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Always Fighting With Your Child? 3 Tips to Avoid the Power Struggle
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  • One of the things my mom friend dreads on a school night is when it’s time to help her preschooler with her homework and/or study for an upcoming exam. It’s not so much the task itself, but the tension that may arise from having to do the activity that she dislikes. In their home, a typical parent-child conversation can go like this:

    Parent: Do you have any homework to do?

    Child: I’m not sure, mom.

    Parent: Can you please check?

    (After some delay)

    Parent: So, is there homework that needs to be done?

    Child: Yes, mom. But I don’t want to do it yet.

    Parent: Do it now please.

    Child: Later, mom.

    Parent: Now.

    Child: ...

    And so on. 

    Sounds familiar? This back-and-forth is a perfect example of the power struggle that can occur as a child begins to assert her independence and the parent grapples for control. 

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    “Parents often worry that power struggles are a sign that they are not parenting right,” Jim Stokes, Ph.D., a psychologist in Glenwood Springs, Colorado, told Parents. “But being insistent is your child’s way of learning to be her own person.”

    How do you let your child bloom with her own individuality without getting into fights like these? Here are ideas from the experts.

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    How to avoid fighting with your child

    1. Let your child be independent.

    This may sound like a formula for trouble, but experts say that a child who participated in the decision-making process may be more inclined to follow the boundaries that have been set. “Let him have control over other things like which cereal to have for breakfast or what clothes to wear,” says Laura Goodman, a licensed parent coach in Minnesota. So, in the example given above, let your child do as he wishes, but have an agreement that, for example, screen time won’t happen unless homework is done.

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    2. Be sensitive to how your child is feeling.

    An argument isn’t always an attempt to be in control. Like adults, kids can also be short-tempered (and therefore engage in a squabble) when they’re having a bad day. “Everyone is susceptible to stress, including children,” explains Dr. Stokes. He adds, “If your child is tired, hungry, or overstimulated, she will be more likely to resist when you ask her to do something.” Handle the situation so that your child is aware you care about how he feels. If you expect him to be at his best behavior when relatives and guests arrive at your home, make sure he’s had time to rest prior.

    Note, too, the timing of such incidents, as they are observed to happen more during times of transition such as bedtime, or in the morning, since it’ s not easy for kids to shift quickly emotionally. A big hug or humor may do the trick and help lighten up the mood.

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    3. Do a self check.

    Too often, when our kids misbehave, we only need to look at ourselves to see what is causing them to act that way. Our children mirror what they see in us, which is why parents need to be self-aware. When we react to a situation and say something in the heat of the moment, we often let out words that we tend to regret later.

    “Try to identify your own triggers—such as feeling disrespected or unappreciated, or needing to assert authority—that make you initiate a power struggle,” says Tracie Giargiari, Ph.D., from Colorado. “Even if your child is the instigator, the situation changes when you remain calm.”

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