How Can I Avoid Getting Into Power Struggles With My Child?

Power struggles are a natural part of parenting and child development. Kids want to control their environment and might engage us in power struggles to get their needs met. Often, as parents, we might react with emotion or by asserting an authoritative stance. However, reacting by saying “do as I say or else!” or lecturing our kids does not teach them the skills they need to obtain what they want. When we find ourselves reacting this way, then we are getting into a power struggle.

Our kids will test our limits and boundaries at every turn. We can keep our emotional reactions in check to keep things from escalating further or erupting into an argument. Power struggles are the way that our kids try to get control over their environment. While these struggles are an inevitable part of our child’s learning process, we can teach our kids the right way to get their needs met.

Power Struggles Are Inevitable

Part of growing up is learning what you can and cannot get away with to get what you want or need. Kids will challenge us, try to manipulate our emotions, make us feel like we are unfair, or try other tactics to get what they want. These tactics can be tiring and draining for us. We might question whether our kids respect us or if we are unreasonable. We might cave to the power struggle, or we might go in the other direction, becoming strict disciplinarians to “teach our child a lesson about respecting our authority.”

What Is the Reason for Boundaries and Limits?

We might need to take a step back from our emotional reactions and look at the motivations for the rules that we set for our kids. Are we teaching our kids how to be responsible adults by setting limits, or are we showing them that “we run the house, not them?” As a parent, being challenged by our kids can make us feel slighted. However, we have to rise above these feelings and look at our child’s lifelong growth and development over our desire to be “in charge.”

Fostering an Open and Honest Environment

When we focus on wanting our kids to listen to us just to maintain a feeling of authority, we might not be fostering an open and honest environment. When our kids fear our authority, they might not come to us when they are in trouble or have made a mistake. By allowing our kids to make mistakes without judgment and focusing on solutions, we can foster a growth mindset for our kids. At Fire Mountain Residential Treatment Center, parents and kids come together to create behavioral contracts to set boundaries and outline expectations when coming home from treatment.

Behavioral contracts can be a great way to get everything out into the open. Once things are written down, we can separate our emotions from the behaviors. Fire Mountain co-founder Aaron Huey explains contracts further in the podcast “Contracts and Consequences” on “Beyond Risk and Back.” The process of sitting down at the table with our kids can teach them to be responsible adults, as we help them find solutions to meet their needs that do not involve problematic behaviors.

Set the Example You Would Like to See

When dealing with conflict and power struggles with our kids, we can set an example for them. Sometimes, when our emotions get the best of us, we react and say things we wish we could take back. If this does happen during a power struggle with our kid, we can do a few things:

  • Recognize that we are “worked up” or upset.
  •  Deal with the current situation at another time.
  • Take a step back and take a break. Lean on your parenting partner for support if you can.
  • Come full circle and show your child how to act when they have made a mistake:
    • Acknowledge that things got heated, and you said something you did not mean to say.
    • Apologize for what you have said while returning to the issue at hand. (Kids might try to use this as a chance to “get off the hook!”)
    • Apologies are not a sign of weakness! 

Remember that your child will look to you as a model or an example, whether you realize it or not. If you react to power struggles by yelling or acting on emotion, your kid might think that this type of behavior is appropriate. Raising kids can be challenging, and experiencing emotions is understandable! Think of your actions as ways to teach your child how to behave and resolve issues appropriately.

Power struggles are emotional reactions we want control over another person’s behavior. When we get into a power struggle with kids, we might yell, scream, or try to remind them that WE are the boss. While we want our kids to respect us and do what is right, sometimes, our emotions can get the best of us, and we begin arguing at their level. Lots for your kid’s teachable moments and connect consequences to lessons that they can carry with them into adulthood. If our primary goal in a conflict is to win, we might need to take a step back and think about what is best for our kids. We can set an example for our children to follow and use behavioral contracts to discuss potential issues before they occur. Fire Mountain Residential Treatment Center is here to help both kids and parents. Call us at (303) 443-3343. We’re here to help your family’s fire burn brightest! 

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