Everyone loses in power struggles. They begin even before age two when kids learn they can assert themselves by saying no, then continue up to the teenage years and even into adulthood. Although power struggles with kids are a normal part of parenting, some strategies can help reduce how frequently they occur.
Power struggles occur when people hold different views. We tend to have power struggles with our kids when they “don’t do as they’re told,” making us feel powerless and out of control.
Power struggles are rarely about our kids’ actions. We rarely get into struggles because our kids don’t put their toys away or have to be told to brush their teeth 20 times. Power struggles are often about kids’ challenging our position as parents and our need to feel more in control.
Understanding that kids’ behavior does not necessarily undermine our position can help change our perceptions and reduce struggles. How do you react when you’re asked to do something you don’t want to do? Putting yourself in your kids’ shoes can also help you change your perception of their misbehavior and see your kid’s resistance from a different perspective.
You know how they say that dropping your tone and speaking lower than you normally would might help you yell less? Using fewer words can also help you avoid getting into verbal struggles. Verbal arguments with kids can go on and on. The best way to avoid getting into a power struggle is to avoid engaging in a verbal argument.
According to Kathryn Kvols, using one-word suggestions is a powerful tool that can help you manage power struggles. For instance, she suggests that instead of telling kids, “Brush your teeth,” simply saying, “Teeth” in a friendly voice keeps you from nagging and helps prevent power struggles.
How we communicate what we’d like our kids to do influences their reactions. Telling your kid, “No you can’t have chocolate now” or “Yes, you can have one chocolate after your dinner” are different ways of saying the same thing. A few education specialists suggest that you are more likely to get compliance from your kid when you give effective and direct commands and also when you make precise requests.
Handing down decision-making power is also one of the easiest ways to reduce power struggles. Several studies have shown that when kids feel like they have a say, they are more likely to cooperate. When we let kids choose when they’ll do their homework, when they’ll tidy their room, or what clothes they’ll wear, we make them accountable for their decisions.
That said, kids need some form of structure within which to make decisions. Letting your kid do his homework five minutes before it’s time to leave for school can only lead to more struggles. Telling him he can choose when to do his homework as long as it’s done before six p.m. or that he can play video games for an hour so long as his homework is done helps give him decision-making power within a structure.
If you look at the things you get into power struggles about, you’ll realize that you often struggle about the same issues: brushing teeth, asking kids to get ready to make it to school on time, or tidying up. It’s easier to plan around what sets you off when you are aware of the common patterns. For instance, if choosing your kid’s clothes always leads to power struggles in the morning, you can help her choose what she’ll wear the night before.
Authentic power means fostering relationships built on love and forgiveness rather than on fear, punishment, and the withdrawal of love. Choosing authentic power means accepting that kids’ views are valid, even though they might go against our own. This doesn’t mean letting our kids get away with whatever they want. Rather, it means letting our kids know their views count.
Parents who privilege authentic power know that negotiation is a powerful tool that promotes family bonding. Ultimately, putting an end to power struggles is about letting kids “win” sometimes.