Power Struggles and Parenting

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image of Laura Gutierrez, MA

Article by Laura Gutierrez, MA

Power struggles occur when grown-ups inappropriately attempt to control children or when children seek control beyond their age and ability. What you probably do not know is that the need for power and attention are both universal and wired into our biological makeup from birth. Your children have an attention bucket and power bucket that needs to be filled out daily in positive age appropriate ways. When either of those buckets do not get filled out your kids and teens will act out. Your children must have a sufficient dose of emotional connection and positive attention from you daily as well as a sufficient dose of positive power. If not, they will use negative behaviors to get those needs met. 

If the attention bucket is full and your child is still acting out, this means the power bucket is not been filled with plenty of positive power throughout the day. Power refers to the need for autonomy, independence, and control over our own world. If you decide everything for your children and they are not allowed to make age appropriate decisions for themselves daily this will result in power struggles. This also means they are missing out on opportunities to learn to think for themselves and make decisions. Also, by not filling out their power bucket daily your kids are learning to become overly dependent on you. 

The two ages when children make the biggest push for power are at two years old and when they are teenagers. Power struggles for younger kids often occur during mealtime, bedtime, and during potty time. During these times they are in charge so if their need for power is not met in positive ways, power struggles can play out then. As they get older power struggles play out differently with back talk, ignoring, attitude and a badgering with homework and chores. Forcing your kids to behave is not sustainable, especially for strong will kids, as this approach works against the child’s need for power. Punishment and discipline are different things. Blame/Shame/Pain punishment leads to shutting downlow self-worth and no learning takes place. Discipline ensures kids make better decisions in the future, the goal with disciplining is to help them learn, think, and make decisions. 


ConsequencesNot Always the Solution 

Consequences should only be used 10% to 15% of the time when disciplining, for the rest of the time other tools should be used from the toolbox or a series of tools. When you take the consequences route you must make sure to follow 5 guidelines, the 5 Rs: 

  1. RespectfulYou must keep a calm and respectful voice, wait until you can talk about consequences with your children in a calm and respectful wayIf not the child/teen will shut down and the lesson will be missed.

  2. Related: Consequence must be related to the misbehavior. If the consequence is related is easier for them to learn and if is not, they will feel is not fairturn you into the bad guy and resent you instead of learning from the incident. If you cannot think of a consequence that is related, it just means you will need to discipline in a different way like having a good discussion.

  3. Reasonable: must be reasonable in duration.
  4. Revealed: must be revealed in advance, this gives children the power to influence how things can work out for her or him.

  5. Repeatedthey must be able to repeat it back to you. This confirms they understand what is expected after it was revealed to them in advance and that they understand what the consequences will be. 


References: Amy McCready, Founder & President of Positive Parenting Solutions, Inc. amym@positiveparentingsolutions.com (800) 604-1092 

Resources: Free Online Classes at https://www.positiveparentingsolutions. com/