Creative Child

3 Ways to Diffuse a Power Struggle with Your Child

by Rebecca Eanes

It’s not an uncommon scenario – your kid wants one thing and you want another, so you get caught up in another power struggle, each of you arguing back and forth trying to be heard and respected. This can become an ugly cycle that zaps the joy and peace right out of a home. Break the cycle by trying one of these three strategies the next time you and your kid go toe to toe.


  1. Empathize. When we are faced with a complaining or insolent child, our first reaction is often to posture ourselves for a fight. It’s a natural reaction when we feel threatened, so one of the things we practice in Positive Parenting is softening and responding. Children won’t hear us until they feel heard themselves, so when we try to shut down their feelings or their voices, they naturally push back, and we find ourselves locked in a power struggle that no one really wins. However, by meeting our child with empathy, we can reset the tone of the interaction. It may be something as simple as, “I hear you” or “I understand.” When spoken genuinely, empathy is a powerful diffuser of power struggles because it communicates “I understand you and I’m on your side.”

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Try phrases like these:

“I know homework is frustrating. I hear you.”

“I don’t love folding and putting away laundry either. I understand.”

“Middle school is tough sometimes. I remember.”

“I know how it feels to be disappointed. I get it.”


  1. Offer a reasonable choice or alternative. Kids hear no an awful lot, and many of them are necessary. However, it is very frustrating to be told no all the time and to have so little control over your own life. As adults, we’ve come to take for granted our freedom to eat what we choose, dress how we like, color our hair, and drive ourselves wherever we want to go, but take a moment during your next power struggle to remember what it was like to be a kid. Is there an alternative you could offer that makes you both happy? Sometimes I think we are afraid that offering choices and negotiating are signs of weak parenting and we are afraid these actions compromise our authority, but I believe it shows kids that we respect them as individuals, and this inspires them to respect us more.

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For example, let’s say your teen was invited to a party. You are not comfortable with the scenario and decide not to let her go. She’s furious because “everybody else is going!” You could put your foot down

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