Tag Archives: power struggle

Chores and Other Distasteful Words
Child Doing Chores

I hate the word chores, and I can guarantee your kids do too. Asking kids to do chores is like saying I want you to take on this drudgery, this burden. And then when the expectation is that they should do them willingly because of all you do for them—that’s a catastrophe waiting to happen.

First, think of another word. I have heard them called contributions, which has exactly the right intention behind it. Jobs can feel a bit more important than the onus of chores. Do your chores sounds like an imposed sentence.

Second, set your expectations of your kids appropriately. Do not ever expect that your kids will be happy to help. Wanting to help out and having consideration of all you do, comes with maturity. Children are naturally egocentric and care only about their own happiness—frustrating, yes, but developmentally appropriate. They grow into being considerate when their needs are considered.

Third, set your expectations of yourself appropriately. Expect that from a very young age, your children are going to do tasks to be helpful. Just don’t expect them to like it or to think of their jobs without reminders and prompts. The important thing is that they do them, so they learn they are important contributing members of the family. A family is a team. When you are on a team, every player is important to its success.

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‘Mom! You’re so annoying!’
Mother and her son arguing at home

Q. I know that it’s normal for adolescents to reject their parents to some degree but my son (11) has been coming out with some very explicit insults about me. After school today, when I only said, “Hello”, he replied “You’re so annoying.” I said that I felt it was an unkind thing to say (he has said it a number of times lately) and he said, “Well it’s true, you do annoy me – a lot.” The previous time I said, “What is it about me that annoys you?” and prior to that had let it pass. I can brush it off and not take it personally a few times but when it’s repeated, it’s hard not to feel angry and hurt. Other times he wants to tell me things and is physically affectionate. I don’t expect a growing young person to hang out with Mum, but I give him the best of my care and kindness and all he feels is “annoyed”? It’s not that he says it that I have a problem with – it’s that he feels it. Please help with how to interpret and respond to this.

A. I had the worst year ever with my daughter when she was 11. She was my button-pusher and I learned so much from parenting her. At 11, her brother went away to school, and she hated being the only one, feeling like she was being watched all the time. She threw a lot of nasty barbs my way, which I didn’t always duck from (but should have). So, I know the hurt you are feeling. I wish I knew then what I know now.

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How to Step Out of a Power Struggle

When we engage in power struggles with our children, it means we are invested in being right. When we must be right—”I’m the parent, I know best. You must do what I say”—the child is wrong and is left feeling powerless. The child then must fight back to preserve integrity; either that or the easy-going child submits again and again learning in the process to seek the approval of others to gauge her self-worth.

Engaging in a power struggle keeps the parent in the position of having to be right.

Backing down from the fight may feel too vulnerable for many parents. The parent expect the child to back down, to give up, to acknowledge being wrong — in other words, the parent expects the child to be the grown-up first.

Parents often feel at a loss when they don’t know what to do, when what’s “right” is not apparent. It feels weak and scary. But this place of doubt, the space where you just don’t know, where vulnerability lives, is a place of opportunity — one never found when holding on to being right.

This is your teachable moment, because you are present. Stepping out of the power struggle means your agenda is not dictating right or wrong. The problem comes when you allow this space of unknowing to fill you with frustration and fear — when you think you have to have the answer in order to maintain a power and control position with your child. Bertrand Russell once said that the trouble with the world is that stupid people are cock-sure and smart people are full of doubt!

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Mar. ’19 Q&A – Being Your Child’s Friend and Parent, Angry Behavior and When the Coach is a Bully

Being Your Child’s Friend and Parent

Q. I do welcome your advice and think you speak a lot of sense, but I am not sure about your advice to be your child’s friend in one of your articles. What is wrong with being a mum? I am the only person who can officially be regarded as mum in my daughter’s life and I feel very proud to be so. I am not sure being a friend is possible as the friendship is automatically unbalanced. I have a number of very good friends, some long term and we have quite balanced relationships, involving give and take. I do not regard my relationship with my daughter as balanced, and she does not seem to understand give and take. I would also say she is a very high maintenance friend, and therefore I would go out of my way not to be her friend if she wasn’t my daughter. I don’t think she is like that with her peers though – I think their relationship is balanced. When choosing activities, we try to pick nice things to do and see, and we get a lot of resistance from her until we get her there and then she loves it. We also get resistance around food and most things at the moment – she is quite selfish and does not seem to understand the notion of helping out, and she wants things from shops all the time, which is wearing.

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Jan. ’19 Q&A – Fantasy Play, Honor Who Your Child is, and Understanding the Draw of Xbox

Fantasy Play

Q. My 4 year old loves pretend play. She often starts out the day by saying, ” pretend I’m Peter Pan and you’re ….” It almost seems like a deep-seated need to play this way. I find that if I don’t play with her like this then she is harder to deal with. I guess another way I think about it, is that when I play with her and follow her direction, it fills her up. I haven’t studied child psychology, but I was wondering if you could provide more insight into this type of play.

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June ’18 Q&A – Refusing the Toilet, Unrealistic Expectations and Huge Feelings

Refusing the Toilet

Q. My 3 yr old daughter goes to a small home daycare and uses the toilet there without accidents but refuses to use the toilet at home. I understand that it’s more of a control issue than a potty training issue. I have been letting her wear pull ups at home as long as she puts them on herself. She still refuses to try the toilet. There hasn’t been any event that I can think of that would have scared her. She is very verbal and will tell me that she just doesn’t like to use our potty. She won’t poop at daycare either. She holds it until she gets home and gets a pull up on and then she goes.

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When Do I Draw the Line?

Parents who want to leave the reward and punishment methods behind often have a hard time letting go fully and embracing a truly connective relationship with their children.

When my child won’t do what has to be done, I have to draw the line, don’t I?
I try to be empathic and listen, but where do I draw the line?

What does “Drawing the line” mean? Making your child stop? Not being empathic anymore? Maintaining your authority as a parent? I think it’s worth figuring out what this phrase means as it runs endlessly in the minds of well-intentioned parents trying their best to change old ways.

“Drawing the line” is one of the last bastions of the reward and punishment mindset. It comes out of the frustrated parent dealing with a defiant or resistant child. But what do you do when you draw the line? Is this line similar to a “line in the sand” beyond which one cannot cross? Does that mean you and your child are separated by a line preventing both of you from getting to each other? Is it a boundary mark that determines the end of your attempt at connection and the beginning of punitive measures?

“Drawing the line” probably happens when you don’t know what to do next. Perhaps you’re thinking, He’s got to learn; She can’t get away with this; I will not tolerate that kind of talk; He’s becoming a video addict. Your resources are used up, patience is thin, and you fall back on old standards. You take away privileges, you threaten, you yell, you lose control. And the cycle starts all over.

Of course, you get frustrated and don’t know what to do. No parent alive has ever avoided this state of mind. The problem is you think you should never have to feel this way and should know what to do to make sure your child never pushes you to this point. So if he does, he’s got to learn who’s boss.

But when he plays by whatever method of drawing the line you use, he’s back into anger: feeling revengeful, misunderstood, powerless, wrong. Then his behavior accelerates, and you get to that line-drawing place more and more often.

So instead of “drawing a line”, what do you do when that moment hits when your child is behaving unacceptably and you don’t know what to do?


This is the moment to drop into Being instead of focusing on Doing.

The state of Being means that you expect to enter that zone of not knowing what to do when your child seems to have the upper hand. The state of Being means that you accept yourself and also accept your child for pushing you to try to get what he wants — after all that is his job.

But for many parents this unknowing place is unacceptable. You must Do something right now to stop this. It feels as if your child is walking all over you and you are her doormat. That is only true if you remain on the floor.

When you don’t know what to do, do nothing. Of course, if there is hitting, throwing, some kind of violent behavior, that must be stopped. But stopping it means restraint or getting between two angry people. It does not mean lecturing about how many times you have told him blah, blah. It does not mean yelling at your child, which indicates you have lost control and become more of a target for an angry child. It does not mean using coercive tactics to make your child wrong.

Much of the time, the behavior that pushes you over the edge into not knowing what to do is resistance or refusal to do something you have asked, throwing jabs or punches at you or a sibling, calling names. None of this is okay. But instead of thinking I have to draw the line, think I need to create a boundary.


A boundary is a psychological protection for both you and your child.

Holding a strong boundary means that no one is allowed to abuse you in any form and that your wishes are as important as anyone else’s. You take care of you instead of using your power to control your child and prevent him from doing something (although sometimes you need to use restraint to keep yourself from being hit). A boundary means, I take care of myself and insure that I am okay — exactly what you want to teach your child to do.

A boundary means you can say:

   This is not okay with me.

            I will not allow anyone to hit me (and I hope you never allow anyone to hit you).

            I don’t like it when this happens.

You work out problems with you child through relationship. In a relationship you do not exert your power over another. Nor do you ever need to do that with your child in order to gain cooperation.

What do you do if a friend, co-worker or spouse does something unacceptable to you? You probably don’t take away a privilege. Yelling never accomplishes anything worthwhile, and letting it pass sends the message you are okay with it. The relationship is what is at risk. That is what needs tending — if you want to maintain the relationship.

Most often you are caught off-guard by your child’s offending behavior. Your emotions flood your brain and you go into reactive mode. But reacting in that mode means defensive, retaliatory behavior that only breaks connection and will never lead to cooperation. IT IS ALWAYS BEST TO DO NOTHING.

Stop, breathe, and wait until your emotions are cooled and your thinking brain comes back online — when you can be rational again.

Go back to your child, own your part of the situation, name the problem, and work it out.

“You really hated what I asked you to do. I probably said it with a frustrated tone. I do have a problem here that I need your help with. It is my job as your parent to get you to bed on time. I get very frustrated and impatient especially when I’m tired at the end of the day and want things to go smoothly. And of course you don’t want to go to bed. You want to keep playing. So we have to work this out so we are both okay with it. Is there something you can think of that would help getting to bed easier so we don’t have to fight about it every night?”

This re-do of the situation is considerate of your child’s agenda, it accepts your child’s natural desires at her stage of development, it shows responsibility by owning your part, and it acknowledges your job and desire. When your child does not feel blamed, she is far more likely to cooperate with you because she doesn’t have to defend herself against your blame. When you own what is yours—in this case it is your desire to get your child to bed—your child feels more understood and is more willing to work it out.

You do not need to go into this every night, but if you take the time to invest in your relationship, and you can be trusted not to flip back to “drawing a line”, you will rarely have to have this type of conversation with your child. But when new stages of development arise, when your child is thinking differently, when you are particularly needy, going back to the problem-solving drawing board is always the best way to preserve a strong, loving relationship.

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Getting Your Kids to Listen to You. Could There Be Anything Better?

When your kids don’t listen, how long does your patience last?

You think you’ve tried everything. You ask nicely, you keep asking nicely until you explode, you lecture about all you do for them, you give them consequences for not listening, you give them extra privileges if they do — but your kids still won’t listen.

You can’t seem to get them do what they should: brush their teeth, go to bed, get off the computer, quiet down in the car, eat a healthy meal, pick up their dirty clothes, etc. What’s wrong with them? What’s wrong with you?

What if: They do listen, but they don’t like what they hear? (That’s not okay, is it?)

Now ask yourself: Are you asking them for cooperation or obedience?

You must be clear about what you’re expecting. If you expect obedience (I know, you don’t think you are), your kids hear it in your tone. There’s a “if you don’t do what I say, you’re in trouble” attitude that determines your tone and expectation.

The key to understanding why your children won’t do what you ask lies in understanding if and why you expect them to. Simply put, they are just being kids, doing what kids are supposed to do — get what they want when they want it. They’re probably not being disrespectful or rude. But you expect more. You expect them to do what you say because you’re the parent and kids should do what they’re told, right? After all isn’t that the way you were brought up? That’s expecting obedience. Nothing wrong with that as long as you take responsibility for it and understand that you are likely to get push-back, especially from strong-willed children.

When you expect obedience and you don’t get it, the natural and logical progression is for you to feel angry, resentful, frustrated, and/or incompetent. Then you naturally react by nagging, blaming, threatening or worse — because you’re taking it personally and not recognizing that it is normal for your child to resist doing what he doesn’t want to do.

If you consider yourself to be a “progressive” parent, that means you are not willing to hit your children, threaten the switch or belt, lock them in their rooms with no dinner, or ground them for days on end. No, you don’t want to do what was done to you. But that is what is needed if you expect obedience. You can get it if you are willing to use fear as the motivator to do as you say.

You’re not willing to do that, but you want the same results. When you expect obedience without the same coercive tactics, you will likely start out patient and calm and end up playing one of your parents. You think because you are being “nicer” than your parents, your children should respond accordingly. But you have to adjust your expectations as well as your motivators.

The answer is simple. Instead, expect them not to want to do what you say.

Use the Of Course mantra. Of course my child doesn’t want to brush teeth, go to bed, get out the door on time (your time), pick up toys, do homework, go to the dentist, do the dishes, clean the bathroom and feed the dog.

Understanding that they don’t want to do this doesn’t mean they don’t have to.

You will get far more cooperation when you adjust the expectation from they should do what they are told when they are told, to kids just want to be kids and that’s ok.

When you expect this, you know they need motivation to do what you ask, not threatening coercion. When you expect this, your kids feel your consideration. When you expect this, you are asking your kids to help you with your problem.

When expectations are realistic, emotional reactions are far calmer, problem solving is much easier to come by, and children do not feel powerless, misunderstood and put upon. When your expectations of your children are set for an adult, your children will feel unfairly treated — and much less likely to cooperate. You’re the same way. No reason your children should feel differently.

When kids don’t listen it’s because you’re telling them to do something that is not their problem. Picking up toys, getting to bed, brushing their teeth, etc. is your problem—they don’t care. You have to make sure those things get done. You have to get them to do a lot of things they don’t want to do. That’s why kids have to spend approximately eighteen years with parents.

Your authority as a parent is insuring your kids do what they shouldn’t have to want to do. Because they’re kids. That’s why they need you. But things get much messier than they have to be when you expect that should want to, that it is their job, and they shouldn’t make life hard for you. They should just do what you say.

Here’s an example of using your authority:

“It’s time to get your room cleaned up. Of course, that’s the last thing you want to do, right? You’d probably be fine with the strange filing system you have mapped out on your floor! I need to make sure that little critters don’t decide to keep house with you. So how do we make it happen? What would be a good time for you in the next week? How long do think you’d need and let’s get it on the calendar. Do you want my help or do you want to handle it yourself?”

Then when the time comes, stick to the agreement. At this point, it’s the agreement you are holding your child to. You never have to expect her to want to do it. But you do want to teach her that agreements are important, and her word is trusted.

“I’ll be happy to take you to your friend’s/to practice as soon as your room is cleaned up. Let me know when you’re ready.”

Rules and limits can be firm without ever needing to yell, blame, threaten, bribe or punish. It all depends on what you expect.


The When Your Kids Push Your Buttons Audio Course

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March ’18 Q&A – Getting Choices to Work, Getting a Spouse On Board and Swearing

Getting Choices to Work

Q. What is the next step after saying, “You can either pick up that toy you threw and put it in the box or hand it to me. Which do you choose?” and the child refuses to choose or states they refuse to do either? I frequently find this with my 3 year old daughter. We either end up in a power struggle or I end up letting it go and the toy is left or I pick it up. 

A. I would add, “If you can’t make the choice right now, let’s take a break and do something else and then come back to it.” If you put it to her the moment she has thrown the toy it is too soon because she is deep in her anger. Next time give it time for her emotions and yours to calm. I might also start with “Do you want to…” instead of “You can either…” which sounds a little more threatening. If your anger is behind your words, she will definitely not respond. Take a break, do some calming down activity, then acknowledge the anger that made her throw the toy – “You were very angry when I asked you to put your toys away. You didn’t want to do that so you threw one of them because you felt mad.” You then normalize her feelings and let her know she is okay. Then say, “Are you ready now to make a choice? Do you want to bring it to me or put it in the box?” Once feelings are calmed, she is more likely to want to make amends.

If you suspect that a choice like that will meet with resistance, try instead, “Do you want to pick up the toy you threw and put it in the box or have me put it away for awhile? If it’s too hard for you to choose, I will choose for you and put it away.” The trick to stay out of the power struggle is to remain calm. That is the only way you are able to hand over power to her to make the choice. If you get into a power struggle it means that you are fighting to make her do it your way, which she will naturally resist.

If you see that she is struggling and having a hard time coping with her emotions instead of being disobedient, then you will feel compassion for her. It will then be easier to allow her time to get through her struggle — maybe with a hug, a walk outside, reading a book, whatever she needs that will help her calm down and get out of her stuck place. When the power struggle ends because you do not engage in it, she will be more cooperative. Her age means she is mostly impulsive and also has learned that she is her own person and can resist you. If her temperament is strong-willed, you will not get anywhere by forcing her to do it your way. And it’s not the end of the world if you see how hard she is struggling and you pick it up for her. But know that it doesn’t have to be dealt with immediately. Give her time.


Getting a Spouse On Board

Q. I am a mother of toddler twin boys. My natural parenting style is to parent connectively, and I have found your books refreshing and reaffirming. However, my husband feels that I should be a little “strong” when it comes to discipline. We have a wonderful relationship, and he is a great father. But I would like for us to be on the same page when it comes to disciplining the boys. He just doesn’t have the time to read your books, and I never seem to be able to quite convince him without feeling that I am telling him what to do. Do you have any suggestions for how to share connective parenting concisely with someone who isn’t able to spend the time reading? Are there things you use in your workshops to help convince the nay-sayers without making them feel “wrong”?

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“Wait, aren’t I the parent here?” Using Your Parent Authority

The human child remains with a parent until the child is capable of making his own decisions about his health, safety, and well-being. The parent holds authority over this child until that time — usually through the teen years.

That’s the reason for parent authority. It is not to control the child to be who the parent wants or to demand obedience to make life easier for the parent. This leads to power struggles and rebellion or looking to others for authority and approval.

Your job as parent is to insure that your child does what she shouldn’t be expected to do on her own – simply because she’s too young.

Rick Trinkner of the University of New Hampshire has researched the types of families who raise self-confident, self-controlled, respectful children. Trinkner says,

When children consider their parents to be legitimate authority figures, they trust the parent and feel they have an obligation to do what their parents tell them to do. This is an important attribute for any authority figure to possess, as the parent does not have to rely on a system of rewards and punishments to control behavior, and the child is more likely to follow the rules when the parent is not physically present.

The key word here is legitimate. He goes on to say,

…permissive parents…tend to be warm and receptive to their children’s needs, but place few boundaries on them. If they do establish rules, they rarely enforce them to any great extent. These parents tend to produce children who are the least self-reliant, explorative, and self-controlled out of all the parenting styles.” The study also shows that, “Authoritarian [what I call autocratic] parenting produces children who are discontent, withdrawn, and distrustful.”

So how do we find the balance — authoritative parenting? We use our authority when it is needed and work toward a balance of rights and needs when it is not.

What does legitimate authority mean?

To have legitimate authority, the parent must first let go of autocracy: obedience, and control. For authority to be legitimate your children must feel that it is fair and logical.

Authority does not require holding power over another. Punishment and threats are tools of an autocracy. Legitimate authority is “the power to influence” due to “the confidence resulting from specialized knowledge or personal expertise,” (Oxford Dictionary). The parent’s expertise comes from being an adult.

A strong authority figure does not need techniques of rewards and punishments, threats and praise to accomplish a teaching, guiding presence that influences and commands respect. To exert influence, the child must be receptive. To be receptive the child must feel accepted, supported — gotten.

Appropriate Uses of Parent Authority

Using your authority appropriately means knowing what to expect of each child.

You must expect that your children, varying with age, shouldn’t know what you want, be considerate of your feelings, or make life convenient for you and should want what they want and try hard to get it. That’s why they need a parent.

A child’s job is to do what he wants when he wants it. It is your job to decide what is okay to do and what not. If you expect your child to brush his teeth, go to bed, get off the computer or iPad, be ready to get out the door, do his chores without so much as a reminder, you will be frustrated a good deal of the time. These are your job, not your child’s. Your child’s job is to be a kid.

Children should be allowed to be children, to play, imagine, be egocentric in order to develop properly. That’s why parents are needed for approximately 18 years. It’s your job to make sure things get done or learned that your children don’t and shouldn’t care about — things that are your priorities (their safety, health, etc.), not theirs. Because you are the parent.

Why do I have to yell at you every night about this? You know it’s time for bed, puts a burden of unrealistic expectations on your child that doesn’t feel fair. Of course he doesn’t want to go to bed. So you can tell him that’s why he has a mean old mom, to make sure he does what he doesn’t want to do. When that burden of “shoulds” is off his shoulders, he can better hear and cooperate with what you are telling him it is time to do.

When authority is understood, rules and requirements get simple:

  • It’s time for bed. Not: Okay, one more show.
  • It’s time to leave for school. Not: Why aren’t you ready? No TV tonight.
  • Loud voices belong outdoors. Not: Stop shouting. You’re giving me a headache.
  • Hitting hurts. Not: How many times do I have to tell you not to hit? Get to your room.
  • It is not okay with me that you make a mess and leave it. I expect a clean kitchen after you make your sandwich. Not: How can you be so inconsiderate? I’m not your slave you know.

When parent authority is understood, there is an Of course mantra in your head:

  • Of course you don’t want to get a shot at the doctors. It’s my job to make sure you are healthy so I will help you when you feel afraid.
  • It’s no fun to be told what to do when you’d rather not. Parents have to be the bad guys sometimes, and kids get angry. Bummer.
  • Of course you wish you could eat sugary food all the time. It’s my job to insure you’re properly nourished, so I will not keep many sweets in the house to tempt you.
  • Of course you want to go to that party and do what your friends are doing. As your parent, I have to make the decision that I think is right.
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