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Power Struggles

by Shirley King

There isn't a parent who hasn't felt challenged by his or her child at one time or another. The child who says "No! You can't make me!" creates a feeling in the parent of "Oh yes, you will!" The child's heels then dig in deeper, while the parent gets angrier and angrier.

Most parents are familiar with the term "power struggle." It definitely is a struggle for power between the parent and the child. Both are feeling frustrated, powerless, and are fighting to get a sense of personal power and control in their lives.

The parent is feeling anger in her need to control the child; to make him mind. Behind this anger is a feeling of being threatened. The parent feels because she is the parent, she should be in control of the child's behavior. The parent recognizes when there is a power struggle by her sense of being challenged, her feeling of anger, and her increased demands for obedience from the child.

In turn, the child who is involved in power struggles is feeling determined to stand his ground. He will not be bossed around; he will not be controlled. He will fight back at every opportunity. He learns through these power struggles that he finds his place through anger and fighting.

"Children who are into power," writes Jane Nelson, Ed.D. in Positive Discipline "are usually involved with an adult who is into power. It is the adult's responsibility to change this atmosphere." The most important thing the parent can do is to see the part she plays in the power struggle. It is imperative, for the sake of the relationship, that the parent begins to take responsibility as the parent to begin to heal the relationship. There are several things a parent can do to reduce power struggles within the home.

After realizing she may be actually promoting the power struggles, the parent can decide to not fight and to not give in. She can disengage from the fight. She has to be completely emotionally detached from overpowering her child. There is power in disengagement. The parent needs to remain emotionally cool and calm. Without her anger there will be no power struggle because the child will have no one to fight against.

Second, parents need to give up the concept that they can make their children do anything. Instead, parents can inspire, teach, influence, lead, guide, motivate, stimulate, and encourage their children to positive, cooperative behavior. Catch them being good!

Third. In disengaging, parents need to act, not speak. Parents need to become active rather than reactive parents. For example, a temper tantrum becomes ineffective and silly if the parent withdraws to the other room--with no slamming of doors. Child psychiatrist Rudolf Dreikurs called this "taking the sail out of their wind."

Fourth, later during a cooled-down period, parents can talk about what they want from their child.

A parent can say, in a loving, accepting tone, "Son, in the morning, would you prefer to get dressed here or in the car?" If children feel personal power through choices, then they do not feel the need for power through conflict.
Power struggles can destroy a parent-child relationship. Power struggles can destroy a child's sense of self-worth and self-esteem. Power struggles can eventually escalate into the more serious stage of rebellion and revenge.

With this in mind then, Parents can take a look at their relationship with their child. Are there more feelings of anger than love and peace? Are there power struggles going on? If so, the parent needs to begin to make some changes immediately. During a calm period the parent can spend time playing with child to encourage more good behavior. The parent needs to remember and to get back to the love, let go of the control., and once again begin encouraging and enjoying the child. Demanding and orders are not love. Love is the affectionate, caring, kind leading and guiding of our children.

Read the next parenting article on the bedtime blues >>
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