A Common Story.
Let’s talk about a situation that I know most parents have encountered before. It’s before dinner time and you’re at the grocery store when your sweet little angel wants candy. You, in your infinite wisdom, know this is not a good idea and refuse to hand it over. Your child, in their most persistent manner, will not drop the issue. They will whine, threaten, badger, bargain, flatter, or attempt any other tactic to get their way. A power struggle ensues if you, as the parent, engage the child in their desperate attempt to get what they want. The child has the parent exactly where he or she wants them. That is, in a debate where the child now has the upper hand. The child’s mindset is that if I can get you upset, out of control, and/or negotiating with me then maybe it will lead to getting what I want: candy!
The Danger of Power Struggles.
Power struggles can lead to a break down of the emotional bond between the parent and the child. Prolonged fighting with your child can cause the relationship to suffer in that you as the parent may begin to feel angry or resentful towards your child. You may find that you do not enjoy time with your child or that your reactions towards them become increasingly negative. As you become more defensive in the relationship it can contribute to your child’s poor behavior as they anticipate and sense your anger towards them. This can result in setting up vicious and negative patterns of interaction that slowly ware away the parent-child relational bond.
Parents and children who frequently engage in power struggles with one another tend to miss out on the benefits of having a safe and secure attachment. Children may internalize the anger and frustration of their parents to the point where they feel bad about themselves or believe that something may be wrong with them. They may also grow to see others as being unsafe and not to be trusted. Developing a negative view of self and others is extremely devastating to the healthy development of any child. These are just a few of the reasons parents need a healthier way dealing with power struggles.
Stop the power struggles.
If your child attempts to suck you in to power struggles like the one I described please do not be alarmed. All children naturally test the limits. It is not a bad thing but rather normal behavior that is to be expected and a part of a child’s development. Managing your emotions is the first step. If you are out of control chances are you child will be too. Our job as parents is to stay in control of our own emotional responses and to firmly, yet gently, set the boundaries on their behavior. The problem is that we do not always do this. Parents will often get into power struggles with their children when they themselves become out of control and fail to manage their own emotions, especially anger. The moment you allow your anger to enter into the discipline process you have allowed your child to have the upper hand. It takes two to have a power struggle and when you, as the parent, lose control you are playing right into it.
The biggest mistakes parents make that result in power struggles is losing emotional connection to themselves and their child, allowing anger to turn into out of control behavior (for both parent and child), and engaging in the negativity. Do not negotiate your power and authority as a parent when a rule is being enforced! Your child has to learn that there is only one way he or she is going to get the candy and that is by doing exactly what you say as the parent. There is no bargaining, kissing up, or angry and aggressive outburst that is going to get the child what he or she wants! In fact, if the child tries to manipulate the situation it will lead to not only missing out on the candy but having additional consequences as well.
Children may not hear everything but they surely see everything you do. This is why you want to model the behavior you want to see in your children. When they see you managing your emotions and controlling your behavior they will learn. You want to help your child to learn how to control emotions and behaviors and to learn how to delay gratification. The best way to accomplish this is to identify the deeper emotions – the roots of behaviors – going on for you and for your child. Sharing on a deep emotional level lowers the defenses and stops power struggles dead in their tracks! It helps your child to understand their needs and feelings and to learn how to manage difficult and painful emotions. Closeness to a loved one and receiving comfort and care develops the parent-child bond and is the BEST antidote to power struggles.
Get help if needed.
It is good to know that we are not alone in our parenting efforts and that there is so much help readily available for all of us. To start with on almost any given day you can read or hear a parenting expert give advice. There are numerous books written by numerous authors that offer solid support and guidance. If a more intensive intervention is needed then it is best to go and see a counselor who is trained in Marriage and Family Therapy. Crossroads counselors are trained in Marriage and Family Therapy and also have specific training in family, parenting, marriage, and relationships problems. We can provide specific, guided, and directed help to overcome power struggles and with other parenting problems.
If you want to improve family dynamics and connection call us at 623-680-3486,text 623-688-5115, or email email@example.com. You can ask all the questions you have and see if family, child, or teen therapy at Crossroads is the right fit for you and your family. You can also learn more about Emotionally Focused Family Therapy (EFFT) which is a family based therapy. Our offices are conveniently located throughout the Valley of the Sun including Phoenix, Anthem, Paradise Valley, and Scottsdale. We have online/virtual family therapy for anyone in Arizona. We would be honored to support you and help your family. You can start your therapy journey by following these simple steps:
- Contact Crossroads Counseling
- Meet with a child therapist
- Begin addressing your relationship struggles