You tell your child to pick up their room and they refuse. You give a consequence but your kid digs in and starts whining or arguing about why they can’t clean up their room right now. Maybe you start yelling or piling on threats to that first consequence but it’s no use because now you and your child are locked into a power struggle and no one is going to win.
Power struggles are an easy trap to fall into mainly because parents in these situations truly believe that they are an authority figure and that their child ought to obey what they say. But when that sort of dynamic becomes a habit in a family it means that kids are learning to fight their parents, not trust them. And so the cycle continues.
The good news is that parents can end power struggles, but it won’t be easy, it will take some practice on how to follow through when you set limits. Here are a few ways to avoid or end power struggles with your kids.
Don’t Give Open-Ended Options
For example, asking your kids, “what do you want for dinner?” can lead to meltdowns over why we all can’t eat pizza every day forever. Instead, give your kids a choice between one thing and another thing. This way, you’re OK with what they are eating and your kids will feel like they have a say. “Do you want spaghetti and meatballs or chicken fingers and peas for dinner?” is a way to ask about dinner without getting stuck in a power struggle.
Say ‘Yes’ More but When You Say ‘No’, Don’t Take It Back
It’s so easy to get into the habit of always saying no before hearing your child out but that just shuts your child down and makes them feel defensive and angry. Instead, listen to your child’s request – no matter how silly it may be and then answer. If you say no to your child, it is important not to buckle and to stick with your no. The second you change your mind because your child cries or whines or pesters then you are teaching your child that that behavior will give them what they want. Follow through on a ‘no’ is incredibly hard but incredibly powerful if done consistently.
Find A Middle Ground
If your child asked you for something that you need to say no to but that you know will cause WWIII in your house – like to play a video game when they’ve had too much screen time, for example. Try going for the middle ground and avoid a power struggle. Tell your child that a video game isn’t an option but maybe reading their favorite book with you or going outside to play could be options. Giving your child clear choices can help them to feel empowered.
Power struggles are the worst. They make parents feel crummy and they make kids feel unseen and unheard. With practice, families can learn to find better ways to communicate that gets everyone what they need.