Avoiding Power Struggles with Your Child

Power struggles in parenting are common, but they can also be stressful, unpleasant and negatively impact the relationship you have with your child. In a power struggle, nobody wins! The good news is that implementing some consistent strategies can significantly reduce power struggles. When we learn how to reduce power struggles, we are teaching our children lifelong skills that build good character, such as responsibility and self-control.


What are we talking about when we say power struggles? We are talking about an exchange between a parent and a child that generally results in a high level of tension and anger. When we ask our child to do something and they refuse to comply, we often notice that we are involved in a power struggle. All humans strive to feel powerful. When a child is feeling overpowered, they may react to their feelings of powerlessness by fighting back through oppositional behaviors.


One observation I see often with families I work with is that parents make the mistake of engaging or escalating the negative interaction with their child when their child is in an emotionally reactive mood state. In addition, it often comes down to not following through. For example, if a parent states an expectation and then they retract it after their child protests, you are sending the message to your child that if they misbehave, they will get what they want. Ignoring is the opposite of paying attention. When you ignore a behavior you are sending a message to your child that they will not get their needs met by acting out, but rather by behaving in an appropriate manner. Obviously there are certain behaviors that should not be ignored (i.e. your child is causing harm to themselves or others or being destructive to property…etc.).


I often educate parents on the CPR’s of Parenting in an effort to reduce power struggles:


CPR’s of Parenting


Consistency –If I’m consistent, my child knows I am “unchanging” over a period of time.


Predictability –If I’m predictable, my child knows what to expect.


Reliability – If I’m reliable, my child knows that if I say something I’m going to follow through with it.


Dr. Scott Koenig, Psy.D.