Power Struggles

Power struggles between parent and child are challenging for everyone – the parent, the child and the innocent bystanders who are witnessing the unpleasant and often highly charged dynamic.  It is all too easy for us as parents to point to the child as the problem and to blame the child as the source of the power struggle. Blaming the child, however, can cause us to feel even more angry and powerless in the face of our child’s defiance, and powerlessness tends to elicit rage in us as human beings. We can see how framing the power struggle this way can lead a parent to act out in anger, thus fueling a dysfunctional cycle that often leads both parties to feel negatively about each other.

While parents often come into my office to get their children to change, I like to inspire parents to “Be the change they wish to see in their kids.” When the parent can do something different in these situations – for instance, hold a limit with love and care instead of anger and interpersonal disapproval – the power struggles tend to dissipate. The child’s behavior changes – sometimes overnight.

Why? Two main reasons:

1) The parent is no longer coming from a place of struggling for power. With guidance, practice and intention, parents can learn to be what Susan Stiffelman calls “the calm, confident captain of the ship in their children’s lives”. The parent learns how to be calmly in charge instead of engaged in a power struggle with the child.

2) When a parent is consistently calm and in charge, offering loving limits filled with messages of care, the connection between the parent and child improves. And when the parent-child connection is strong, children tend to decrease their off-track behaviors, which leads to less defiance and power struggles.

Relief from these power struggles is possible. Let our team at Mindful Child & Family Therapy show you how!


Three Hindrances to Effective Limit Setting” – Jaclyn Long


Brainstorm: The Power & Purpose of the Teenage Brain – Dan Siegel

Listen: 5 Simple Tools to Meet Your Everyday Parenting Challenges – Patty Wipfler & Tosha Schore

No-Drama Discipline – Dan Siegel

Positive Discipline – Jane Nelson

Positive Discipline for Teenagers – Jane Nelson

When Your Kids Push Your Buttons – Bonnie Harris

CLICK HERE to read about a helpful way to introduce the idea of therapy to your child.