How to Avoid Power Struggles
Unfortunately, a natural conflict tends to exist between parents and teens: teens desire to resist limits and adults are committed to enforcing limits. This battle of control leads to power struggles. Many of us realize when we get in a power struggle with our child, but we don’t always know how to get out of them. Fortunately, there is hope! Experts believe there are ways to avoid power struggles altogether:
Set Clear Expectations
The best way to avoid power struggles is to develop some ground work before a disagreement ever pops up. Clearly state your expectations for your teen’s behavior and responsibility ahead of time. One of the best ways to make certain everyone understands and agrees to house rules and expectations is to write a behavioral contract. Your teen should have input in this process with you negotiating limits that best set your teen up for success. A contract might say how often their room should be cleaned, what exactly is expected to be done for the room to be considered clean, and what the consequences are for not meeting this expectation. To learn more about how to develop and use a behavioral contract, please read our previous blog, What to Do When Your Teen Wants More Privileges.
Don’t Attend Every Fight You’re Invited to
The key to successful parenting is to know which battles are worth tackling. Sometimes you just have to let it go. Ignore the attitude. Agree to disagree. By avoiding minor disagreements, you create a more peaceful environment and the space for a teen to approach you on more significant issues. When you engage in an argument with your child, you’re just giving them more power and attention. In fact, you may even be communicating to your teen that you believe they have the power to challenge you. Next time your child “invites” you into a power struggle, just say, “We’ve discussed what is going to happen. I don’t want to talk about it anymore,” and leave the room. When you leave, you take all the power with you.
Give Your Teen a Choice
Power struggles occur because everyone wants to be in control. Rules, consequences, and limits often make teens feel powerless, so try to reduce that perception by giving your teen as many choices within their limits as possible. For example, your teen may hate a particular chore more than another, so offer 3 different ways they can help out in the family and let them choose which chore to be responsible for. Or, if you need them to do a particular task, offer them different timeframes to do it. Give youth some choices around their responsibilities and you will likely receive more cooperation.
Sometimes teens are opposed to doing a chore simply because they don’t know how to do it (yes, even if they have watched you do it a hundred times). If you want your teen to take on a new responsibility, mentor them! Do the chore with your teen a few times so that they get the hang of it and understand your preferences.
When your teen neglects their responsibilities, it is important to follow through with a consequence. Consequences should be something over which you have complete control and are willing to enforce. For example, reducing allowance, refusing access to the car, and limiting time with friends are all punishments that you can enforce. Choosing a consequence that relies on the teen’s cooperation, such as extra chores, is difficult to enforce and usually results in a new power struggle.
Don’t ignore their good behavior. When your teen meets your expectations, let them know you appreciate it! Reward their good behavior with positive remarks, extended privileges, or a small token, such as going out for ice cream. You will be helping to prevent future power struggles by encouraging their good behavior.