Q: Who usually wins a power struggle?

A: No one. If the child gets his way, the parents feel as if they have given in. If the parents get their way, they are left feeling angry that the struggle had to occur in the first place. Both parents and child are left with residual feelings of resentment and anger no matter who gets their way.  Parenting consultation services will help you figure out how to minimize the bad feelings.

Instead of focusing on winning power struggles, let’s focus on preventing them. Visualize a power struggle as a tug of war with a rope – one person starts it by dangling that rope in front of the other.  As soon as the other party takes it, the power struggle and the bad feelings begin.

No good feelings come from this…

Anyone who has tried to force a 2 year old into a car knows that there are no good feelings that come from this. The parent feels embarrassed and angry, the child feels helpless, overpowered and enraged.   The first rule of preventing a power struggle is this: DON’T ENGAGE. Say to the child “we’re getting in the car now. Do you want to walk, skip, or fly like a bird?” By offering choices to the child you are empowering the child and instilling a sense of cooperation and fun. One word of caution: offer real choices that will make the child feel good, not the choice of “obedience or punishment.”

Children who are offered choices will feel empowered. Their empowerment leads to good feelings about themselves and their relationship with their parents.   Children who are continually overpowered will eventually do one of two things: withdraw into complete submission (often with passive-aggressive tendencies) or seek revenge through secretive behavior. They will not develop the tools to learn to make effective choices.

If this is a pattern that your family is experiencing and you wish to change it, it is never too late. Engaging in power struggles isn’t just detrimental to children; it is damaging to adults and lethal to family harmony. Drop the rope and think of creative alternatives.

Parenting Consultation in Bethesda

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 Written by Jessica Kramer, LCPC, NCC