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.
2 thoughts on “Understanding Shared Power”
“But he doesn’t want all the power as we so often fear.” What about those kids who seem to have psychopathic or narcissistic disorders? My neighbor is tearing her hair out over a teenager who she is convinced is only interested in power and control. She believes this comes from witnessing the controlling tactics of her violent and manipulative father. Do you believe that assumptions about children only wanting to be successful and be connected to parents apply to ALL children? Are there some who in fact don’t want to share power, but want all the power because of their narcissism?
I believe your neighbor’s child has learned her controlling tactics out of necessity. If a child feels powerless enough of the time, she will try to take control however she can——her out of balance attempts at being successful. She never wanted all the power but learned that grabbing for it was the only way she could get what she wanted. It’s like putting a child on a strict diet. If there is an opportunity to get the withheld food, it will be hoarded. Yes, I believe that these principles apply to all children. The only reason a child tries to control all the power is because he fears what will happen to him if he doesn’t. By the time a child reaches the teen years, many patterns of behavior have been learned. If your neighbor’s child witnessed a good deal of violence and manipulation, then that has created a data base from which she responds——grabbing for power is the only way she believes she will stay in control of her life. She needs to be able to trust sharing power, and if she has been off-track long enough, it will take that long for her to trust again and only with a parent who understands this process and doesn’t approach her with anger and punitive measures. Narcissism is the result of unmet childhood egocentric needs. Developmentally they think only of themselves and when they learn that they are bad for that, they have to hold on to power wherever they can find it, in their attempts to fulfill their need——all unconsciously, of course.
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