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5 Useful Strategies to Avoid Power Struggles With Your Kids

by Vannessa Rhoades 28 Apr 2023
5 Useful Strategies to Avoid Power Struggles With Your Kids

Children can be obstinate and determined at times. When they don’t follow instructions or flat-out refuse to comply, it’s beyond aggravating and frustrating to their parents. Many moms and dads resort to screaming and threatening all kinds of terrible consequences if children refuse to obey (which often doesn’t work). 

The thing is, kids want to feel empowered and independent. One way they do this is by pushing boundaries and testing limits. You see it in children of all ages, from toddlers who’ve just learned the word “no” to teenagers who believe they’re grown up enough to make their own decisions. It happens in every family. Eventually, your child will not be on board with some boundary you have set for them and mutiny in some form or other will follow.

Fortunately, there are a number of effective strategies for how to avoid power struggles with kids. Let’s take a look at why power struggles with kids happen, along with some of the techniques you can use to regain control and get your child to comply.

The Problem With Power Struggle In Kids and How to Deal With It

There are a number of issues at play when dealing with a power struggle with kids. Firstly, trying to force your child into agreement or escalating an argument often leads to more frustration and anger. When tempers are flaring, no one really gets anything done. Allowing yourself to become sucked into a power struggle allows your child to delay their task. For instance, if you ask your child to wash the dishes and they argue, they know that the longer they can keep you engaged in the argument, the less time they’ll have to spend on the original task. For some children, pushing their parents' buttons with tiresome arguments is simply a fun way to get out of chores.

Another issue is that many grown-ups view a power struggle as a winner-take-all encounter. “Winning” is defined by many adults as making the child comply with an order they don’t want to follow. The problem is that the angrier and more desperate the adult becomes to get the child to obey, the more stubborn and resistant the child becomes. Children, instead of learning a lesson, then tend to redirect their frustration over forced compliance into resentment toward their parents. Let’s take a look at some more effective ways to deal with the power struggle problem.

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Strategy #1: Choose Your Battles Wisely

Sometimes not engaging at all is the best tactic for avoiding power struggles with kids. The moment you slip into a power struggle with your child, you’ve lost. You demote yourself from your authority position when you engage in a “tit for tat” with your child. Your job as the parent is to model the appropriate behavior. That’s hard to do if you become pulled into a power struggle with your kid. The more you engage, the more empowered your child will feel. It will also strengthen their misguided belief that being disobedient and argumentative is a useful way to manipulate situations where they can’t get their way. You don’t have to attend every fight you’re invited to. Once you establish your boundary, do not enter a debate with your child. For example:

Child: Dad, can I watch TV since I finished my homework?

Dad: It’s 8:30 on a school night, and you are not allowed to watch TV past 7:30 on school nights.

Child: (yelling) But I’m done with all my homework! That’s so unfair!

Dad: The rule is no TV after 7:730 on school nights.

The discussion should stop at this point. If your child continues to escalate, do not join in. Once they’ve had a chance to simmer down and compose themselves, use the occasion as a “teachable moment”. Let your child know you empathize with their frustration and that it’s okay for them to be unhappy about the outcome. However, it is not alright for them to (insert negative behavior, e.g. yell, slam doors). Ask your child to consider what they can do differently next time. Then, you may need to enforce a behavior-appropriate consequence. 

Strategy #2: Brainstorm Solutions With Your Child

If you’re constantly arguing about the same issue, work with your child to brainstorm a mutually acceptable solution. For instance, you’ve asked your child to make their bed each day. However, your child feels this rule is too rigid, and they argue about it regularly. Consider calmly discussing it with your child to reach a compromise. You can start closing their bedroom door during weekdays, and they can commit to making their bed on weekends.

Strategy #3: Empower Your Child With Choices

When possible, present your child with at least two options. Just be certain that both options are acceptable to you. For instance, if you want your child to take out the trash, and he’s playing video games, offer him a choice. Say, “Would you rather take out the trash now, or do you want to wait until you finish that round in your game?” Either option will get the task accomplished. But for a rebellious child, it can feel like a win to be able to wait until they finish their game.

Strategy #4: “Catch” Them Being Cooperative

Praise is an excellent way to encourage desired behavior. When your child is obedient and does what you ask, let them know that you notice and that you are proud of them. Be clear and detailed in your praise. For example, instead of simply saying “good job,” say something like, “Thank you for being so grown-up  with your behavior right now. I know you didn’t want to do (fill in the blank), but you did it anyway. I appreciate it.” 

Strategy #5: Establish Consequences

Sometimes you’ve got to employ a negative consequence. Rather than arguing or fighting or trying to force a child to comply, remain calm and issue a single warning. If your child doesn’t obey, using a consequence they don’t like, such as removing privileges or toys, can be very useful.

Avoid nagging them over and over or issuing empty threats. State the request and consequence plainly once time: “You can follow instructions, or you can lose a privilege.” Then, let your child choose. For instance, instead of hounding your child to get to bed or engaging in an argument, simply warn them, “If you don’t go to bed now, you will lose video game privileges for the next 24 hours.” If they continue to defy you, no video games. They’ll also suffer the natural consequence of being exhausted the following day. The best consequences are fair, related to the offense, and carried out consistently. Don’t threaten to take away anything that you won’t follow through with doing.

The Bottom Line

Power struggles with kids can feel incredibly demoralizing to a parent. After a big argument, many a parent has questioned whether they’re even doing this whole parenting thing correctly. Try to remember that testing limits and pushing back is a normal part of child and teen development. It’s their way of learning to be their own person. Try to be patient with them and with yourself. Sometimes, you may just need a quick break to figure out how to handle the situation. You may say, “We’re both upset, so let’s discuss this again in ten minutes.” When you come back to the conversation, you can work together to find a solution or talk about the reason for their opposition.

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