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Avoiding Arguments and Power Struggles with Your Kids

Learn how to avoid arguments and unwinnable power struggles with your children.

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Avoiding Arguments and Power Struggles with Your Kids

"Can I spend the night at Corey's house?"
"Not tonight, I'd like you to stay home with us."
"I haven't gone to Corey's in over a month."
"Not tonight, please."
"There's nothing to do here. It's boring."
"Please don't argue."
"I don't get it. Why can't I go? Give me one good reason."
"Because I said so. If you don't stop arguing, you are going to be grounded."
"Big deal. Go ahead and ground me. What's the difference? I can't ever do anything anyway."
"Okay. You're grounded for the entire weekend. Go to your room."
"I can't wait until I grow up and get out of this house."

Children love to argue. They want their ideas to be everyone else's ideas. They like to prove that they are right and you and everyone else are wrong. Children like to control the situation. They enjoy having power over their parents.

Children have a need for power. This need is normal; children see adults as having power. We do what we want to do; at least, that's what our children think. We appear self-reliant and secure. We are all grown up. We have power. Children want to be like us. They want power, too.

Having a need for power is not a bad thing. It is only when a child uses power in a negative way that power can become a problem. Power-seeking children try to do what they want to do. They refuse to do what you ask. Children who seek power do not like to be told what to do. They resist authority. They like to make the rules. They like to determine how things are going to be done.

Why You Can't Win a Power Struggle
Most parents deal with power by emphasizing countercontrol. This does not work. Efforts to control a power-seeking child often lead to a deadlock or power struggle between your child and you. No final victory is ever possible for you. Once you find yourself in a power struggle, you have lost.

If your child wins the power struggle, he is reassured that power caused the victory. You were defeated by his power. If you win the power struggle, your child thinks that it was your power that caused the victory and defeated him. He is reassured of the value of power. This results in children striking back, again and again, each time with stronger methods. You win the battle but lose the war.

Every child displays power differently. Most power struggles are active. Arguing is a good example of active power. Some children have learned the value of passive resistance. Rather than argue, these children will refuse to do what you asked. They nod their heads and just sit quietly. Some even smile a little. This type of power has a definite purpose-to push your buttons.

How to Handle Power
Stop being part of the power struggle. It takes two to have a power struggle. It takes two to argue. Make a firm commitment to yourself that you will no longer engage in arguments and lengthy explanations. State your expectations clearly and firmly and walk away. Tell your child exactly what you want him to do, when he must do it, and what happens if he does not. Then walk away.

"It's time to turn off the TV."
"I want to watch the next show."
"Sorry, it's time to get ready for bed."
"Can't I stay up for one more show?"
"Not tonight. We have to get up early."
"We always have to get up early."
"Turn off the TV. Get your shower and go to bed. Do it now, or you will lose TV for tomorrow night."

Do not stay in the situation and argue. Go to your room and close the door if necessary. Do not let your child push your buttons. If you get angry, you will be rewarding your child. Your anger will give your child the power over you that he seeks. You may need to use punishment when dealing with power. Tell your child what to do. Be ready with a punishment if your child fails to cooperate. If you punish a child because of a power struggle, remember two things. First, do not punish in anger; this will only encourage your child to strike back with power. Second, smaller punishments work better than bigger punishments. If your child thinks you have punished him too harshly, he will retaliate with power.

When your child does what you ask without an argument, thank him. Call attention to it: "Thank you. You did what I asked without an argument. I appreciate that. It shows you are cooperating." As a long-term solution, remember that a child's need for power can be a positive thing. Look for independence, self-reliance, leadership, and decision making. When your child shows these qualities, spotlight them. Catch him being good. As with most behavior problems, the positive approach is the best remedy for handling power.

The Difference Between Power and Authority
The difference between power and authority lies within you. When you have to confront your children, emphasize cooperation, not control. Stay calm and rational in spite of the situation. Guard your anger button. Stop and think. Do not react impulsively. Give clear and specific expectations. Explain what will happen if your child chooses not to cooperate. Do not give ultimatums. Focus on influencing your child's motivation.

Here is an example of a parent using power:

"Why can't I go?"
"Because I said so. I'm your father."
"What has that got to do with it?"
"Well, I'm going anyway."
(Dad gets angry.) "I'm warning you. If you go to that party, you are going to be in big trouble."
"Oh sure. What are you going to do?"
"You just wait and see."

Here is an example of a parent using authority:

"Why can't I go?"
"I don't think it is going to be safe."
"I can handle it."
"There is going to be a lot of drinking at that party. Probably drugs, too. I don't want you there."
"I'll be okay. You don't have to worry."
"You don't understand. I trust you. That's not the problem. I don't trust some of those other kids. You can't control what they will do."
"Everyone else is going."
"I know you want to go very much. I know you'll be disappointed."
"I want to go."
"Sorry. You can't go. You can do something else. Have some kids over here."

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