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Power Struggles

Power Struggles Are Not About Winners And Losers

Besides keeping them safe, clothed, and fed, guiding children towards independence is one of parenting’s main tasks. One of its principal characteristics is the gradual transfer of power from the adult to the child. Too soon, and children become disoriented and afraid. Too late invites rebelliousness. The key word here is “gradual.”

As parents, we all want the best for our children and often fear obsessively about their future wellbeing. This is understandable. However, it makes us overprotect them by limiting their freedom of choice. We must realize the only way to shepherd them towards adulthood is by gradually allowing them to make their own choices and accept the consequences, no matter how rough.

“Giving children power, choice, and control builds responsibility, trust, and good will and sets them on the road to competence. Choices help children to solve problems, negotiate, and compromise. These are valuable tools they’ll use throughout their lives and will contribute to the child’s level of competency and self-esteem.”

—Jan Faull, M.Ed.


Power struggles usually occur when children seek power and control beyond their experience and ability, or when parents become dictators. The only time parents should unwaveringly assert their power is when the struggle involves a child’s safety or violates the family’s values. For all other power struggles, the goal is for both adult and child to emerge as winners.

Early Rule-Setting Prevents Most Power Struggles

Most power struggles occur when rules and behavioral expectations are not clear or loosely enforced. Establishing and enforcing these guidelines early on provides young children with healthy boundaries within which to make appropriate choices. As children begin to mature and prove capable of making good choices, parents can concurrently start ceding greater power and autonomy to their children.

Regardless of how well we lay the groundwork though, power struggles will invariably emerge as part of the normal maturation process of your children. And when they do, the goal is to make the problem the enemy and not the child. As this quote explains, it is important not to fight your children or give into their demands, but look for an opening and opportunity to redirect your children’s attempt at outright rebellion towards a positive path for choice making.

Active Parent Publishers offers one effective tool parents can use to diffuse a power struggle and facilitate a conversation. This tool, called the FLAC method, involves four steps:

· Feelings (Acknowledge what you and your children are feeling)
· Limits (Remind them of the rules that are set at home)
· Alternatives (Offer alternatives or acceptable options)
· Consequences (Should they not pick an appropriate option, enforce the consequence connected to the behavior)

The most effective consequences are those which are under the parents’ complete control, e.g., limiting screen time or time with friends, suspending allowance, driving privileges, taking away their cellphone, etc. Consequences which rely on the participation of the children, like household chores, will most likely spark a new power struggle. Two methods of using consequences effectively are the either/or choice and when/then choice. Both methods provide the children with the opportunity to choose a positive or negative consequence through behavior.

In any power struggle, keep your emotions in check and speak matter-of-factly. Remember: A power struggle is always an emotional battle over who is in control. As a parent, you must retain this role until your children are prepared to assume control and responsibility over their own lives.

Ready to learn more? Sign up for an Active Parenting course through Olive Crest or learn how you can host a course at your site. You can also reach us by phone at (714) 543-5437 ext. 9065.

Parenting Education is a program of Olive Crest. Funded by: OC Health Care Agency (HCA), Mental Health and Recovery Services, Office of Suicide Prevention, Mental Health Services Act/Prop. 63

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