We’ve emailed before, and I have implemented many of your techniques, although I seem to forget them at times and at those times, things usually go south quickly. This morning, for instance, I told my 3 1/2 year old that if she could not be responsible and act like a big girl by brushing her teeth, she would not be able to participate in soccer today, which is the first day of many over the coming weeks. She refused to brush her teeth, crossed her arms and said “no!” She also calmly chose to not go to soccer and not brush her teeth. I ended up furious, leaving the room and she seemed unaffected in my absence – just sat there and doddled until I came back and yelled at her and made her brush her teeth. In retrospect, I know I contributed to this behavior, at least in part, by helping her this morning more than usual (doing too much because I am sick today and wanted to just get it done, when I know she is fully capable) and most likely making her wonder if I would go ahead and brush her teeth for her as well - I am sure she was testing me. I felt bad about taking the soccer away since I cannot tell if I disguised a punishment as a natural consequence or not (I told her that soccer if for responsible big girls, and if she could behave that way, there was no way she could participate – it seems relevant, but I am not so sure now), so when we tried to work something out (my husband actually – on his way taking her to school), she said that mommy said she could not go to soccer today…so maybe she doesn’t really want to participate – I just can’t tell, and I don’t know what to do now…any suggestions? She attends a Montessori school, if that has any relevance.
I feel your pain. All mothers, including me, have engaged in a power struggle with a child not much taller than our kneecaps. How do we ever fool ourselves that we can "win" such a battle? We have to admire the fact that these little ones refuse to have their personal power taken away from them. We are wise when we try to help them use their power in constructive ways instead of trying to take it away from them and then wonder why they go into misguided power or revenge and defeat us every time.
I hope you are willing to hear that you orchestrated a power struggle and put your daughter in a situation where she had to "lose" or "win." Again, we have all been there--especially when we feel sick or rushed. I don't know if she wants to play soccer or not, but even if she does--it is not worth it to her if she has to "lose" to gain the privilege. Your situation demonstrates how adults can be determined to win a power struggle even if it means humiliating children by telling them they are irresponsible and "not a big girl."
Taking away privileges is punishment--in case you are still in dobut. :-)
What if you dropped your need to "win" and make her "lose," and focused on helping her feel capable (instead of small and irresponsibile) by making a connection and then focusing on solutions. I suggest you apologize to her and then try some of the following.
1) Let her create a morning routine chart that includes pictures of her doing each task.
2) Let the routine chart be the boss. If you say anything it might be, "What is next on your routine chart."
Other possibilities are:
3) Appeal to her desire to help. "I really need your help this morning? What do you need to do to get ready?"
4) Instead of "telling" her to brush her teeth, ask, "What do you need to do so your teeth won't feel skuzzy?"
Your attitude of invitation instead of challenge is a key component. Most children this age love to help when they feel it is their idea instead of a win/lose battle. Asking, instead of telling invites children to think and feel capable because it seems more like their choice than a command.
5) One way to diffuse a power struggle is to recognize what you are doing and stop. Name it. "Wow, it looks like we are in a power struggle and I can see what I'm doing to create it."
6) Validate her feelings. "I'll be it makes you mad when I boss you around. Can we start over and find a solution that is respectful to both of us?"
One more thing. A new theme for Positive Discipline is "Connection before Correction."
7) Try a hug before you do anything else. This is not "rewarding" the behavior. It is creating a connection before respectful correction. You will get the feeling of what I'm saying by going to
and listening to two free podcasts. #. 49 on "workshop results" and #39 on "the power of a hug."
As you know, all of these concepts are discussed in much greater detail in all of the Positive Discipline books.
I wish you the best to focus on connection and solutions.