The power of projection…When is the last time you were in a power struggle with a four year old? If you can draw from a time or a similar experience you may note feelings such as frustration, overwhelm, annoyance… just to name a few.
But the good news is… there is hope. I have found that intentional projection with little ones can be a huge alleviator in that negative energy that can build between two people anytime a power struggle is involved.
This intervention can also work with children experiencing anxiety or simply trying to learn or remember a new skill.
Step 1. Immediately disengage from power struggle. Change your affect, take a deep breath for yourself, reorient to the moment.
Step 2. Introduce a third person (or animal). This can be a stuffed animal, a small toy car, an invisible friend, basically anything that can be personified.
Step 3: Attune to this third party, explain the stuffed animal is having a problem and you need the child’s help. If the child is very young you can directly relate the animal’s problem to the child’s problem without the child usually getting upset about this or even realizing. For example, child always gets up and leaves carpet time in preschool: explain stuffed animal always does this and needs the child to teach it how to stay at carpet time.
Step 4: Validate how the stuffed animal may be feeling (however you think the child is feeling) and encourage the child to teach coping skills to the animal (if relevant to situation).
Example: (After goodnight routines and child’s feelings being validated, child continues to cling to parent and refuse to allow parent to leave room).
Child: “No bed! Sleep with me!”
Parent: “Oh no look at this bear! He’s so sad because he wants his mommy to sleep with him but she sleeps in her own bed.”
“Bear looks scared and sad. What will help him? Can you help me help him sleep in his own room?”
Child: “Sing to him!”
Parent: “Well I already sang to you and now it’s time for me to go to bed. Can you help me? When I leave, if bear gets sad can you sing to him to help him feel safe?”
Parent: Looks intently towards stuffed animal, “Did you hear that? Anna is in charge and she is my helper. If you feel sad or scared she will sing you a song to help you feel better.”
I am in no way saying this works magic every time but I have found it helpful from everything from bedtime battles to learning skills needed to maintain in the classroom environment. It works because the child is moved into a helper role and is suddenly empowered to have a sense of control and be able to comply at the same time.
Also the more compelling you convey the stuffed animal and the child’s new “helper role” the better!