Overcoming Power Struggles

Health Writer

An argument takes two people, with just one person, it is a temper tantrum.

They are bound to happen, the power struggle between parent and child. Parents believe they have the upper hand, they are the one in control but sometimes a child will test those boundaries and then the power struggle begins.

It might be early morning in your house, and your child is not getting dressed for school. The more you fuss about it, the more defiant he becomes. He is throwing tantrums, refusing to wear the clothes you laid out, playing video games or watching television, or playing with toys, anything but doing what he is supposed to be doing. With each moment your anger builds until it becomes imperative that you have your child do what you say. You need to know you are in control and begin to demand, argumentatively that he get dressed "this very instant." He becomes more defiant. And so the struggle goes. As your power struggle escalates, both of you begin to feel desperation and your reactions show your despair.

Soon, power struggles move on to chores, homework, playing nicely, just about everything. Your relationship with your child becomes strained. You feel tired and drained and their poor behavior reaches levels you didn't think were possible. Power struggles create frustration, anger and resentment for the parent and the child. Resentment can cause a further breakdown of communication until it seems as if all you do is argue with your child.

Prepare Beforehand for Power Struggles Parents must be the one that stops the cycle of power struggles. Parents are the ones that are in control, are the adult and must take charge in a positive way. It is the simplest step that will begin a new cycle. But this step, no matter how simple, is the most difficult. Parents must stop arguing. They must stop feeding into the struggle and the arguments. However simple this sounds, it takes discipline and effort to change the pattern of behavior.

Preparation and creating a plan of action are the keys to regaining control of your household. At night, after your child is in bed, sit down and make a list of the times that you most often argue. Some examples might be:

· Getting ready for school

· Completing homework

· Completing Chores

· Bath time

· Getting ready for bed

Create Choices

Once you have a list, determine a few choices that you can give your child in each situation. These choices must place the responsibility of doing the right thing back to your child, with clear consequences for each choice.

For example, several years ago I received an email from a mother struggling with her 5-year old son each morning. She was a working mother and there were two other children in the household. By the time they were getting breakfast and ready for school, her husband had already left for work. Mornings were hectic trying to get everyone out the door and to school on time. The five-year old son decided he no longer wanted to get dressed on his own, even though he had been dressing himself for months. He would cry, throw tantrums and scream that he could not do this alone. She tried laying out clothes the night before, but it didn't work. She tried ignoring him but couldn't afford to continue and be late for work. She knew that he was capable of getting dressed and was worried about giving in to his tantrum by helping him get dressed each morning. Mornings before school were becoming difficult at best and a major scene at worst. Each morning she would yell, each morning he would defiantly sit and look at his clothes, refusing to put them on.

One morning, she decided to end the power struggle. Calmly, she explained that he had a choice. He could get dressed or he could go to school in his pajamas. She then walked out of the room and continued her routine and getting the other children ready for school. The young child sat in his room screaming. He would not get dressed. Every 5 minutes, she calmly (even though she was upset inside) told him how much time remained until he would have to go to school in his pajamas if he chose not to get dressed. She ignored his screams; she did not feed into the tantrum. He did not believe she would go through with her threat. The first morning, she actually picked him up and began to carry him to the car in his pajamas. He was horrified and quickly got dressed. After that morning, when she was ready to leave the house, he was at the back door, dressed and ready to go.

This situation was quickly solved, although not all power struggles can be resolved after one stand from the parents. After months of allowing children to control the situation, they become used to their power and will often fight before relinquishing it. However, by refusing to participate in the arguments, parents take that power away from the children. By offering choices, they take control back Children have the power to disrupt the situation through tantrums when parents allow them to.

Choose Consequences Carefully It is important to provide choices but make sure you are prepared to carry out any threats you may make. If you make empty threats, your children will know and they will retain the power in the cycle. If you are not willing to pick up your child and bring them to school in their pajamas, don't threaten to. Once you have decided on the choices you will give your child, stick to them and practice your self-control. You need to speak calmly and without raising your voice. If you need to walk away, leave the room, or wait outside for the tantrum to subside. Always remember an argument can only happen if there is more than one person. With just one person, it is simply a temper tantrum.

Some examples of choices to give your children:

  • You can do your homework, or tomorrow I will walk into school with you to let your teacher know why your homework is not completed.
  • You can get dressed, or you can go out exactly as you are.
  • You can clean your room, or you can sit home while your friends go out.
  • You can clean up the dishes, or you can sit with no TV tonight.
  • You can be pleasant at the dinner table, or you can leave the room and eat your dinner alone, after we are finished.
  • You can be nice to your brother/sister or you can sit in the chair by yourself.
  • You may pick up your toys, or I will put them in a box and put them away for 1 week.

Always reiterate to your child that their behavior is their choice. They will reap the rewards or deal with the consequences of their behavior. As difficult as it may be, do not yell or do not talk to them after the choice has been given. Let them struggle with the decision of which choice to make.

Old habits are hard to break, so it may take awhile for your children to understand that you are serious and are no longer being controlled by their emotional outbursts. Keep your cool and continue about your day, not letting them see the frustration you feel. And always, always, go through with the outcome that you have described to them. Be consistent.

Most importantly, when the make the right decision, be sure to give them a big hug and let them know how proud of them you are.

See also:

**Creating a Discipline Process at Home

The Out of Control Child

Behavior Modification

When is a Tantrum Just a Tantrum? Or is it Time to get Help?