to get your attention. He wants your attention in the quickest, most reliable way, even if it upsets you.
As parents, we want to discourage bad behavior, set limitations and force restraint. “If your child misbehaves, it not because she has forgotten the rules, but because with misbehavior she has a better chance of getting her needs met.” Essentially, we respond to the child’s need for power by suppressing the power.
As a parent, we deal with normal daily stressors, undoubtedly lose patience and sometimes do not take the time to listen to what our child is asking. The request might be so simple and if we allowed the children what he is asking, he would feel powerful and it would have no effect on us. However, when we ignore them, are too busy for them or say “no” because we are dealing with our own problems, the child may act out because we made him feel powerless.
The changes can be so simple. Let your child pick out her clothes, allow her to open and close the doors of the car, let her choose the evening entertainment for the family, let her choose what she eats for lunch. Power isn’t necessarily them controlling the child’s situation, it’s letting them feel like they are.
Jones believes that a child’s action is always related to unmet needs. Jones expresses the importance of giving your child power at a young age so he can build confidence, determination and security. As the child grows, a preteen will feel powerful if he has experienced opportunities to execute and manage real responsibilities. She also believes rebellion in teens stems from a sense of powerlessness and resentment towards the parent.
If taking a proactive approach to parenting will cut out the terrible twos and teenage horror years, sign me up! I will have to utilize my three parenting P’s: patience, patience and pinot noir.
Jones, J. (2007). The Three P’s of Parenting. New York, NY: LearnGarden, Inc.
Ceder, J. (2018). Giving Your Child Some Power. Psych Central. Retrieved on March 31, 2020, from https://psychcentral.com/blog/giving-your-child-some-power/