Defusing Power Struggles

In Family, Tips & Advice by Janet Arnold1 Comment

It’s the main event of the evening and you are entering the third round; neither fighter appears to be letting up.  The question is though, how along are we going to have to wait to see who will win? When we get into a power struggle with our children it can often feel like we are in a boxing match and you don’t understand how you even got there! This is a common situation that many parents experience and learning how to defuse power struggles can help avoid the fighting match.

Recognize your own anger warning signs

Sometimes your own anger can affect what you say or do.  This feeling can influence how you respond to your child during a power struggle. If you find yourself feeling overwhelmed by anger, you are responding with your “emotional” brain.  Taking time to identify the earliest warning signs of anger will help you manage your feelings and judgement before it has an opportunity to take over.

defusing power struggles

Take time to “cool off”

It is important to remember that anger takes away our ability to think rationally, even for our children. Instead of continuing with the power struggle, it’s better to take a deep breath, walk away in frustration and regain the ability to think clearly.

Avoid correcting in the moment

When you are in the midst of a power struggle, you may find yourself correcting how your child is speaking to you; “Don’t talk to me like that!”  While it is important to teach your child about respect, doing so in the moment is not always the best time.  Your emotions are running high and as a result you might raise your voice and say something you don’t really mean. As a result, both participants of a power struggle will end up with feelings of regret or hurt.

Use validation

Defusing a power struggle means really listening to what your children are saying; not just with their words, but with their actions. When you listen to their feelings, you can validate how they feel (not necessarily their words or actions). Acknowledging your child’s feelings helps give them a sense of control they may be seeking through the power struggle. Providing validation, sends the message that your child’s thoughts and feelings are important.  It can help strengthen the relationship and paves the way to discuss the real issues at hand.


Power struggles are often the result of each party wanting something their own way. Children will end up more complaint and feeling empowered when they are offered choices.  Defusing power struggles can be accomplished when you help your child realize they have options. For example, “Do you want to do your homework on your own before dinner with a snack or after dinner when I am available to help you?”

Find a neutral time

Because emotions are running high during a power struggle, it is better to find a neutral time AFTER to discuss the issue. During this time, you can review the rules of the house and any “fair fighting” rules that may apply. For example, it is okay to use an “I” statement (“I felt frustrated when you kept playing video games because I asked you this morning to empty the dishwasher”) but it’s not okay to use degrading language. You may even consider posting the rules so the whole family can be reminded when they need them the most.

Change your own expectations

Power struggles may be the result of own sense of need to control.  Take a step back and assess if you are constantly telling your child to do or not to do certain things. Consider what your goals are for your children, hold a family to communicate those goals and listen to their feedback.

Being a parent means that power struggles are likely going to happen. Focussing on your child’s positive behavior is the most effective way to influence their behavior and build that family bond.

How do you tackle power struggles in your home?

Meet the Author | Janet Arnold

Janet Arnold is the Mother to two boys. She is a Behaviour Consultant, Author/Blogger, and an accredited Triple P Practitioner (Standard Stepping Stones) who has a strong background in Applied Behavioural Analysis (ABA). She is a High Five Trainer. Since 1996, Janet has worked with children, their families, and individuals in clinical and educational settings.


  1. This is an excellent article! Thank you so much for posting about such an important topic. We were in the midst of a power struggle this morning before school (worst time!), but I’m getting better about recognizing my own emotions and walking away from the “battle,” so-to-speak. It’s super hard, but it does make a difference. We will be able to discuss the situation when we get home from school and after a good snack — I’ll make his favorite! Thanks again!

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