• Robert D. Cohen LMFT

Resolving Power Struggles with Your Child

Learning how to resolve power struggles with your child is essential for both parent and child. As parent, you want to maintain calm in your home. For your child, they can benefit from refining their conflict resolution skills. This growth will help support the goal for your child to one day become a mature, interpersonally capable young adult.

As children enter their teen years they will frequently test limits like never before. To counter this parents need to create consistent structure with well-defined rules and consequences. It is paramount for parents to explain the purpose of their rules. Rules should be directed at your child’s safety and well-being, or social, intellectual, academic or emotional growth. The rules need to precede the game so that everyone is clear on expectations. Parents want to be kind but firm, as they monitor and enforce compliance.

It is recommended that Parents focus on their responses to their child’s behaviors. Parents do not want to escalate or respond defensively. The best communication tool is to talk low and slow. “I love you. I do not love this behavior.” When we yell we give away our power and our logic. The listener is more likely to remember that we yelled at them than whatever point we were trying to make.

Avoid modeling any behavior(s) that you don’t want your child to exhibit. Most complex psycho-social behavior is learned through modeling. If your anger management technique is to scream and curse, you are teaching your child this is an acceptable way to handle frustration. Avoid labeling or speaking in a disrespectful or derogatory manner about others. Your values are the starting point for your child’s values.

We want to let our children know how they will need to behave if they want to continue a conversation. I don’t continue in any conversation if I am being yelled at or treated disrespectfully. Try to be clear and assertive when stating your needs. “I don’t allow anyone to talk to me in that tone.”

Do not allow a “spinning wheel” with repetitive discussion of the same ideas. Teenagers are masters of wearing parents down as a tactic to get what they want. Parents’ must learn to feel okay saying “no” to their child. When parents give in to a demand because they can’t take the discussion anymore, they are unintentionally teaching their child to keep wearing them down. And the child misses out on the important life lesson of learning to accept “no” as an answer.


Do not give your child what they want if you are not getting what you want. In my practice as an LMFT working with teens and young adults, I am surprised to see many parents continue to support their children despite the lack of respect they receive. Respect is a two way street. You need to get respect to give others what they want.

Being predictable is essential for dealing with power struggles. Emotional instability breeds chaos, distance and fear. When the parent is predictable, the child feels safe and more comfortable sharing intimate feelings. At the end of the day, isn’t this what we want? A closer relationship with our child.

Spending as much time as possible with your child is also important. Learn what your child is about and who they would like to become. Let your child know who you are and create reasons for your child to respect and admire you. Offering safety, love, clarity, interest and understanding as well as support and compassion will facilitate the growth of a wonderful, warm, intimate relationship with your ever developing child. Lastly and above all, be patient. Your child and your relationship are a work in progress.

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