Blog Post > POWER STRUGGLES (by Penny Cunninggim)

POWER STRUGGLES (by Penny Cunninggim)

This blog entry comes directly from the book Try and make Me! Power Struggles: A book of strategies for adults who live and work with angry kids written by Penny Cunniggim.

Our therapist, Erin Bryant, LISW, thought this would be helpful for those of you who live with this struggle.

Definition of power struggle: “A power struggle is a push-pull conflict between two people, each of whom believes he or she knows more, sees more, and/or has to right to win (over the other). Power struggles are a clash of wills, a locking of horns. Each person is determined to force his or her position on the other through verbal (and sometimes subtle, physical) coercion or intimidation. neither party is open to incorporating the other’s point of view, so the ‘conversation’ or exchange remains repetitive (it goes nowhere) and tends to spiral (escalate into higher levels of entrenchment by each party). Each person has an agenda based on being right. The message is: ‘I am right and you are wrong.'”

4 assumptions that underlie definition…

    1.  The adult cannot keep a child from wanting to engage in a power struggle, but the adult can refuse to take part.

2.  As a ‘locking of horns,’ power struggles are a dance between 2 people that often takes both parties by surprise.

3.  When a power struggle occurs, the environment is not a safe place to be for any child.

4.  There is a natural and essential power difference between an adult and a child.

Combative behaviors need to be addressed

Being in a struggle is safer for children, rather than exposing weakness.

Avoid sarcastic tone of voice, use “I” statements, and give the child time to calm down, let the child see you are listening to their opinion.

Signs a power struggle might be starting:

*  Person is arguing a useless point

*  Keeps contradicting you

*  Child acts like they didn’t hear you

*  Child pretends neutrality (blank face)

*  Person keeps trying to get in the last word

*  Postures/combative stance

*  Says the same thing over and over, while getting angrier

*  Dismissive gestures (turns away, rolls eyes)

*  Makes a sarcastic remark

*  Person keeps raising his voice

*  Person doesn’t respond at all

*  Pinched face, narrowed eyes

*  Acts superior

*  Commanding or whining

*  Person orders the other person around

*  Child walks away when you’re speaking to them

*  Child takes forever to complete a task on purpose

*  Provides minimal answers (maybe just a shoulder shrug)

Reasons kids start power struggles: The child may be trying to…

      1.  cope internally

2.  defend deeper seeded issues

3.  respond habitually

4.  get triggered

5.  be ‘top dog’ to feel okay

6.  enjoy another’s weakness (conveys no empathy)


Ways to deal with power struggles: preventive strategies:

*  start each day anew with no leftover emotional agendas

*  state expectations up front

*  give the child choices

*  catch the child choices

*  honor totality of child’s feelings

*  maintain tight routines

*  set rules with the child & keep rules to a minimum (include child in the rule setting process)

*  don’t let your feelings dictate your response

*  never nag, scold, or use sarcasm

*  don’t make promises you can’t keep

*  exude enthusiasm as you continuously challenge the child

*  focus on areas where you can find agreement

*  talk less, use nonverbal cues


Avoidance/Early Intervention strategies:

*  Ignore the behavior

*  Suggest wait time (both take a time out from the argument)

*  Redirect he child

*  Stop, think, and ask questions about what is really going on

*  Set a limit

*  Step aside and provide choices


Diffusion strategies:

*  Affirm the child’s feelings

*  Take responsibility for your part and suggest you discuss the disagreement in private

*  Respond with humor (when appropriate)

*  Create a forum for a power struggle simulation (role play)

*  Stop pontificating, listen, set a limit, and give alternatives

*  Walk away from the tension without leaving the battle (take a breather, go sit on the other side of the room, etc)