Stop the power struggles in your home

Learn tips on how to deescalate and prevent these exhausting battles

Power struggle. Two young girls each mad for the same reason. Pouting.

Have you ever asked your child to do something and receive a “No!” in return? If this becomes a back and forth battle, it can be exhausting and frustrating. You are experiencing a power struggle.

Why do power struggles happen?

Power struggles are situations when your child competes for power and control or refuses authority. Parents often encourage power struggles by arguing, insisting, and giving in. Power struggles are a normal part of growing and developing.

Deescalating power struggles

Consider these tips to decrease power struggles in the moment:

  • Stay calm. Your voice may get louder and your emotions may get stronger. Don’t engage in the battle. Instead, take a deep breath, think clearer, and respond with a quiet, firm voice.
  • Pick your battles. Keep things in perspective. For some behaviors, it is appropriate to ignore and not make a big deal. For example, what to wear is not always worth the battle.
  • Respond with silence. Sometimes it’s as simple as letting your child know you will not continue to talk with him or her until he or she calms down. Back out of the power struggle and be quiet for 10 to 60 seconds. It sends a message: I am not fighting about this.
  • Validate your child’s feelings. For example, say, “I can see you are mad because we have to pick up the toys. It’s okay to be sad. Would you like to race to see who can finish first?” Do your best to understand your child’s perspective and feelings.

Preventing power struggles

Consider these tips to prevent power struggles from happening in the future:

  • Give back some control. Give your child a choice between two things. “Do you want water or milk to drink?” “Are you going to wear your jacket or take it with you?” Make sure you are happy with both options.
  • Create jobs and tasks. Set aside tasks where your child can be the helper. Whether it is setting the table for meals or folding laundry. This will help your child to feel a sense of success and accomplishment.
  • Keep healthy routines. Create consistent, daily routines for your family throughout the day. Remind him or her what is about to happen and when change is going to occur.
  • Set limits and follow through. Set firm limits on what is acceptable behavior and what the consequences will be. Stick to it and follow through. Try to avoid giving in to your child’s arguments or demands.
  • Hug it out. Focus less on the power struggle itself. Focus more on the relationship and trust you have with your child. Hug it out and work to solve the situation together.

Power struggles will not be completely eliminated because they are a part of normal, healthy development. However, by working together with your child you can eliminate some of these struggles in the future.

Your child’s temperament will also influence the intensity of power struggles. For more tips and tools personalized for you and your child, complete a temperament questionnaire. Call Sanford’s Parenting Line at (605) 312-8390 or email

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Posted In Children's, Parenting

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