When your child argues with you, what do you do?

When your child disobeys you and does their own thing, how do you handle it?

When your child disagrees with your reasoning and offers their own “superior” logic, what do you say?

These are potential situations for a power struggle between you and your child. How you handle these situations determines whether or not the power struggle will be created. So what is a power struggle?

Power Struggle

A power struggle is exactly what it sounds like, a battle for power. Two forces against each other struggling to control the situation. Both want something and are determined to get it. Perhaps even losing sight of the bigger picture. When that something becomes more important than the relationship, problems are going to occur.

When a power struggle occurs, you send the message to your child that they get to engage you in this way. You empower them. In one sense, you lower yourself to their level, however, what the child believes is that they are being elevated to your level.

It takes two to have a power struggle. If you decide that you are not going to participate, there won’t be anyone to power struggle with. You accomplish this by having boundaries and not playing the game on their terms. If your emotions are fueling your side of the interaction, you have shown them that you, as an adult, are no different than them and are willing to join them on their emotional playground.

To avoid a power struggle…

  1. Recognize that you and your child are not on the same level.
  2. Don’t argue with your child. They don’t have the life experience that you do (or as many laps around the sun).
  3. Set and reinforce limits on what you will tolerate. Correct any violations of those limits.
  4. Stay calm. Let them be the raging storm. You don’t have to join them.
  5. Give them limited choices without making demands.
  6. Be creative in how you interact instead of being predictable.
  7. Detach with love.

Avoiding a power struggle leaves you able to focus on parenting your child and developing the relationship, instead of being reactive. You want this to be a win-win scenario, not win-lose.

This takes practice, so don’t expect perfection the first time. Stick with it, and expect them to push back. When they do, creatively love them through it. In the end, you will both be better for it.


Todd has been a therapist for over 20 years in a variety of settings. An unconventional therapist who tells the truth, Todd has taught undergraduate and graduate level courses, and authored his first book, Simply Relate.

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