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Start Doing This! How To Avoid Power Struggles With Your Child

We've all been there. That toddler at the store who's tired. Who wants a cookie and is crying because he can't have one. That teenager who puts up a wall and doesn't want to talk to you when you know there's some discussion that needs to happen. Or maybe that child who you tell them to do something but they say, "No, I'm not going to do that." All of those situations are power struggles. 

This article is dedicated to understanding power struggles and helping you know how to avoid them. So, as we dive in, we're going to gain more clarity on power struggles and the different ways that people power struggle with each other. And then we're going to talk about the 5 steps for avoiding power struggles that are going to be really helpful to you and your family. 

There are 4 different types of communications. 3 of those four types of communications are actually power struggles. And one isn't. So, hopefully, it wouldn't be any kind of a surprise that there's only one way we actually need to communicate or should communicate to not power struggle with other people. So, the 3 types of power struggling are aggressive communication, passive communication, and then passive-aggressive communication. 

Aggressive communication, we're probably pretty familiar with. It looks like bullying, it looks like loud words, Mean statements, threats, getting physical. Passive communication though not a lot of people recognize is actually another form of power struggling. Passive communication is when children whine and pout and complain to get their way. 

They act like the victim. Anyone who's acting like a victim is being passive and they're doing it to manipulate their situation. Then the third type of power struggle is passive-aggressive communication. So, the person could look like a victim by being silent or not talking about it. But in reality, they're hoping to dominate as an aggressor would do just by not using words necessarily. Or if they do use words, there's very few and they're short.

Oftentimes, they point back at the fact that you are the one doing something to them. It oftentimes looks like an attitude problem. Just so you know, adults often use passive-aggressive power struggling more than any other form. Although any person of any age can use all 3 of these different types of power struggling. So, what's the solution? The solution is to be assertive. Assertive communication means planned communication. The person has decided deliberately ahead of time.

This is the way that I'm going to communicate with another person. Well, if somebody is going to be power struggling with you, the best thing that you can do is decide ahead of time "This is exactly how I'm going to communicate when somebody is trying to manipulate me by using a power struggle technique." Deciding ahead of time how you are going to communicate is actually called self-governing.

So, a lot of people know me as a self-government lady because I teach everything through the lens of self-government. Self-government is the process of understanding how your actions relate to your goals and making better decisions to be able to accomplish those goals. Self-government leads to personal freedom and greater bonding and unity within the family. These 5 steps to avoiding power struggles are all related to self-government principles. 

Number 1, live your role. You've got to know who you are in the situation. People who start power struggling with other people or who start getting sucked into power struggles revert to the emotional part of their brain. And when they go to that emotional place, everyone in the room as a child is on the same page. And they're just fighting for who gets the last cookie. It's essentially what it feels like to everybody who goes to that place. 

They forget who they are. If you're the parent then your role is to be the leader, the teacher. You have a certain amount of authority, the parental authority that is just part of who you are in the role of the child. If you don't exercise that parental authority by calmly teaching, nurturing, instructing correcting your child when they are in that state of power struggle, then you've actually just allowed the power struggle to continue, the child will think they won. And so, then that particular type of power struggle will keep happening again and again and again.

When you know who you are and your role in the family, you won't keep your tolerances that high. To be a self-governed parent and a self-governed child, the tolerances need to be below. When somebody is trying to a power struggle with you, don't take it personally. You can't care about the manipulation tactic that they're sending at you.

Can you try to understand them a little bit better and can you care about them as a person? Yes. But you shouldn't be worrying about what type of emotions that they're throwing at you or attacks that they might be making. That can't matter. When someone has moved the emotional part of their brain, they are not thinking clearly. That prefrontal cortex is not running at full capacity.

Their bond with you is getting damaged because they're in a selfish place. You cannot take it personally no matter what they say or do. A good leader keeps in mind who each person is and where they're going together. And again, that goes back to the roles. But you sometimes have to give yourself a no answer which is one of the 4 basic skills we teach in the teaching self-government program.

You have to give yourself a no answer, No, I'm not going to think about that, I'm not going to get emotional about that, I'm not going to take it personally. That is super important. I know it's easier said than done. But try to develop a habit of not taking it personally. Again, that doesn't mean you don't care. 

That just means that you are not going to allow their emotional outburst to impact your emotional logical stability. Number 3, pre-teach for success. If a person is going to have any chance at all at overcoming their habit of a power struggle with other people, you have to allow them to analyze the situation before it ever even occurs.

Which means that you're going to pull the person aside in a really safe environment where they feel like things are good right now and you're going to say, "Have you notice what happens when you get frustrated about this certain thing? Or when so-and-so tries to push your buttons in this way? Or whatever happens in that person's life." And they might say, "Yeah." And then say, "Do you think maybe we could come up with another way so that you don't have to go to that place that emotionally wears you out that makes you feel disconnected from the family and all of these things?" They might be intrigued at that point.

Even if they say, "No, I don't care." You still say, "I think we can come up with something else." And then you're going to teach them skills. One of the most important skills that you're going to teach them is a skill called disagreeing appropriately. That brings us to step 4 which is teaching them the skills they need to stay in the logical part of their brains. So, we teach children 4 basic skills. They are following instructions, accepting no answers, accepting consequences, and disagreeing appropriately. If a person learns all 4 of these four basic skills, that takes care of 99% of their behavioral problems.

Trust me on this. After doing foster care for troubled teens for many years and now teaching this for 20 years, I know this takes care of nearly everything that you could think of. So, did you hear that last skill --disagreeing appropriately? That is usually a child's favorite skill. Because that skill helps them get understood when they feel like they're maybe not being understood. And helps them get their way which makes them happy. They know that somebody is listening to them. Well, your child needs to know how to get his or her way without arguing.

That means they need the skill of disagreeing appropriately. This book, Paije Takes The Stage teaches children how to disagree appropriately. We also talked about the skill in my other courses and things on But the steps to this skill are truly liberating. First, you look at the person so you establish a bond and a connection with that person.

That actually keeps you in the prefrontal cortex because you're thinking about connecting and looking at that person. Step number 2, you keep a calm face, voice, and body. When a person thinks about keeping a calm face, voice, and body, their feelings are transformed from anxiety (which is midbrain) to comfort and safety, which is more of a front brain thing to feel, actually. The third step is to say that you understand the other person's point of view.

That's important because when you're in an emotional place you're only thinking about yourself. Self, self, self. "How do I feel? How do I feel?" When you go to the front brain, you have to think about how everybody might be interpreting this interaction, what they feel like other people need to understand not just yourself. So, this is a great thing to bring a person to the front brain. So, you would say, "I know that you don't want me to go out and play after dinner." That's seeking to understand another person.

Then the next step 4 is to share your point of view so you would say, "But I told Jonathan that I would come back out and play after dinner and I think he's waiting for me. I feel like it might be rude to leave him staying out there. Could I just go out for a few minutes?" Then Step 5 is that you wait to listen to what the other person has to say. And you say "Okay" to whatever it is if it's your parent of course or teacher or something like that, a person in authority. You would say okay and then you drop the subject is the final step. So, maybe the person says, "No, you still can't go out and play after dinner." Then you would say, "Okay." And you would drop the subject.

But hopefully, probably a parent would say, "Oh, yeah. You can go out with Jonathan for 10 minutes. But then when I call you in that's going to be instruction and you need to say okay and come." And remember following instructions is one of those other four basic skills. The fifth step for avoiding power struggles is to consistently correct.

People will contact me all the time. I do this support group calls weekly. And probably on almost every third support call, somebody will ask me some questions that sound like this, "Nicholeen, I have a child who they just keep having so much attitude. I tell them to do stuff but they just won't do it. They just don't care. I don't know how to get over this hump.

They know the 4 basic skills but they just don't seem to care about them. And so I feel like I'm just nagging them all the time." You know, something to that effect. And the first thing that pops into my mind is, "Ah, you're not being consistent." It's very easy to see you're not being consistent.

If you have to nag your children, you're not being consistent. And by the way, nagging leads to excuse-making and wiggling out of problems which then leads to power struggling. It's actually already part of the manipulative power struggling process. But that really kicks off the other 3 power struggling ways. So, you have to consistently correct. Which means you have to keep your tolerances low.

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