On the last track, we discussed Ambiguous or vague statements. Ambiguous or vague statements included common indirect statements and using emotion as a communicator.
Think of a client whom you are currently treating who defines themselves as being locked in a power struggle with his or her child. Does your client feel almost as though their child is controlling them?
On this track, we will discuss the Omnipotent Powerless Child Syndrome. This will include the following three concepts; Real Power vs. Button-Pushing, Children Want Adults in Charge, and Disempowering Button-Pushers. As you listen, compare these strategies to the ones you suggest to your client.
Edgar was the newly-divorced father of Beatrice, age 13. Edgar stated, "I don’t get to see Beatrice as often as I’d like…I work often and she’s at her mom’s half the time, but I love her to pieces! She’s my little princess! But man, does she know how to push my buttons! I suppose that’s completely normal in all parent-child relationships, but still! I ask her to do something…something simple like make her bed, and she won’t do it.
"I ask her again, a little more firmly, and then she starts to bring up the divorce! She’ll say, "Mom would never make me do this! Why isn’t Mom here? I like her better than you!" She wants me to somehow get jealous of her attention…but the thing is, it works! I either give her what she wants, or I get angrier and end up yelling and saying things I regret later…which makes me feel guiltier in the end…so she still gets what she wants! I don’t know what to do!!"
3 Strategies Regarding the Omnipotent Powerless Child
#1 Real Power vs. Button-Pushing
I am sure you have had divorced parents similar to Edgar. I asked Edgar, "Do you suppose Beatrice feels a certain sense of powerlessness regarding the divorce." He replied, "Yes, that seems to fit."
I stated, "Some children, however, feel powerless to elicit love, respect, care, attention and even basic interest from adults." Edgar asked, "Why would Beatrice feel powerless to get love or attention from me? I told you, she’s my little princess! I love her deeply!"
I stated, "This may be part of Beatrice’s response to your divorce. The fact that she can’t control the circumstances around her may be causing her to behave in this way. She doesn’t get to control how often she sees her dad, between work and the schedule on which she gets to see you. You yourself said that you don’t get to see her as often as you’d like. Maybe it’s the same for her."
Edgar asked, "So how is this connected with her behavior of refusing to make her bed? Does she want more attention?" I stated, "Perhaps, in the midst of her sense of powerlessness, Beatrice may have discovered that she has another power, the power to push her dad’s buttons. Make sense? She can make you behave in a predictable way, by that I mean you end up getting angry, frustrated and yell."
Edgar asked, "But it’s not good attention! She gets grounded, loses TV privileges … How is that worth it to her?" I stated, "Because it works and it’s reliable. All it takes to get you to behave in a predictable manner is one little word, one little gesture at the right time." Edgar exclaimed, "But she’s only thirteen! I’m amazed!"
#2 Children Want Adults in Charge
I stated, "Power can be addictive...children, even very young children, tend to love this feeling and take every ounce they can get. And yet, deep down inside, children don’t really want all that power. They know that they can’t manage the world. Deep down inside, even Beatrice likely knows that the more power she gets, the less stable and the more threatening her world will become. For many children who feel a loss of control, for example, through a divorce, their response is to grab at any power they can, even though this makes them more vulnerable." Edgar replied, "It’s a vicious cycle, isn’t it?"
#3 Disempowering Button-Pushers
I stated, "If you find yourself getting caught up in Beatrice’s button-pushing, just don’t react." Edgar stated, "But that’s much easier said than done! If I don’t react, then it will be like I’ve just let her win!"
I stated, "You are right. It is much easier said than done, and it may very well feel like you are letting Beatrice win. But, with patience and consistency, when Beatrice can no longer push your negative buttons and bring you to a yelling, angry rage, she will eventually have to switch to positive attention. Decreasing Beatrice’s negative behavior is a process of attrition, or slow destruction."
Is your Edgar experiencing difficulty regaining control of his or her child’s environment? Might he or she benefit from hearing this track?
On this track, we have discussed the Omnipotent Powerless Child Syndrome. This has included Real Power vs. Button-Pushing, Children Want Adults in Charge, and Disempowering Button-Pushers.
On the next track, we will discuss Children’s Anger as Failed Communication. This will include Stopping Opportunities for Empty Communication, Listening for Children’s Self-Put-Downs and Not Foiling Genuine Sadness.
Peer-Reviewed Journal Article Reference:
Boring, J. L., Sandler, I. N., Tein, J.-Y., Horan, J. J., & Vélez, C. E. (2015). Children of divorce–coping with divorce: A randomized control trial of an online prevention program for youth experiencing parental divorce. Journal of Consulting and Clinical Psychology, 83(5), 999–1005.
Miller, P. A., Lloyd, C. A., & Beard, R. (2017). Preadolescents’ coping goals and strategies in response to postdivorce interparental conflict. Qualitative Psychology, 4(3), 260–280.
“Parenting time, parenting quality, interparental conflict, and mental health problems of children in high-conflict divorce": Correction to O’Hara et al. (2019) (2020). Journal of Family Psychology, 34(1), 23.
Online Continuing Education QUESTION 4
What are the three parts of Omnipotent Powerless Child Syndrome?
To select and enter your answer go to .