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1999 LLLI Conference Sessions:
Kids, Parents, and Power Struggles

By Gina Gile-Maves
Honolulu HI USA
From: NEW BEGINNINGS, Vol. 16 No. 5, September-October 1999, p. 162

From the moment she began, Mary Sheedy Kurcinka, a self- described energetic extrovert, kept the audience at her session "Kids, Parents, and Power Struggles" interested and attentive. "This was one of my favorite sessions," said Julie Shivel, a North Carolina mother of two. Kurcinka presented parents with tools for avoiding and coping with the power struggles that can occur while raising children. Her central message, that parents should work toward building connections to their children, was masterfully illustrated with slides, handouts, and participation from audience members. "I thought she really explored the roots of power struggles, not just described them," said Becky Oxley, a mother of four from Japan. "Once she explored them, she gave suggestions for solving them and understanding each other better."

According to Kurcinka, when parents work with a child to understand misbehavior and then address it respectfully by setting appropriate limits, they form positive connections with their child. When parents offer only consequences and punishment, a "disconnection" happens between the parent and child. Connections help "wire" children in a way that will help them as they face adversity while growing up.

To illustrate this concept, Kurcinka asked three adults from the audience to come to the front of the room and hold a lit birthday candle to represent three children who had misbehaved. She then stood behind each one and described different misbehaviors and a possible reaction from parents. With the first child, the parents discussed the misbehavior, exploring why it had happened, and supported the child through the consequences appropriate to his actions. Kurcinka told the "child" to blow out his candle and moved on to the second child. She explained that this child had bitten someone and was sent to his room. When this child tried to blow out his candle, it kept re-lighting as Kurcinka moved on to the third "child." The third child's misbehavior was hitting. Again, the child was punished with no discussion. The third child's candle also kept re-lighting.

The point was that if a connection is made with the child and the child is lovingly supported and his actions are understood, then he will move on from the experience. If a disconnection takes place, the same issues will keep coming up again, just as the candles kept re-lighting despite the children's efforts to blow them out.

In another illustration, Kurcinka asked audience members to change seats, having extroverts move to one side of the room and introverts move to the other side. After listing the characteristics of each type (extroverts think out loud and derive energy from being with others, while introverts say little but think much and derive energy from being alone), Kurcinka asked each side to tell what things bothered them about the other side. It was humorous (as well as telling) to see the extroverts' hands fly up while the introverts thoughtfully considered their answers. The point of the exercise was to show the audience that when parents and children have different temperaments, there may be power struggles. Acknowledging and accepting differences in personality can circumvent many relationship difficulties.

Kurcinka was an excellent speaker who left her audience wanting more. In fact, her session lasted right up to the last minute and it appeared that she could have gone on for a long time. She is an extrovert, you know.

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