How to avoid a power struggle

A power struggle may be defined in many ways. Some parents may define it as when a child refuses to do something and the parent insists that the child, Do it now.

Post by Erin Devine | november 04th, 2014

What is a power struggle?

Cambridge online dictionary defines a power struggle with a more graphic definition: “An unpleasant or violent competition for power.”  In any case a parent/caregiver/teacher may try to make the child, “Do as I say,” when s/he encounters agitation, provocation, or resistance.  

Why can I avoid a power struggle?

By engaging in a power struggle a parent/caregiver/teacher may create an environment that is not based on trust.  Often, an adult has to work extremely hard to develop a rapport with the child and bringing a child into a power struggle may ruin this rapport.  If you are a professional in the child’s life you may not be able to get them to do something he does not want to do without forcing him.  Do not force him to do something against his will.  Power struggles do not communicate respect toward the child and in some cases may lead to abuse.  Power struggles may bring about challenging behavior from the child.  If an adult gets into a power struggle with a child the adult is modeling behavior that s/he does not want the child to imitate.  What a child sees this influential adult do may be repeated with siblings or friends.  A child involved in a power struggle may also wan to “get back” at the parent/caregiver/teacher who brought him into the power struggle.   

What does a power struggle look like?

As an influential adult in a child’s life you have probably said something you regret to that child.  Most people, at some point, have.  If you have ever been in a situation where you have used an intimidating posture with a child, made angry gestures toward a child, or had an angry facial expression with a child then you may have been in a power struggle.  Using a loud voice or angry tone of voice may also indicate a power struggle.  Applying or threatening inappropriate or excessive negative consequences for a situation (e.g., “Eat your vegetables or you are not going to have dinner for the rest of the month) may indicate that you are involved in a power struggle.  Also, promising excessive or undeliverable rewards for compliance (e.g., “Eat your vegetables and you can have the whole cake.”) may be an indicator of or lead to a power struggle.  Threatening physical force may also be an indicator of a power struggle (e.g., “You’d better sit down and finish your vegetables or I’m going to tie you to your chair.”).  If you are trying to coerce the child into being compliant you may be involved in a power struggle (e.g., “You can still have dessert if you don’t eat your vegetables but you CAN’T tell your mom.”).  Power struggles may occur in any situation, may occur at any time, and may occur with many (all) children.  

I’m the adult, the child should do as I say: The because I said so rationale

Wouldn’t it be nice to live in an ideal world where frustrating events never occur:  there is never any traffic, the internet always works reliably, the barista always gets our coffee order correct, our in-laws are wonderful people, we study and know all the correct responses to tests in graduate school, our significant other provides us with all the support we need, the government works effectively, and our children/students/clients do as we say all the time.  

We live in a world where most of these things typically occur most (or some) of the time.  When our children/students/clients do not do what we say in a timely manner this may be a source of significant frustration for many people.  Remember in these situations that you are the adult and that your response to the child may determine whether or not you end up in a power struggle.  Successfully managing your own behavior by not allowing your emotions to control your actions may help avoid power struggles.





About the author:
Erin Devine is a licensed special education teacher and board certified behavior analyst (BCBA).  She is currently a master trainer/consultant with QBS, Inc where she teaches Safety-Care to professionals around the country.  The Safety-Care curriculum is designed to provide a set of skills and strategies that allow staff in a variety of settings to safely and humanely provide support to individuals who may sometimes exhibit distruptive or dangerous behavior.  She wishes she and her staff had access to Safety-Care when she taught in a public school.

If you want to know more about the topic and/or Erin, please feel free to drop her a line at: info@qbscompanies.com


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saturday, december 10. 2016 - (week 49)