How to walk away from a power struggle with a child!


Have you ever been leading a group of children, and everything was going great when all of a sudden, you found yourself pulled into a power struggle? Or is there one particular child who constantly argues with you about every little thing? Many times, children of divorce seem to excel in power struggles.

3 reasons some kids want to be in power struggles

  • In the past, the child received a lot of attention through power struggles.
  • It is a control issue—the child wants to be in control.
  • It’s been working for him.

I want to warn you to be very careful that you don’t get caught up in power struggles with children. It takes two people to have a power struggle. If you don’t enter it, then there is no power struggle. Another thing to remember about power struggles is that many times the child who wants to pull you into a power struggle may not feel safe, and if you enter the power struggle, you will only reinforce the child’s perception of “un-safeness.”

Children need to know that adults are strong enough to be in control. When you come across a child who wants to pull you into a power struggle—and some children are very good at it—it is best to try to maneuver out of the struggle. Sometimes before you realize it, you are in a full-blown struggle and find yourself at odds with this little person in front of you.

What not to do

  • Allow children to save face and keep their dignity intact. Every time we take away their dignity, the more the children feel like they have to in be control, and the more they will try to pull the adults in their lives into power struggles. It’s not you; it’s the children’s perceptions of the various situations in their lives.
  • I don’t advocate just walking away from the struggle. I think this tends to say to children “You and your opinion don’t matter to me” or “I don’t have time for you.” Trying to talk them out of the struggle doesn’t work either.

How to walk away

  • You have set your boundaries or explained the situation. Now the child wants to argue. One way to handle a situation when a child is bound and determined to “win” the argument is to simply say, “I’m giving you permission to have the last word. Now what is it?” Nothing has changed with the boundaries or the situation. You are simply allowing the child to express his thoughts about things.
  • Honor the child and yourself by not entering into any further conversation with the child on this issue. The child feels like he “won,” and you’re able to end the argument. You still maintain control over the group because you are still in charge.

If the child later comes to you with any further conversation, say, “Whoa! I gave you permission to have the last word, and we are now done with this conversation.” If you feel you need to say something else to end the conversation, add, “And since I respect you, we are done with this conversation.” It’s at this point that you can turn and walk away.

This type of response also works well with children in blending family situations. Remember these children have been in another family before. They may not have healed from the divorce of the birth parents or the death of one of their birth parents. Everything may seem out of their control, and now they are thrown into a family with another adult and other kids who might be there all the time or floating in and out, visiting the other parent.

Confusion reigns in the beginning of these situations. And when confusion reigns, kids feel like things are out of control. Giving them power over their situation while maintaining control over your situation is a win-win for all concerned.

What are some unique ways you handle power struggles?


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