First 30 Days Blog

01 sep

3 Steps to Avoid Power Struggles

MaricleWhy Do We Power Struggle with Our Kids?

Do you find yourself caught in power struggles with your kids? Most of us do, and sometimes, just making a few small changes can have a big impact. At every stage of development, having a sense of power is critical to a positive self-image. Whether your child is on the Autism spectrum and needs to feel a high level of control, or he is just feeling the usual growing pains of adolescence, all kids need to have some decision-making power.

Giving choices can help kids feel more independent, capable, and in control.

MaricleImageInterestingly enough, when your child feels this way, you will too! The next time you find yourself in a power struggle, look for a way to offer a choice. Better yet, don’t wait for a power struggle – build your child’s self-esteem and save yourself frustration by proactively looking for opportunities to offer choices. Younger children don’t have the tools to understand many things, but we can empower them with little choices: Peanut butter and jelly, or turkey? Yellow shoes or grey shoes? Would you like to brush your teeth before or after the story? Teenagers can understand more and have more input into more significant decisions.

Building decision making skills is one of our most important jobs as parents.

Making choices builds critical thinking, perspective taking, planning, and other important cognitive skills. Just think how many times a day you use these skills yourself. If you help your children practice decision making when they are with you, they are better equipped and more likely to make good decisions when they are alone.

Choice, Stick to It, Praise
This is an easy three-step approach that I teach parents. It can help empower families to avoid power struggles while teaching decision-making skills.

1. Choice:
Take the example of 3 year-old Maggie, who is at the Please Touch museum. Mommy is ready to move on, but Maggie’s not. She refuses to put down a stick. Instead of getting into a power struggle, her mom might say something like: “Maggie would you like to put the stick back here on the blue ledge, or on the red one?”

It’s amazing how giving even a small choice empowers kids and helps them to feel more in control. In this example, Maggie enjoys age appropriate independence and decision-making power. When she completes the task, she can feel proud of her accomplishment. Secondly, by giving her a choice of where to place the stick, her mom uses distraction to shift her focus away from the transition and onto something else.

Now consider an example with 14 year-old Max. He really wants to play both soccer and baseball this year. Unfortunately, there is only enough money for one sport. What if his parents gave him an appropriate amount of information and then involved him in the decision? They might say something like: “Max, we have $200 for sports for you this season. Soccer costs $150 and baseball costs $190. If you choose soccer, then you would have enough money left over to buy new cleats. If you choose baseball, there’s only $10 left over, so you will have to use your old equipment. What would you like to do?” Max has enough information to understand the rationale, and has power in prioritizing what he wants. Now instead of focusing on how it’s “not fair,” or feeling that you don’t care, he is engaged in problem solving and prioritizing together with you.

2. Stick to it:
You need to be consistent. If you tell your child that you have only $200 for sports, you can’t miraculously produce an extra $150 because he whines or begs.

Consistency and predictability make kids feel safe, let your child know that she can trust your word.

3. Praise:
Let her know she did a good job. Most of us love to get a pat on the back. Most kids do too and you will help build a positive self-concept by reinforcing their positive choices and qualities.
Make praise concrete, earnest, and focused on their innate personal qualities or effort.

Try phrases like:
“Wow, you worked so hard.”
“Great job figuring this out,” or
“You’re such a good cook.”

What’s your experience with power struggles? What are your worst or most typical power struggles with your kids about? Which struggles pull you in every time? What are some strategies that have worked for you? (Or which strategies haven’t worked?)

Amy Johnson Maricle, LMHC, ATR-BC is a psychotherapist and art therapist in Foxboro, MA. She loves helping teens and adults find ways to live happier, healthier, and smarter. You can find out more at: www.amyjohnsonmaricle.com

DISCLAIMER: This information is not a substitute for professional psychological advice, diagnosis, or treatment. All content provided by Maricle Counseling and Amy Maricle, LMHC, ATR-BC is intended for general information purposes only. Never disregard professional medical or psychological advice or delay seeking treatment because of something you read here.

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Posted by Amy Maricle on September 1st, 2013 in Family, Teens | 2 comments Read related posts in , , , ,

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2 Comments

  • Good advice. Love the illustration.

    — Added by cobber on September 2nd, 2013
  • HI Cobber: Thanks so much for reading. I’m so glad you like the illustration too. It was something I created because I was frustrated that I could not find an image that really captured the frustration of the dead end of a power struggle.
    All the best,
    Amy

    — Added by Amy Maricle on September 4th, 2013

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