Education and Counseling for Individuals Affected by Oppositional Defiant Disorder and ADHD

Search This Site

Parent-Child Arguments: How to Avoid Power Struggles

Disputes between you and your kids are inevitable in family life.

If your family never has arguments, it probably means that issues are being avoided. To become productive grown-ups, kids need to be able to voice their opinions - even if they disagree with yours - and feel they are being taken seriously. Even so, you can and should keep the negative impact of arguments to a minimum.

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 moms and dads. Kids have a need for power. This need is normal; kids see grown-ups 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 youngster 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.

Here are 30 important tips for avoiding arguments with your “power-hungry” child or teenager:

1. A little humor may help. Here is a way to neutralize arguments in the car, for example. Whenever you are on a trip and the kids start to argue, ask them to stop. If they don't stop, begin talking about a trip for moms and dads only. "This explains why so many moms and dads leave their kids at home. Next trip, let's go somewhere romantic." When kids hear this, they get the point.

2. 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. Anthony attended a meeting I had with a proofreader of this book. He could not believe that she had so many suggestions. It was good for him to see that his dad is not perfect. It was also good for him to see that I did not take the corrections personally. I explained that she was helping me make the book better. I showed him that it's okay to make errors.

3. As long as arguments stay within certain boundaries, they are an acceptable and productive form of communication. They can continue as long as they are under control, respectful and are moving toward a solution. But discontinue them if they degenerate into name-calling, if calm voices are replaced by shouting or if you and your youngster are going around in circles without progressing toward a resolution. Never laugh at your youngster, no matter how ludicrous her arguments sound to you; by laughing you are essentially ridiculing her and what she is saying.

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

5. Be selective about the issues you fight over. When a potential problem arises, decide if it is really worth the battle; some issues probably are not. For example, if your youngster wants to wear an old pair of sneakers to school rather than the newer pair you recently bought her, or if she wants to wear her hair a little longer than you would prefer, you might decide to let her have her way, choosing to take a stand on more important matters instead. Pick your battles carefully.

6. Control yourself. Do not let him push your buttons. Have faith in your judgment. Do not give in to arguments like: "Taylor's mom lets him watch R-rated movies." Do not reward your youngster's revenge. The more confidence you have, the easier it will be for you to win your youngster's cooperation.

7. 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.

8. 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 child. Misbehaviors and mistakes are normal. You can help your youngster best by minimizing problems. Do not dwell on them, or rehash the day's problems with your spouse in front of your youngster. Kids cannot build on weaknesses. They can only build on strengths. These same ideas apply when your kids are arguing with each other. Stay calm and do not make threats. If you can, help your kids reach a settlement.

9. Do not forget that kids learn how to handle disagreements by watching their moms and dads' example. How readily do you and your partner have "good" arguments, which end in successful reconciliation? Or do you stay angry, or avoid fights altogether? Your kids model themselves on you.

10. Giving verbal corrections is difficult. Verbal correction can turn into arguments, especially if you get angry. Yelling, scolding, and threatening help you vent your anger, but they do not correct misbehavior. Sometimes they make the misbehavior worse. Stay calm. Tell your kids to stop. Be ready to enforce a punishment if you must. Do not become caught in the cycle of yelling and threatening. You do not want to spend the rest of your life that way. Getting angry and yelling makes arguments worse. If your youngster's goal is to push your buttons and get you angry, yelling is a reward for misbehaving. Yelling will strengthen unwanted behavior.

11. If conflicts about particular issues recur again and again, take a look at the root causes. Think deeply about why you and your youngster are arguing about these matters, and try taking some preventive action. For example, if your child rebels against going to bed each night, she may be using her outbursts as a way to stay up a little longer, or to get more attention. Or if she repeatedly argues about doing her homework, try to put an end to these conflicts by actually writing up a contract stipulating the expectations, responsibilities, rewards and punishments for doing and not doing homework. Remember that the homework assignment is made by the teacher and is your youngster's responsibility. She may not do it your way, but if she is satisfying the school's requirements, you should not turn it into an issue at home. Both you and your youngster should sign the contract, agree to abide by it, and (hopefully) end the disagreements about the subject.

12. Let your youngster win sometimes. When you and your child argue, you need to do more than listen to her point of view; when she presents a persuasive case, be willing to say, "You convinced me. We'll do it your way." Let your child know that you value her point of view and that through communication, conflicts can be resolved - and that sometimes she can win.

13. Many moms and dads measure their worthiness by their kid’s success: "If I am a good parent, why are my children so bad?" They feel that if their kids are not perfect, then they must be less than adequate as moms and dads. By believing this, you are making yourself vulnerable to your kids. You become an easy target for any youngster 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 moms and dads? Think about your strengths rather than your insecurities. The more you focus on your strengths, the more confident you will become.

14. Most kids will quiet down for a while when threatened. Unfortunately, the father thinks that yelling works. This is a mistake. Yelling works temporarily, but the quiet will not last. Yelling and threatening have no long-term effect on misbehavior. The kids argue; father yells; they quiet down for a while. Soon, they argue again. Father yells. They quiet down again. This can go on and on. These kids will learn that they can argue until father yells at them to stop. They will not learn to solve their problems.

15. Most moms and dads deal with power by emphasizing counter-control. This does not work. Efforts to control a power-seeking youngster often lead to a deadlock or power struggle between your youngster and you. No final victory is ever possible for you. Once you find yourself in a power struggle, you have lost. If your youngster 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 youngster 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 youngster 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.

16. React appropriately to the size of the problem. If your youngster 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."

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

18. Remind your youngster of previous good behavior: "That's not like you. You are always very well behaved when we go shopping."

19. Separate your youngster from his behavior. Say, "That behavior is unacceptable." Do not say, "Anyone who would do that is stupid."

20. Some families draw a third person into the conflict, supposedly to mediate the difficulty, but who instead may take a position on one side or the other and thereby make the disagreement worse. Sometimes when they are unable to resolve their conflict, the warring parties may join together to focus attention on another family member as a way to avoid dealing with the real problem. Within every family, certain alliances, coalitions and rivalries exist. At times, mother and daughter might form an alliance against father and son. Or the two moms and dads might unite against the kids on a particular issue. But within a healthy family, these coalitions are not fixed, they change from situation to situation, and they do not disrupt the functioning of the family. If they become rigid and long-lasting, however, they can do damage to the family. It is natural to be unaware that any alliances exist within your family. But to get a better sense of your family's dynamics, ask yourself questions like: "What family member do I tend to agree (or disagree) with most often? When my kids are fighting, whose side do I generally take? With whom in the family do I usually spend my free time? Who in the family most easily angers me?"

21. State your concern: "Your behavior at the store was not acceptable. I was embarrassed." Then calmly issue a warning regarding the consequences that will be issued in the future if the child repeats the undesirable behavior.

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

23. 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."

24. 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 youngster chooses not to cooperate. Do not give ultimatums. Focus on influencing your youngster's motivation.

25. The target of your youngster's revenge is your feelings. A youngster who wants to get even wants to hurt you. If he does, he has achieved his payoff. Some moms and dads 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 youngster 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 youngster's revenge. Support yourself. When your youngster strikes at your buttons, remain strong. Tell yourself that you are a good parent-you are doing the best you can.

26. The worst thing a youngster can say is, "That's not fair," and then tell you why. Many moms and dads feel guilty and reconsider or try to justify it. It's impossible to be totally fair all the time---and it's not necessary. As long as you know you are as fair as you can be, trust yourself to make a quick decision. But the issue in these situations isn't fairness. It's what you want the youngster to do. Attempting to justify it, shifts the argument away from what he or she must do. That's what needs to be focused on.

27. Validate your relationship: "You are my son and I love you. Nothing you do will ever change that."

28. When a youngster 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 moms and dads 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 youngster 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.

29. When your youngster 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 youngster's need for power can be a positive thing. Look for independence, self-reliance, leadership, and decision making. When your youngster shows these qualities, spotlight them. Catch him being good. As with most behavior problems, the positive approach is the best remedy for handling power.

30. YOUR YOUNGSTER SAYS, "I HATE YOU." This one stings when uttered in the heat of battle, but try not to take it personally, it's rarely meant that way. Children are raised now to be outspoken, and sometimes that freedom of speech comes without thought. Kids need to feel that their anger toward their moms and dads is not dangerous, that their attachment to you is so secure nothing will result. This also reminds them that such remarks are a part of childhood that cannot seriously threaten the world of grown-ups. Tell them that you're sorry they feel that way, but they still need to do what you asked. There might be times when you can't make a quick decision to end an argument. If you need more time to think, say so. But make it clear you will not listen to further discussion until you have made your decision. An issue might also come up during an argument that requires more discussion. Save it for a neutral time when you or the children have nothing to gain or lose by discussing it.

==> Help For Parents Who Are At Their Wits-End


Anonymous said...

Heather Johnson My neighbor and I were just discussing this subject and our teenagers. Her grandson had told his therapist that he gets bossed around all the time. I loved the response that he was given. She said," Tell me one person who does not have a boss??" Priceless!!!

Anonymous said...

Gemma Pritchard God its sounds like u know my son he is 3 i neva win a power struggle everyday

Anonymous said...

Jackie Bowden That describes my grandson exactly.

Anonymous said...

Julie Ekunyemi I can't explain to people who's children don't have ODD that everything can be a battle, even if my daughter has a item of clothing that don't fit her, she will tell me they fit, I also felt that she enjoyed causing a row.
about an hour ago
Julie Ekunyemi It all sounds so negative but until people share what experience they have, we will not feel like we are on our own. I try to tell her how standing on the stairs, refusing to go to bed very loudly, is not fair on her siblings, reply back is" not fair on me", oh well. Or happy that they are now fully awake.

Contact Form


Email *

Message *