Parenting: Avoiding Power Struggles, Part I

One parent recently contacted me seeking help for a common parenting problem: Power struggles. She stated that her child thinks she’s the boss, is defiant, does the opposite of what’s asked, and ignores her. Sound familiar? She lamented, as many of us have, “We’ve tried everything” and admitted that they end up resorting to yelling even though they know that’s not helpful.

Here is just some of the counsel we discussed that she found helpful in disengaging from the power struggles by establishing a clear structure of parental authority that is respectful, consistent and effective.

1. Good answers are rarely easy answers.

We first set the stage by orienting her and her husband about creating effective and lasting change. I informed that I was assuming that they were ready to make some changes and that they were not looking for easy answers. I encouraged them to hear my suggestions without getting defensive, as I am not one to pull punches, as there are no easy answers to parenting and effective parenting often requires that we re-write some long-held beliefs and practices that simply don’t work. I have found that easy answers = sloppy results. The good news, though, is that there are very good answers that work really well. These are harder to apply, but the results are great.

2. Try a few things well vs. everything poorly.

I know many parents who've said they've "tried everything" having read plenty of books and so forth. However, I have yet to meet anyone who's tried everything. For example, this parent stated they watched a popular parenting video and complained that it didn’t work. We discussed that “watching” the video and applying the ideas for a few days as they did just didn't cut it. I challenged them to apply the video's principles on a regular and consistent basis.

There are many great parenting books and videos out there. My encouragement is to take the parenting book of your choice and apply this formula: Study the basics + practice, practice, practice them into the ground until you have “overlearned” them into habits. Then read and re-read this book several times instead of flitting from one approach to the next. Stick to one great book until you have that approach down.

3. Who's the boss?

A child is only the boss when the parents have set it up that they are not. By not clearly establishing who the parents are and who the children are parents let their children “take over.” Any child will act this way when their parents let them. I see it all the time. I don’t blame kids for taking as much power as they can get as it’s not the child’s responsibility to establish the structure in the home.

The solution here lies in finding out why you and your spouse resist setting clear, predictable and consistent limits for your child. This may require a hard look at yourselves, which is rarely fun. Do either of you feel guilty in your parenting for some real or imagined reason? Are either of you afraid she won't like you? Do you want to be her friend more than her parent? What else? While these are difficult questions to face they are crucial for you to make the changes you want to create for you and your child.

4. One...two...three...three-and-a-half...

"1-2-3 Magic" is a great approach that many have found effective. However, it only works if "three" means three every single time. Rarely do I see three = three. More commonly, three = "three-and-a-half, three-and-three-quarters...I mean it! Really, this is your last chance... Four...Five...When I get to ten you're going to be in big trouble, mister!" This isn't rocket science. Three must mean three. It must not mean an extra chance, but simply that the child is "out." There is a lot more too this approach, but check this aspect first as many parents continue giving chances upon chances upon chances. Kids learn a message we aren't intending to send: that our word as parents is meaningless and that we aren't really in charge. This is where the counting strategy falls apart most frequently. Basically keep it three strikes and she's out. The third strike in baseball is never another chance no matter how much the batter whines, begs or screams. Keep it simple, clear, and predictable for both yourselves and your child.

5. Keep encouraged.

My final word is always one of encouragement. I applaud parents and encourage them in their willingness to reach out for help from those who can help them (their own parents, mentors, therapists and parenting coaches such as myself, books, videos, audio, etc.). The good news is there is much parents can do. There is much that you can do. There is much, much more to each one of these points I've made than I have the space to write here. I wish you both much success in your parenting!

Watch the next column for the Part II where we will look at six more strategies: 1. Not recreating the wheel; 2. Getting clear with parenting rules at home; 3. Using best practices; 4. Making “No” stick; 5. The futility of yelling; and 6. Putting it all into practice.

A call for readers’ ideas

I encourage readers to call 801.787.8014 or email me at and let me know what ideas, approaches, strategies, mindsets, philosophies, and tips they have found successful in your parenting and I will be happy to share those ideas in a future column.

For more information on stress-busting, mindfulness practices, stress management workshops, relationship and parenting workshops and/or to subscribe to the free Great Relationships eZine contact your stress-busting pal, Jonathan at Bardos Relationship Consulting: 801.787.8014, or visit Also, The Great Relationships Workbook is now available at It is full of the best articles, worksheets, tips and exercises to help you create greatness in your relationships.

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