My daughter loves to have her hair braided or styled with bows and clips. Every time she asks me to help with her hair, she starts yelling at me that I am not doing it right and gets upset with me. It always turns into a fight. I don’t know if she is just a perfectionist obsessing with her hair, or what is going on. I dread the daily fight.
In Adlerian psychology we always start with “What is the usefulness of this behaviour”? “What is the child’s goal?” “What is she trying to accomplish” by repeating this pattern of interaction with you each morning? She invites you over and over again to enter into this little dance with her, whereby she gets to bark instructions at you and criticize your efforts. You are always in the wrong because only she can know how she wants her hair. In every step of the process, she is in the dominate position of power, exploiting you as she makes you jump through hoops.
Children often feel that parents make all the rules, tell them what to do all the time and so it is common for them to seek opportunities where they can call the shots and make you have to follow their rules for a change – even if that rule is just an arbitrary placement of hair clips.
So how do we rectify the situation? Two-fold. First, get out of this power struggle by neither fighting to win, nor fighting till you lose. The Dreikur’s expression is “remove your wind from their sail”. Don’t give it energy or power. That could simply be by saying “I am happy to help with your hair if we can do it co-operatively, but if we begin to fight about it, I will be unwilling to help and you can figure it out just the way you like it to look all on your own, since you know best how you want it to look.” Notice how I recommend you only state what YOU are willing to do and not directing the child on what they should do? That is empowering them to make their own decisions, rather than trying to control their behaviour which they might perceive if you said “you need to be nice or I won’t do your hair”. That is both a threat and an instruction, and serves to put you in a higher position of power over her again, which she will likely challenge.
Secondly, look for positive ways for her to have more power and say in her own life, or to reduce the amount you are controlling her world. Sharing power with children is a vital parenting skill. When children feel they are social equals in a family, they are willing to be co-operative with us and the power struggles disappear.
Give it a try!