Kids at various stages of development will want to exert power over parents. While it is normal, it can be problematic depending on how it’s handled. Here at Walden, we work with children and youth with traumatic past experiences and train their foster and adoptive parents with skills to give these deserving young people the support they need.

Desperate to feel some sense of power in the midst of a lot of chaotic feelings and real (or imagined) powerlessness, kids and youth in foster care will often have a tendency early on in their foster care experience to get into power struggles. They need our support to sort out these feelings and to learn to handle frustrations in healthy ways. The following tips are based on our trainings with foster and adoptive parents, but are useful to all families with children.

  • Don’t take it personally. Remember that your child’s efforts to try and control situations stems from a healthy impulse to want to meet his/her needs. Often foster care kids’ birth parents were struggling with substance abuse or domestic violence issues that resulted in children needing to fend for themselves. They do not do this to drive you crazy, but it is very wise to stay out of the “power tug-of-war” struggles because it’s not a winning scenario for a happy family.
  • Identify areas where you can appropriately empower your child. Offer options (all acceptable to you) whenever possible. We all like choices, and kids are no different.
  • Give them age-appropriate responsibilities, this conveys your confidence in their capabilities, which will empower your child.
  • Respect their opinions. Listen. Often the very experience of being heard can calm a child and make them feel supported. Even if what your child is suggesting isn’t appropriate at the time, having the freedom to share is validating.
  • Recognize power struggles as your child giving you rudimentary respect (they wouldn’t be looking to struggle with you if they didn’t recognize your power). Recognizing that this is a form of respect should help you keep your cool.
  • Develop your sidestep! Avoiding power struggles can be as easy as having your sidestep phrase ready… try: “I love you too much to argue with you” and/or “nice try.” Then leave. Do not hang around and argue, do not get flustered, and do not feel like you need to prove that you have the power. You already have the power, or your child would not be arguing with you.

Hope these tips help. Remember, that both you and your child are learning and every moment offers us the opportunity to grow and improve together!

Some resources on this topic:
The Art of Avoiding Power Struggles with Children, Davidson Institute for Talent Development
Dealing with Power Struggles, Positive Parenting
Parent-Child Power Struggles, SuperNanny