Erica Reischer Ph.D.

What Great Parents Do

7 Simple Strategies to Avoid Power Struggles (Part Two)

Avoid conflict with these proven tips (Part 2 of 2).

Posted Oct 16, 2014

(This is Part Two of a two-part article.  Read Part One here).

Yesterday, I discussed strategies 1 - 3 for avoiding power struggles with kids.  Here are strategies 4 - 7:

4. Let them make mistakes.

Making mistakes and experiencing “failure”, disappointment, and discomfort are essential life experiences that provide the opportunity for kids to learn how to do better and to practice new skills.

It’s natural for parents to want to buffer kids from these unpleasant experiences, but we make an enormous future trade-off when we do so.

We may be avoiding some short-term pain or discomfort (both for us and them), but in the long-term, we may also be inadvertently depriving our children of the opportunity to learn and practice important life skills while they are still in the supportive environment of the family.

Kids (and most adults) learn best from their experiences. We can share with them our own “lessons learned”, and they may listen and act accordingly, but many kids want to find out for themselves.

When they choose a course of action and the resulting experience is unpleasant for them, they learn to make different and, ultimately, better choices in the future. This is experiential learning.

5. Give a reason.

In our busy lives as parents, we may not even notice ourselves barking out “do’s” and “don’ts” to our kids: “Get your shoes on now,” “Turn off the computer,” “Stop that,” and so on. Then we get frustrated when they ignore us or resist doing what we’ve asked.

Here again, we have the beginnings of a power struggle. But we may be able to sidestep it if we help them to understand why we are asking (i.e. give them a reason).

Note: “Because I said so” is not a reason (and will likely lead to more power struggles or secrecy).

Help kids understand rules or requests that may seem arbitrary to them and, when relevant, show them the impact of their behavior on others.

This strategy will not guarantee immediate compliance with your requests, but it will show your kids that you are making reasonable requests and will also model the importance of using good reasons to motivate behavior.

For example: “Please go get your shoes on now. We have to leave in one minute or we’ll be late to pick up your friends and that would not be nice manners.”

6. Respect their reality.

Respecting our children’s reality means letting them feel, think about and experience things in a different way than we do. The primary tool for doing this is empathy (see strategy #7).

Keep in mind that you don’t have to agree always with your child’s perspective, you only need to acknowledge sincerely that it’s her way of seeing things. Read more here about how to respect your child’s reality.

7. Empathize.

Empathy, as I’ve written about before, is the most powerful tool we have as a parent.

When we practice empathy with our kids, we show respect for their feelings and their reality (which are often different from ours; see below). We show that we are really listening, and that we understand (or are trying to understand) their point of view.

Empathy has the power to sidestep or diffuse power struggles. Empathy also creates a safe place, emotionally, for our kids to be with hard feelings (like rejection or failure).

When we don’t know what else to do in a situation, use empathy. When we have to insist on something or follow through on consequences, we can also use empathy.

For example: “Sweetie, I know you don’t want to wear your seatbelt. It squeezes you and it’s itchy. You wish you didn’t have to put it on (empathy).  At the same time, the seatbelt keeps you safe when we ride in the car and we all wear seatbelts when we drive somewhere (give a reason).”

Please note that practicing empathy does not oblige you to change or fix anything about the situation. This is an important distinction.

You can offer empathy for your son’s frustration at having to wear a seatbelt he finds uncomfortable without the need to take the seatbelt off. You are simply reflecting the feelings you are noticing with genuine understanding, and validating them.

Here's how this might look in practice for an older child:

“Love, I can see you’re having a lot of fun and you really don’t want to leave the party yet (empathy). You wish you could stay longer. At the same time, we are picking Mom up today and she will be worried if we are late (give a reason). Please say goodbye to your friends and go get your things. (request)”


Here's a recap of all seven strategies:

  1. Pivot
  2. Reframe
  3. Share your power
  4. Let them make mistakes
  5. Give a reason
  6. Respect their reality
  7. Empathize

Leave a comment and let me know how these strategies work with your family.

Read Part One of this article.

Copyright 2014, Erica Reischer, Ph.D.

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