Do You Get Into Power Struggles With Your Kids?

power struggle

It’s super easy to get pulled into power struggles with your kids and sometimes it doesn’t seem too obvious until you’re at your limits.  So let’s take a look at what this looks like and how to step out of it. 

 What is a power struggle? 

When a parent and a child want different things and neither of them are willing to back down a power struggle will likely ensue.  A power struggle can begin when a parent asks a child to do something, the child refuses and it turns into a battle that includes arguing and demands that go back and forth between the two.  

It’s totally normal as kids start to learn how to be independent and test the boundaries that are being set for them by their parents.  

Likewise, it’s normal for parents to try to maintain the power in order to keep their child safe or teach them appropriate, acceptable behaviors.

Why is it a problem? 

Power struggles are a problem for a number of reasons.

“One problem is that the more you argue or try to force the child to do something, often the more tempers flare. When you and your child are both frustrated and angry, you aren’t likely to be able to accomplish anything.” (Morin, Amy. “How to Avoid Power Struggles with Children”. Very Well Family. January 16, 2021. www.verywellfamily.com/how-to-avoid-power-struggles-with-children

When a  parent “wins” a power struggle it usually doesn’t result in the the child learning a lesson because by the time it is over the child is angry and the negative feelings associated with the struggle is what they remember.

If a parent just wants to have control or the final say because they are the adult, they aren’t allowing their children to learn how to make decisions for themselves, which is an important skill.  It will also leave the child feeling like they have no control over their life. “Our role as parents is to find a way to give them a sense of control, while maintaining some boundaries. It’s a balancing act…”  (“Understanding Power Struggles with Your Child” Parenting Now. June 2020. www.parentingnow.org/understanding-power-struggles-with-your-child). Allowing children to make a lot of small decisions about things that are appropriate for their age/maturity level, will give them a sense of independence and make them less likely to fight you on the bigger issues.

Lastly, engaging in a power struggle with a child can make them feel like their feelings about something or what they want is not important and all that matters is what their parent(s) wants or feels.  

It’s possible to validate their feelings, even if you are not able to give in and allow them to do something they want to do because it is an unsafe or inappropriate choice.

How to step out of it

A power struggle requires active participation from two parties. “So, to eliminate power struggles completely, we have to hold the boundary quickly, calmly, and confidently every single time…When the adult drops the need to fight for the power and instead becomes a calm, confident leader, the power struggle drops!”(@biglittlefeelings. “How to Eliminate Power Struggles”. Instagram, March 27, 2023, hwww.instagram.com/reel/CqS7w1xM-dk/?igshid=MzRlODBiNWFlZA%3D%3D)

Parents are frequently guilty of making demands that have consequences attached.  “Reframe the conversation so demands for compliance sound more like a gentler request for help. Consider approaches like: “Would you mind grabbing those plates for me? It would be a huge help.” Or, “I really need to get out the door by 8 o’clock today. Do you think you could help me make sure we’re on time?”  (Dubin, Alesandra. “Power Struggles with Kids, Explained” June 2, 2021. www.moshikids.com/articles/power-struggles-kids/)

Feelings are okay and children need to know that. Even when they are having a meltdown because you had to hold a boundary.  They need that release because the feelings have to go somewhere and they have to be expressed in order to come out on the other side of those big feelings.  

One thing to keep in mind is that although you cannot control your child’s emotions or actions you can control your own and it’s your job as parent to help them work through theirs. 

If you’d like support with ways to disengage from power struggles to create more peace in your home, please reach out to us, we’d love to help. 

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