Tag Archives: influence

Relationship Power as a Strategy for Influencing Children

For the past several weeks I’ve been posting about different strategies parents can use to exert a positive influence on their children. Today’s focus is on the grandaddy or grandmommy of all forms of parental influence–we refer to this as RELATIONSHIP POWER!

Relationship power is the foundation of all parental power. Having a high-quality, respectful parent–child relationship is the fuel that naturally drives children to want to please their parents.  However, there is a serious problem associated with creating and sustaining relationship power.

In the 21st century, perhaps more than previously, parents have tended to overemphasize the “friendship” dimension between parents and children (Grosshans & Burton, 2008). The worst consequence of this friendship-oriented parent–child relationship is that sometimes parents hesitate to set limits on their children’s behavior, fearing they’ll not be “liked” by their children. Although wanting our children to like us is a perfectly natural impulse, it can become problematic if parents become frozen and unable or unwilling to set limits due to fears of rejection. When this happens, a very destructive pattern can emerge. This pattern is characterized by an imbalance of parent–child power. Unfortunately, often the consequence of this pattern is a child who is too free and too much in charge and a parent who feels impotent and disrespected. In extreme situations, the parent–child power relationship and the roles associated with that relationship are so twisted that the parent may begin inappropriately involving his or her child or children in adult matters, adult relationships, and even adult partying, including exposure to many adult issues and problems (e.g., sexual information or relationships and/or substance use).

The parent–child relationship that works best is characterized by respect, interest, caring, love, and kindness. It is not an egalitarian relationship between peers, but it is a central and all-encompassing relationship that entails love, sacrifice, and the willingness to be there, no matter what. Call us idealists, but we believe this is the foundation upon which parental authority and influence should be built.

Stephen Covey articulated the foundational quality of relationship when he discussed the relationship bank account, both in his book, Seven Habits of Highly Effective People (Covey, 1990), and online. In the following excerpt from his homepage, he discussed the concept of the emotional bank account as a means of rebuilding trust—and rebuilding trust can be especially relevant for parents of teenagers. The concept is equally important with regard to building and maintaining trust and respect. Here’s what Covey says on his website:

Examine your Emotional Bank Account with this person; it’s most likely strained because of withdrawals. Make a commitment to start making deposits that matter most to that person, and do it. Little by little, even with small deposits, you will find that the account will grow. It may take time. But over time you will find the cumulative effect of the deposits. Slowly, depending on the severity of the broken trust, you can find trust being rebuilt and restored, and a new relationship will be born. Of course, this also depends on the other person, but you can choose to do your part regardless of the other person—to focus on your circle of influence. And you will find some peace, knowing that you’ve done your part. (http://www.stephencovey.com/blog/?tag=emotional-bank-account; accessed February 18, 2009)

Like modeling, relationship power is part of the 24/7 parenting role. Consequently, relationship power activities can and should be integrated into the parent–child relationship on a daily basis. Tomorrow or on Tuesday I’ll be posting a story or example of relationship power. In the meantime, you can always check out the “How to Listen so Parents will Talk” book at: http://www.amazon.com/How-Listen-Parents-Will-Talk/dp/1118012968/ref=cm_cr_pr_pb_i

Here’s what a recent spontaneous reviewer just posted about the book on Amazon “This book is an informative, easy-to-read guide to the specific intricacies involved in counseling parents. It is useful for both trainees and seasoned clinicians.” Cool.


How Parents Can Use Problem-Solving Power

Problem-solving power refers to a group of parent influence strategies designed to activate, within children or teenagers, a problem-solving or solution-focused mental state. This strategy is best illustrated with an example:

Sonya is busy at her laptop reading an online newspaper while her 6-year-old son plays in the living room. She notices her son working hard on a small puzzle and after he gets a piece into place, she says: “How did you figure out where that piece went?” Her son looks up and replies, “I don’t know. It just fit there.”

This interaction may seem trivial, but the mother, whether she knows it or not, is using problem-solving power to encourage her son to reflect on how he’s getting his puzzle together. This particular approach is based on constructive or solution-focused principles. The underlying belief is that the more we can get our children thinking about how to solve problems, the better they’ll become at problem-solving.  Further we are helping them become more optimistic, focusing on solutions and successes instead of pessimistically focusing on failures and problems.

The polar opposite of problem-solving power occurs when parents, in frustration, ask their child something like, “What’s wrong with you?” or after a sequence of misbehavior, “What were you thinking!?” When parents ask these problem-oriented questions, it encourages children to focus on their failures, what’s wrong with them, or on their negative thoughts and behaviors.

Just like solution-focused therapy, problem-solving power is indirect and leading (Murphy, 2008; Steenbarger, 2004). It’s also something we have to train ourselves to do.  For some reason, it seems more natural to ignore our children when they are behaving, and to give them attention when they are not.  Many parents remain silent and even detached while children play quietly (savoring the silence). This, of course, is the equivalent of ignoring good behavior, which we know from our basic behavioral principles is a great way to extinguish behavior.

The most common forms of problem-solving power are listed in the “How to Listen so Parents will Talk book (see: http://www.amazon.com/How-Listen-Parents-Will-Talk/dp/1118012968/ref=la_B0030LK6NM_1_5?ie=UTF8&qid=1351053762&sr=1-5)

Here’s one example of a problem-solving power strategy.

Child-Generated Rules

As noted in the “How to Listen. . .” book, parent-generated family rules are an example of direct power. In contrast, when using problem-solving power, parents try to hook their children into generating rules themselves. Interestingly, as family members discuss what they want for themselves and for the family, children often become motivated to contribute to very positive and reasonable family rules. Many authors have written about family meetings or the family council (Croake, 1983; Dreikurs, Gould, & Corsini, 1974).

Problem-solving power is an excellent way to help children reflect on and contribute to family solutions. It’s a method for helping children learn solutions and rules from the inside out—instead of the external or outside-in behavioral approach. Problem-solving power can be used liberally but sometimes parents need to take charge and solve family problems themselves. This is especially true with younger children. As family therapist Carl Whitaker once said (we’re paraphrasing), “Two-year-olds cannot take over leadership within a family unless they’re standing on the shoulders of a parent.” In the end, things go better if parents are the primary leaders in the home who not only allow their children to voice opinions, but also engage their children in the family problem-solving process.