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When is this power struggle going to end?

Hi Mark,

I did what you said below and it worked. Afterwards he and I agreed that he could sleep over at Grandma's, when I went to class.

He ran away again, once in June and once in July. Last weekend when he ran away, I went down to the police station and filed a runaway/missing person report. I told them that he usually ends up at Grandma's house, that he gets in my face, yells at me and pushes me around. The officer said that when they pick him up, they will call me and ask me if I want them to take him in. She didn't give me specifics as to if it was a hold cell, etc. My son is still living at Grandma's and has yet to be picked up.

My son has a key to the back door. I have been blocking the door so he can't enter it as he would come in the house while I am at work for 'his stuff'. But I know that if he can't find something or anything that sets him off, he will break something.

The last 2 months have been really hard. My son calls me stupid F___Bitch all the time. He is mad that I signed him up for summer school and refused to do anything. I refused to take him to ride his dirt bike until he hands in his assignments.

He always looks for a fight so he has a reason to get mad and break something. I am trying very hard to stay calm. How do I get him to calm down and realize his inappropriate actions? When is this power struggle going to end?




Hi L.,

Since you are a single parent, you are the designated "bad guy." Your child probably directs most - if not all - of his anger and rage toward you. But his anger is displaced. He is upset about many different things for many different reasons. Thus, as difficult as it may be, do not take his attacks personally (although in most cases the attacks will need a consequence).

Kids 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. Kids like to control the situation. They enjoy having power over their parents.

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

Having a need for power is not a bad thing. It is only when a son uses power in a negative way that power can become a problem. Power-seeking kids try to do what they want to do. They refuse to do what you ask. Kids 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 counter-control. This does not work. Efforts to control a power-seeking son often lead to a deadlock or power struggle between your son and you. No final victory is ever possible for you. Once you find yourself in a power struggle, you have lost.

If your son 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 son thinks that it was your power that caused the victory and defeated him. He is reassured of the value of power. This results in kids striking back, again and again, each time with stronger methods. You win the battle but lose the war.

Every kid displays power differently. Most power struggles are active. Arguing is a good example of active power. Some kids have learned the value of passive resistance. Rather than argue, these kids 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.

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 son exactly what you want him to do, when he must do it, and what happens if he does not. Then walk away.

For example:

P: "It's time to turn off the TV."
C: "I want to watch the next show."
P: "Sorry, it's time to get ready for bed."
C: "Can't I stay up for one more show?"
P: "Not tonight. We have to get up early."
C: "We always have to get up early."
P: "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 son push your buttons. If you get angry, you will be rewarding him. Your anger will give your son the power over you that he seeks. You may need to use punishment when dealing with power. Tell your son what to do. Be ready with a punishment if your son fails to cooperate. If you punish him because of a power struggle, remember two things.

First, do not punish in anger; this will only encourage your son to strike back with power.

Second, smaller punishments work better than bigger punishments. If your son thinks you have punished him too harshly, he will retaliate with power.

When your son 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 his need for power can be a positive thing.

Look for independence, self-reliance, leadership, and decision-making. When your son 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 lies within you. When you have to confront your kids, 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 son chooses not to cooperate. Do not give ultimatums. Focus on influencing your son's motivation.

Here is an example of a parent using power:

"Why can't I go?"
"Because I said so. I'm your mother."
"What has that got to do with it?"
"Well, I'm going anyway."
(Mother 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."

How can you correct your kids and avoid arguments? Verbal corrections are part of good discipline. The purpose of verbal corrections is to teach better decision-making.

Here are some suggestions:
  1. Begin by validating your relationship: "You are my son and I love you. Nothing you do will ever change that."
  2. React appropriately to the size of the problem. If your son misbehaves while shopping, restrict him from shopping: "You can't go shopping with me for two weeks. You will have to stay home. I hope that when you can come with me again, you will behave."
  3. Remind your son of previous good behavior: "That's not like you. You are always very well behaved when we go shopping."
  4. Separate your son from his behavior. Say, "That behavior is unacceptable." Do not say, "Anyone who would do that is stupid."
  5. State your concern: "Your behavior at the store was not acceptable. I was embarrassed."

Do not ask why. Kids misbehave because they choose to misbehave. When you ask why, you are suggesting there may be an excuse: "Why did you do that?" "He told me to do it." Clever kids will search for excuses until they come up with one that you accept. If you don't accept it, you then have a power struggle on your hands.

Realize that an upset child is not a good listener. This is not the time for constructive communication. Wait until he cools off.

Teach your kids to learn from their mistakes rather than suffer from them. Point out things they do wrong by showing them ways to do it better: "You remembered to take out the garbage. Good going. The twist ties need to be a little tighter next time. I'll show you how."

Admit you are wrong once in a while. This is a tough one. Your kids will learn from your example. When you openly admit your mistakes and weaknesses, you are showing them that grown-ups are not perfect. We don't know everything.

Do not carry on about small mistakes; deal with it and then let it go. The purpose of verbal corrections is to have a more cooperative youngster. Misbehaviors and mistakes are normal. You can help your son best by minimizing problems. Do not dwell on them, or rehash the day's problems. Kids cannot build on weaknesses. They can only build on strengths.

When a child feels hurt or angry, he may want to get even. He wants to hurt you. Getting even takes away some of his hurt and anger. Getting even makes kids feel that justice has been served. Revenge is important to kids because of their keen sense of fairness.

Revenge can destroy relationships between parents and kids. This is especially true of teenagers. Some kids embarrass you in front of others. Some kids strike out at something that is special to you. Some kids hurt a younger brother or sister. Some kids run away. Some kids will break a window or break something of value. I once worked with a mother who had a vengeful teenage son. One day she came home to find that he had thrown all of her fine china and crystal glasses into the street. Revenge is not pleasant.

Revenge typically begins when you punish your child for something he believes is unfair. He decides to get even with you by misbehaving again. He pushes your buttons. You get angry and punish again. He strikes back again. The cycle of retaliation begins.

The target of your son's revenge is your feelings. A child who wants to get even wants to hurt you. If he does, he has achieved his payoff. Some parents lack self-confidence about their skills as a parent. Clever kids realize this and take full advantage of the parent's weakness.

Revenge-seeking kids know exactly where to strike. They say things such as, "I hate you. You're a terrible mother." The reason for these remarks is to make you feel hurt. You feel that you have failed your kids. They want you to feel inadequate and guilty.

When you feel inadequate or guilty, you begin to question your own judgments. Then you begin to give in. There is nothing a revenge-seeking child would like more than for you to become inconsistent. This is the payoff they are looking for.

Believe in your own abilities, and you will not become the victim of your son's revenge. Support yourself. When your son strikes at your buttons, remain strong. Tell yourself that you are a good parent – you are doing the best you can.

Be positive when disciplining your son. Do not criticize. Be sure that consequences are fair and that they make sense to your son. Consequences should not humiliate or embarrass your son. They should be mild. They should teach your son to make better decisions. Do not use punishment to get even with your son for something he has done that hurts you or makes you angry.

Many parents measure their worthiness by their kid's success: "If I am a good parent, why are my kids so bad?" They feel that if their kids are not perfect, then they must be less than adequate as parents. By believing this, you are making yourself vulnerable to your kids. You become an easy target for any child looking for a button to push.

Think about the reasons you might feel this way. Are you insecure about yourself? Do you feel this way because of your spouse? Is this a leftover belief from your relationship with your parents? Think about your strengths rather than your insecurities. The more you focus on your strengths -- the more confident you will become. Stay calm when your son says, "I hate you." Say, "I'm sorry you feel that way, but I have to do what's right."

Being a good parent does not always mean that you will be your child's best friend. There have been many times when my kids have been angry with me. I do not like how it feels, yet I am not going to give in to their demands. I am not going to criticize myself. Ten years from now they will not remember the time I would not let them watch an R-rated movie. But they will remember my commitment to them. I am going to support myself because I know that what I am doing is best.


My Out-of-Control Teen


•    Anonymous said… I have a 14 year old daughter who says the same thing to me. She was also just recently diagnosed with also having ODD. Although sooo hard sometimes not to engage, I have found if I walk away and ignore that works better. I will admit though that lately it's been so bad with her swearing and the wanted to do as she pleases that I have been having a hard time not engaging and have several times. Sometime it just makes you feel like such a failure as a parent and helpless. Hang in there mom and know your not alone
•    Anonymous said… Omg I thought I was alone. My 9 year old who has always been difficult but manageable has morphed into something I am struggling to daily manage without losing it. I know life is a struggle but so tired of being a punching bag....seriously considering giving full custody to her father.
•    Anonymous said… When I read things like this I become fearful. My son is only six now and I don't think that I could stand him calling me a b####. It would take my spirit away.
•    Anonymous said… When my son is like this I have to love him twice as hard, I find it is insecurities or something that has upset his balance. I try to help him find his peaceful place so take away the computer etc and go to the beach, the library somewhere calming to change the subject. I know it's hard in no way am I undermining your feeling, I feel this way sometimes too and he is very full time. But sometimes changing his environment changes the mood, something he is successful at and then we talk about how great he is at it.

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1 comment:

Justamum said...

Hi Mark et al,

This is my first blog post - ever. I have just read this piece, which offers some valuable advice.
My 15-year-old daughter (history of anorexia, chronic anxiety and now Asperger's) will not allow me to say 'no' to a request, give my reasons and then leave it. She ratchets the situation up, refuses to leave me alone and steals things such as my laptop or phone to force the the exchange to continue into an argument. I tell her that we need to have a cool-off period, but she follows me into every room, haranguing all the while.
Do you have any ideas how to effect a cooling off period without actually leaving home?
She is extremely rigid.


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