Tips For Working Through a Power Imbalance and Resolving Conflict With Your Kids
As a parent, the word “no” coming out of your child’s mouth is the ultimate act of defiance, leading to frustration on your end as you attempt over and over again to get your child to listen to you.
But instead of arguing with your kids, or throwing your hands up in the air and letting your child win this power struggle, it’s important to stand your ground and work through it.
But how do you know where to start?
Here’s a look at what causes power struggles between parents and children who won’t listen, along with some tips to help you resolve these types of conflicts.
How Power Struggles Start
We all have a need for power and control in our lives. And kids are no exception. Like adults, kids find comfort in having control over their lives and the ability to make choices.
But since kids have very little control over their lives, they sometimes fight back in an attempt to regain some control. When this happens, parents often stand their ground and fight back because they don’t want to lose control of their kids. And this is when the power struggle begins.
A power struggle with kids often starts when your kids want attention from you, and they act out in order to get their way. They will usually seek this attention in situations where:
- A parent is travelling out of town
- A younger sibling also needs your attention
- There is an important work issue that requires your attention
Their attention-seeking behaviour will frustrate you, and then comes the conflict between parent and child. You ask them to do something—e.g. clean up their mess, stop interrupting you, etc.—and they refuse to. They don’t want to give in, and you don’t want to let them get away with bad behaviour.
Why Kids Don’t Always Listen
When kids feel powerless, and they don’t have opportunities to exert power and control in positive ways, they will exert their power in negative ways. And since kids do have control over their body and language, they can choose to not listen in an attempt to assert their power.
So when your kids don’t listen to you, they may be expressing their need for more control and decision-making power in their lives.
Kids respond well to strong boundaries that are set in a loving way. They need to know exactly how you expect them to act and that you understand what they want from you as well.
Kids need space to grow and make their own decisions sometimes. So it’s important that parents become more flexible and less rigid, giving kids some control but not all of it.
How to Put an End to the Power Struggle
Here are tips on how to resolve conflict with children and get them to listen without yelling.
Get on Their Level
Instead of yelling at them from another room or talking down to them, stop what you’re doing and kneel down to your child’s level so you can look them in the eyes when talking to them. This lets them know that they have your undivided attention—that you see and hear them and are open to communication.
Find Out What Exactly It Is That Your Child Wants
Ask them what it is that they want. And avoid saying “don’t” and say yes instead of no, but only after they have done what you’ve asked them to. Kids often fight back when they hear no because you are taking away control over their lives. While kids need to hear no in certain situations, they shouldn’t hear it all the time.
Instead of getting angry, take a deep breath and remain calm while talking to your child. Speak slowly and in a low voice instead of yelling. If you stay calm, they will be more likely to stay calm too.
Make Your Request Clear
Acknowledge what they want while also making your request clear. While you may not give them what they want at that moment, you have reaffirmed your child by acknowledging them and what they want from you. And you have communicated what you want, set boundaries, and turned a potential power struggle into an opportunity for cooperation.
Teach Them about Negotiation
When there is a power struggle at home, kids aren’t aware of any better option than to fight back. It’s up to you to teach them about negotiation so you can both win and be happy.
Negotiation involves finding common ground so you both get what you want. So figure out and acknowledge what they want, and redirect their negative behaviour so they are cooperating and participating positively in the situation.
Use Humour to Break Up Tension
When a power struggle starts, tension runs high. And if there is nothing to break the tension, it could end up in a full-blown yelling match, and your kid will still not listen to you. So keep your tone light and playful to help diffuse the situation and avoid conflict.
Laugh, make your child laugh, call them silly, make a joke, or tickle them. If the tone is light and your child is laughing, they will be less defensive and more willing to negotiate with you.
Give Them Choices Instead of Orders
Instead of giving them orders to do things against their will, give your child options to improve the chances of cooperation. While they still have to do what you’re asking, they will have some choice and control over the situation. And to give them a greater sense of control over their lives, consistently give them plenty of choices throughout each day, even when you aren’t experiencing a conflict.
At the end of the day, the best way to resolve a power struggle is to stop it in its track and prevent it from escalating by listening to what your child wants, staying calm, diffusing tension, and negotiating. Both you and your child will both walk away happy if you handle any conflict in a calm and positive way.