Tell me I’m not alone. I can’t be the only parent that feels like they’re going head-to-head with their strong-willed child EVERY. SINGLE. DAY. I thought parenthood would be a series of one Hallmark moment after another. Instead, it’s one power struggle after another. A battle of wills.
I don’t know about you, but I am tired of the power struggles. I want peace and happiness in my home. I want to be able to make it through a bedtime routine, homework, or chores without feeling like I have to suit up for battle.
That’s why I interviewed one of the best therapists around, Jeff Tesch. Jeff has a proven strategy for quickly diffusing power struggles. He teaches all his clients this strategy, uses it with his six kids, and has used it with the twenty-nine different foster kids who have come through his home. This man knows what he’s talking about!
Go here if you’d like some ideas on how to AVOID power struggles!
LISTEN ABOVE OR READ THE SUMMARY BELOW
JEFF TESCH, LMFT
What You Need to Know First
I don’t think it’s uncommon to see a power struggle between parents and children. I think it’s a natural part of interactions in between us and our kids. However, I don’t think power struggles need to be long and hard. You can learn how to move through them pretty quickly, while teaching our kids a lot of important skills through that process.
It is very normal and healthy for our kids to express their will. It’s our job to b their coach and teach them how to express their will at appropriate times and in appropriate ways.
Why You Need to Diffuse Power Struggles Quickly
Even though power struggles are normal, I do want you to be aware that the longer you ENGAGE in a power struggle, the worse it will be for both you and your child. Your emotions will escalate, everyone will become more upset, and everyone can feel worse after.
What Causes a Power Struggle
I believe is simply a struggle between two wills, yours and your child’s.
It’s bedtime. You need to get your kids in bed. It’s important for them to get their sleep. You feel strongly about it. So that’s a strong will.
On the other hand, your child REALLY wants to stay up, finish their game, keep playing, etc. They begin to express that while you’re still telling them they need to get ready for bed. Now you have a battle of two wills and a power struggle.
How Do I Know If I’m In a Power Struggle?
I think as soon as it starts to feel like you’re going back and forth with your child. You’re defending your position and they’re defending theirs.
You may also feel like the conversation isn’t getting you anywhere or that emotions are now starting to get triggered.
I like to call it tug of war. Imagine a rope, you’re holding one end, your child is holding the other. When you express your will, you’re tugging on your side of the rope. When they’re expressing their will, they’re tugging on their side of the rope. Anytime you feel that you are engaging in a “tug of war” with your child, you’re in a power struggle.
Note: Anytime you are in a power struggle, you are going to want to find a way to stop it as fast as possible. A power struggle is a lose-lose situation. Once again, learn how to avoid a power struggle here and keep reading below to learn how to quickly diffuse one.
How To Diffuse a Power Struggle
Step #1 Drop your side of the rope
The first step is recognition that your in a power struggle then stopping or dropping your side of the rope. Sometimes our kids want us to engage in a power struggle. In our example earlier, if a child is avoiding bedtime, they know that they can stay up later if they get you to play “tug of war” with them.
Here are some things you can say to drop your side of the rope…
“I love you too much to argue with you.”
“You have two choices. You can get ready for bed now or in fifteen minutes.”
“You really wish you could stay up later. Wouldn’t it be cool if you never had to go to bed? Would you like to brush your teeth first or put on jammies first?”
Step #2 Validating
Research has shown that simply validating your child’s feelings and wants can quickly diffuse a power struggle. Here are some examples of what that could sound like:
“ You really wished you could have another cookie”
“Your disappointed that it’s not play time right now, that it’s time to clean up.”
It’s really important to show your understanding so that your child isn’t arguing with you just to try to be understood. Humans want to feel like people understand them and that their thoughts matter. It’s the same with your kids.
In a power struggle, it’s important to remember that your child is a little human with needs, not just an arguing robot.
I’ve also found that throwing a little fantasy into the statement can be really helpful.
“Wouldn’t it be cool if we never had to go to sleep? We could stay awake all night and play basketball! You could help me with chores all night! Oh man, now I wish we didn’t need sleep!”
“Wouldn’t it be cool if you never had to wash your hair? Think of all the shampoo we could save. What if there were some magic machine that could clean your hair without washing it. I would love one of those!”
That fantasy piece can help your child feel even more validated, like they’re not wrong or bad for feeling what they are feeling.
Validating statements and fantasy can also help you stay connected to your child while still being firm about your expectations.
You’ll notice that not once have I said “Give in and give your child what they want.” Rather, I’m saying “Be firm, but be loving at the same time.”
Step #3 Give a consequence
When validating, fantasy, and dropping our side of the rope don’t work, it’s time to get more firm. There are moments that you may need to be even more firm. We have a rule that if our kids start to argue with us, we will give them one prompt to express themselves in a healthy way, then if they continue to argue, they receive a consequence. This keeps arguing at a minimum while giving your kids an opportunity to express their thoughts in a healthy way.
It is important that you do not give in to your child and that you follow through with any consequence you say they will get.
If you have been really CLEAR about arguing and power struggles, you don’t have to feel bad about giving your child a consequence. You gave them every opportunity to choose to avoid one, they know that continued arguing will earn one, yet they continue to argue. You are giving them control over the choices. You are also teaching them that choices have consequences and that is SO HEALTHY!
How using these steps can teach your child life skills
I think it’s demonstrating and modeling that arguing about something rarely gets us anywhere. The steps teach your children that if they want or need something, they need to learn to express that in a healthy way. These skills will help them at work, at home, at school, and in future relationships!