When I tell parents to share power with their child, they get nervous. “Wait, I’m the parent? Aren’t I the one in charge?” Absolutely. Sharing power means that you both stand in your personal power. It does not mean that your child has the same power that you do. You are the parent, the authority, the one in charge, and the more you are confident in that power, the safer and more cared for your child feels. It’s when you lose it, when your temper flares and you feel out of control that your child feels unsafe and confused and will react accordingly. When power is lost, your child fears what is happening and may grab what power he can.
We have a choice—we can hold the power, giving our child none, keeping the dominator model; we can give our power away when we lack confidence, are afraid of power and give our children more than they can handle; or we can share it, insuring that all family members feel confident, strong and able to get their needs met. A child needs a cup of power compared to the many gallons of the parent.
Power can be shared when the parent gives a choice. “Do you want to give me that or shall I take it?” “Would you like sauce on your spaghetti or do you want it plain tonight?” “You don’t have a choice about whether we go or not, but you do have a choice about how you’re going to feel about it.” “If you can’t decide, I will make the choice for you.” Giving choices puts you in control. You are the one who offers the choice, you give only choices that you will allow, your choices create the parameters within which your child has choice. You are the overseer.
Relationship is the goal. Good relationships thrive on shared power. Simply because you are the adult does not mean your child does not need to feel powerful in the relationship. But he doesn’t want all the power as we so often fear. He wants you to be in control. He just wants to feel good about himself in relationship to you.
By Bonnie Harris