I love (read “despise, loathe, hate”) some parenting advice I picked up (and filed in the paper shredder seconds later) from Parents magazine. Addressing “power struggles” in the home you may have with your kids, the author suggests,
To keep a power struggle from escalating, make a conscious effort to get out of fight mode. Rather than focusing on winning or losing this particular battle with your kid, try to work together to find a better solution. First, state your position simply (“We don’t have cookies for breakfast”).
Then offer some choices (“Would you like to have yogurt or cereal?”). This will make her feel like she has some control over the situation. If that doesn’t work, you might try defusing the situation with humor. Doing a silly dance out of the blue may be just the trick for putting your child in a happier mindset, one in which she’s willing and able to find some middle ground.
When it comes to power struggles as described above, I take Harrison Ford’s position in Air Force One—we do not negotiate with terrorists (which at this point is my child). So to me this causes two reactions. First, laughter. Second, stupefaction (a real word, by the way, for “the state of being stupefied.” Thank you Dictionary.com).
After I was done chortling about the possibility of an adult who had so abdicated their parental authority that they were reduced to terrorist negotiations with a three-year-old, I realized something a little more serious was at stake. People actually do this. I’ve seen it in action. I’ve done it myself (usually more in the form of laziness, but still).
Here’s the epic error in this type of negotiating-with-your-kid-as-parenting mindset: it abdicates the central role the parent has as an authority figure in the child’s life, as granted by God himself. God put parents in kid’s lives to act as an authority—to say things like “no” and then enforce it, to set boundaries—for their own good.
We don’t need to use humor to defuse the situation or distract our child. To do so puts the child in the driver seat, as if appeasement was the chief aim. We need to exercise our authority, tell them “no”, and then follow up, if necessary, with enforcement. Failing to address their rebellion tells them that the world revolves around them; exercising loving but firm authority lets them in on a subtle truth of life—you’re not in charge. There are authority structures you need to submit to in life (bosses, parents, police, kings, presidents, etc), and it starts right here at the dinner table.
If they can’t learn to submit to authority at three around the table, they’ll never submit to any authority. They won’t stay in jobs, churches, or any committed relationships, because to do so requires submission to some authority. They’ll be the freeloaders, moochers, and whiners in society who run from anything that doesn’t revolve around them (which is, like, everything responsible adults do).
So when junior wants cookies for breakfast, please just remember, we do not negotiate with terrorists.