When I was five years old, I locked myself in the car and wouldn’t come out. I was in there for hours – most of the day – before I decided to come out. The adults tried everything they could think of to get me to unlock the door or to come out, but I was determined not to do it. When one of the adults came to the car and talked to me instead of trying to control me, she changed my life. She was genuine. She wasn’t trying to trick me to do what she wanted. She explained clearly and honestly that I was scaring her and what she needed me to do. She didn’t participate in a power struggle with me. That’s when I came out of the car.
What’s the moral of the story? It takes two to create a power struggle, so don’t engage if you find yourself in one. Here are a few tips that many experts in the field agree upon:
According to “Eighteen Ways to Avoid Power Struggles,” by Jane Nelsen, “Power struggles create distance and hostility instead of closeness and trust. Distance and hostility create resentment, resistance, rebellion (or compliance with lowered self-esteem). Closeness and trust create a safe learning environment…Adults need to remove themselves from the power struggle without winning or giving in. Create a win/win environment.”
Karan Sims, author of “Dealing with Power Struggles,” tells us that when we get into a power struggle with our child to ask ourselves, “How can I give my child more power in this situation?” She says: “One mother asked herself this question concerning an endless battle she was having with her son about buckling his seat belt. Her solution was that she made him boss of the seat belts – it became his job to see that everyone was safely secured. The power struggle ended.”
In “Power Struggles Part I: Are You at War with a Defiant Child?” James Lehman says, “…It surprises many parents when I say that we don't want to take all power struggles away. Rather, we want to take the defiance out of the power struggle. This is because as kids go through their developmental stages, they need to challenge their parents appropriately in order to get more autonomy. And parents, in turn, need to teach their kids that with autonomy comes responsibility and accountability…”
We hope that these tips and ideas will help you and your child move beyond the typical power struggle. You can learn more about Behavior on our Behavioral Health page. And be sure to look for additional resources on our Find Services, Groups & Events page.