As CF’s Executive Director, I often attend workshops to help run the table and answer questions — and, since I have some experience in acting, sometimes I jump into the impromptu skits that parents suggest. I can play a great misbehaving 5-year-old!
On this particular day, Jim played the dad who was tired after a long day of work and arrived home to find his two girls — Lynne, age 7, and Ellie (that’s me), age 5 — arguing over a toy. Sound familiar?
Lynne grabbed the beanie baby from my hands – “Hey, that lion is mine!”
“No it’s not, it’s mine!” I replied, trying to grab it back from Lynne.
The exchange escalated (we really get into it!). Soon we were yelling and then Jim (the parent) stormed into the space.
“Hey! Can’t you guys get along?! What is going on here? You stop yelling this minute!” (He gets into it too!)
“But she took my lion!” I exclaimed.
“Ellie, let her play with it, it’s not a big deal!” Jim said.
“Yeah, Ellie. It’s not a big deal,” Lynne mocked.
My persistence gave it one last, loud try. “No! It’s mine! I had it first!”
Jim placed his hands on his hips, and leaned forward slightly. He looked a lot bigger. “Don’t you talk back to me, young lady! Go to your room.” And with that, I walked off in tears. Discouraged and defeated.
I recalled this role play and those real emotions when I listened to this powerful TED Talk about the way body language can actually change the way we think about ourselves.
Researcher Amy Cuddy studied three types of physical stances: high-power poses take up space (e.g. hands on hips or feet spread); neutral poses are, well, neutral; and low-power poses make us smaller (e.g. head down or sitting with hands in lap). According to Cuddy, striking either a high-power pose or a low-power pose can have a strong effect on our behavior, and what we think of ourselves.
When you strike a high-power pose for 2 minutes, your testosterone levels spike and your cortisol levels drop. This means that you feel more powerful and your stress decreases. On the flip side, when you sink into a low-power pose for 2 minutes, your testosterone goes down and your cortisol goes up. This means that you’re feeling powerless and stressed!
Cuddy says that when a person strikes a high-power pose in communication, the other person tends to move into a low-power pose to balance. Obviously this isn’t always the case — we all know what it looks like when a brouhaha is about to occur and two high-power poses face off! But especially when there is an actual power differential between two people in a conflict, a high-power pose puts pressure on the other party to submit. This was exactly what happened in the skit. In my own personality, when a person comes at me with that kind of high-power energy, I will submit.
When you come at your kids in a high-power pose — arms on your hips, standing up tall, looking down at them — you may be reducing your own stress by feeling more powerful and “parental,” but at what cost? Your high-power pose may well mean that your children will take a low-power pose and feel powerless and anxious. When this happens frequently, the kids will begin to develop their self-image accordingly.
So – the next time you feel yourself taking a power position over your child, step back. Let go of the desire for the feeling of control that a high-power pose brings.
Remember that God is “your glory and the lifter of your head” (Psalm 3:3), the giver of humble confidence. Stand tall but not intimidating as you remember God’s calling to parent this precious child. Then as you approach your child, get down on his level with gentleness and lead with grace. And watch him gradually learn gentle, strong confidence as you model it!
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