Power Struggles—Battles Over Small Things

The little things we battle over with our children, like putting on shoes and eating vegetables, leave us exhausted and make us wonder who is in charge.

“No!” and “You can’t make me!” are the words you dread and cause you to silently promise yourself never to say, “Because I said so!” Throughout his or her childhood, your child will test your parental limits; however developmentally, your child is discovering areas of independence.

For creating boundaries without squelching independence and self-determination, consider the following steps.

  • Initially, identify long-term goals. Think about the future (ten to fifteen years down the road) and consider the essential traits of a mature adult in your family.


  • Take these goals and develop rules and expectations that help your child to reach these aspirations. For example, respecting adults is a worthy goal; and therefore, you may desire that your child respond to your instructions the first time without hassle or back talk.


  • Contemplate the best way to teach and enforce these goals. Comedians and others have said that parents are like animal trainers. Though it is hard to think of our wonderful children as wild animals; nevertheless, we are trainers as we cultivate character and habits.


  • Establish a consistent discipline plan that will be useful to the other adults involved with your child, even baby-sitters and grandparents.


  • Follow through consistently with established consequences. When you are tired, frustrated, or stressed, this is especially difficult, but it is also the most likely time for your child to act the worst and test you.


  • Choose your battles. Small issues don’t need big attention. For your child to develop independence and decision-making skills, you must give your child opportunities to stretch and explore independence within the safety of your home. For example, after your child has been “trained” to keep his or her room clean, you may choose to “let go” of this battle.

Your child may then realize that clothing not put in the proper place is not available to wear or even lost. Going to school with different colored socks, climbing over trash to get into bed, and not being able to invite friends over because your child cannot get into the room are all consequences of poor choices.

These steps enable you to set goals with and for your child, to maintain consistent expectations and consequences, and to create a healthy balance between respect and independence.

By Ellen D. Begley, RN, NCC, LPC for www.sixtysecondparent.com – Ellen is a registered nurse as well as a licensed and national board certified counselor. She has a private practice that serves children ages 2 to 18 and has over 18 years of experience counseling children and educating parents.