* Avoiding Parent-Child Power Struggles

by Terra Ours, LCSW, Courier & Press, July 25, 2017 –

It’s the end of the day and you’re exhausted.  Suddenly, you find yourself engaged in a war with your child – one you are determined to win.

You’re staring at him; he’s staring at you.  You’ve told him to go clean his room and received a firm response of, “No!”

Panic sets in as you struggle to come up with your next move and think, “What do I do? I’m angry and he’s angry.”  The result is an explosion as you hear yourself yell, “I said go clean your room NOW!”

This is an example of a parent-child power struggle.  Power struggles can leave parents wondering, “Why won’t he listen to me? Why do I have to yell to get him to listen?  Why won’t he just do what I ask?”

Fortunately there are simple solutions to avoid power struggles and increase desired behavior. The first suggestion for avoiding a power struggle is to not engage in one.  Once you have engaged in a power struggle with your child, the odds of winning are not in your favor.

Decide what rules are most important to you.  For example, you may decide your child cannot use electronics until homework is complete.  Be firm but gentle when reminding your child of your expectations.  Children learn more from a gentle approach and action versus screaming, negative words and idle threats.

If your child attempts to engage you in a power struggle, simply wait for everyone to calm down and utilize it as a teachable moment.  This may mean delaying the conversation until the next day.

Explain to your child that it is okay to feel angry; however, it is not okay to yell at you.  Ask your child to identify a more healthy way they could respond the next time they feel angry.  Role play more healthy responses to prepare safe ways to manage difficult feelings.

If this happens, explain to your child that you set the consequence when you were angry or upset and you now realize the consequence is too harsh.  Set a fair consequence and be sure to follow through.

Find ways to empower your child.  Give them choices.  For example, “You can clean your room now or you can clean your room after supper.”  You are stating your expectation but empowering your child to decide when to complete the task.

You may also decide to problem-solve together.  Try to come to an agreement on rules and family expectations.  Create a family contract and have everyone sign it.  This creates a win-win for everyone.

Praise your child when he follows through on expectations. Offering positive praise will motivate your child to have more positive behavior. Always focus on what your child is doing right and not just on what he is doing wrong.

Use empathy.  Try to understand your child’s side of the story or how they view something.  This will build trust and open healthy paths of communication.

Always remember to take a time-out if you feel angry.  Children learn by what they see, and our best teaching moments are when we can calmly show our children how to respond to stressful situations.