How to reduce power struggles with your child

by | Dec 19, 2017 | Mum life

Power struggles with your child?

Do they drive you mad? Do you feel like they are doing it on purpose? If you feel like you’re about to tip over the edge, don’t worry. You are NOT alone. We have all been there.

Wouldn’t it be amazing if our children cooperated with us, listened, and got on with their siblings? Wouldn’t it be nice to have less of those maddening, frustrating and annoying behaviours?

I find it ironic that as a teacher, I had no problem handling a class of 30 four year olds on my own, but when it comes to my twin three year olds, I’m struggling!!! I know I’ve been so distracted with work in the last couple of months. I’m constantly on my phone and computer and my kids are acting out because of it.

So, I put my foot down and decided I needed to do something about it. I enrolled in a parenting course last year but never did it (you know how that goes), but thankfully I was still able to access it! It has lots of amazing tools for reducing power struggles but today I want to focus on one that I’ve started using as I have seen a change in my children already.

This amazing strategy will help reduce the power struggles in your household. But before we do that, we have to understand WHY it happens in the first place. Understanding the root cause of the misbehavior and addressing the core issue will ensure that you’ll see behaviour improve quickly and more importantly, that it will be long lasting.

The concepts presented are from Positive Parenting Solutions and are based on the work of Alfred Adler (1870-1937), Austrian medical doctor, psychotherapist and founder of the school of Individual Psychology.

Adler believed behavior was goal-directed. He believed humans behave in a certain way because doing so achieves a particular goal and results in an associated payoff. He also insisted that all people, including children, deserved to be treated with dignity and respect.


Here are three of Adler’s principles of behavior:


1. A child’s primary goal (after safety and shelter) is to achieve belonging and significance.

For the child, a sense of belonging means to feel connected to the people who matter most – his parent(s) and siblings. Much of the emotional connection your child needs, comes from the positive attention he gets from you. Think of your child as having an attention basket. When you proactively fill the child’s attention basket with positive attention, you meet his needs for emotional connection and reinforce that he belongs within your family constellation. To feel a sense of significance, the child needs to perceive himself as being capable. He needs to make meaningful contributions to the family and must be able to exercise his (age-appropriate) need for autonomy or power in positive ways. After all, human beings are born with free will. They are “hard wired” to be independent and have some sense of control over their own world. An infant will instinctively fight back if an adult tries to restrain her. A toddler will stomp his feet and boldly say, “I do it!” when a parent steps in and takes over. Our job is to give kids the positive power they crave while keeping the negative power behaviors at bay.


2. All behavior is goal-oriented.

Every whine, every interruption, every eye-roll – those behaviors are not random. They are part of your child’s mission to achieve the belonging and significance she craves. It’s human nature. If we DON’T fill the attention and power buckets with the good stuff – then kids will use whatever means they must to get attention and power. The good news…if we meet the child’s needs for belonging and significance proactively and positively, we can fend off most of the annoying, frustrating demands for attention and power.


3. A misbehaving child is a discouraged child.

Think of misbehavior as your “bat signal” for help. It means your child is not feeling like they belong or have the attention or power they need to feel significant. That’s the root of the temper tantrum, the eye roll, the defiance or the acting out.


Distracted by your phone? Laundry to fold? Dishes to clean?  We’ve all been guilty of this I’m sure.


If your child could verbalize it, it might sound like, “Mum, I don’t feel important right now and I’d like some of your time and attention. It seems like you’re more interested in everything else but me.”

This hits home right? But since she can’t put her feelings into words, she whines, cries, clings to you, or acts overly needy. An infant quickly learns when she whines or fusses – just a little bit – an adult will be there pronto to tend to her needs and whims. However, as she becomes a toddler, she may continue to whine, fuss and even throw all-out tantrums to get our attention. Whether the adult response was positive or negative, it fulfilled the child’s need for attention, and therefore the behavior resulted in a pay-off. The child really wanted positive attention; but negative attention is better than none at all.


If your child could communicate his need for significance or personal power, it might sound like… “Dad, I’m not feeling very significant. You’re always telling me what to do or what not to do. I feel like you boss me around all day long. You make all the decisions and don’t even give me a chance to be independent.”


Again, the child is not aware of his needs for significance. So instead, he argues every request, talks back, ignores you, or intentionally does the opposite of what you want, just to prove that “you aren’t the boss of me!’’


Bottom line? We’re all hard-wired with a need for positive power and the ability to have some control over our lives. When parents over-protect, over-demand, or constantly order, correct, and direct their kids, they strip them of independence and personal power.


Kids don’t WANT to misbehave. They look to us to help them find a better way to meet their needs for belonging and significance.


While there are many many strategies for improving children’s behaviour. Here is one of the most important ones you can implement TODAY and see results in the next couple of days.


It’s called MIND, BODY, SOUL time.



  • One-on-one time (1 parent, 1 child)
  • Fully present in mind, body and soul
  • No interruptions
  • Doing what the child likes to do
  • GOAL: 10 minutes; one or two times per day


The biggest challenge to implementing Mind, Body and Soul Time is TIME! We don’t have enough time as it is. How can we possibly find 10 minutes, 1 or 2 times per day with each child???


A Few Places To Start:


  1. Beg, Borrow & Steal.

    (Time, that is!) Whenever possible, “steal” time from activities that aren’t absolutely necessary. For example, ask yourself the question, “Will the world come to an end if I don’t fold this laundry right now?” Or check email, or watch TV? Instead, “steal” that time and spend 10 minutes playing a game your child enjoys. Kids want nothing more than to have fun with YOU and you’ll get that 10 minutes back ten fold in good behavior. (A total win–win!)

  2. Make the “Ordinary” Extraordinary.

    Think of (one-on-one) activities you’re already doing with your kids and “re–package” them in a way that makes them more special to your child. For example, you’re already tucking your child in at night. Tweak it slightly to allow at least 10 minutes for “special time” to talk about her day, sing her favorite song, read a book of her choice. You’re already spending the time at bedtime – simply “rebrand” those 10 minutes so they feel extraordinary, rather than ordinary.

  3. Start with a Stagger.

    Stagger the wake–up times for your children so you can lie in bed with each of them and snuggle for a few minutes before they get up. Talk about the day ahead, sing a song, read a short book, tell a joke – whatever she likes to do! Take the normal wake–up routine and make it more extraordinary. Remember to label your time together so it reinforces to your child that you are making special time for her: “I love having special time in the morning with you before we start our day!”

  4. Seize the Moment.

    For a younger child, take a few extra minutes during bath time to actually play with him, putting the toys in the water and following his lead. So often, we are taskmasters with the daily routines. When you take just a few extra minutes to get into the child ego state and play, you’ll work wonders to increase his feelings of belonging and significance.

  5. Capitalize on a Captive Audience.

    During the ride home from practice, turn off the radio and actually talk! To get your child to open up, avoid asking questions that can be answered with a “yes” or “no” and resist the urge to interrogate her about her day.


With all of these strategies, remember to verbally label your special time together so you get credit for that time in your child’s mind. Before you begin, say “Now it’s time for our Mind, Body and Soul Time” (or whatever you call it in your family). After your 10 minutes of one-on-one time, remind her how much you enjoyed the special time together and how you can’t wait to do it again tomorrow. Suggest that she make a list of things that you can do during your next Mind, Body and Soul Time together.


Keep in mind the fact that there is a direct relationship between time invested in Mind, Body and Soul Time and your child’s behaviour. When we don’t make time for Mind, Body and Soul Time, our kids lack the feelings of belonging and significance that contribute to positive, productive behaviors. In the absence of our positive attention offered proactively, they will demand our attention with negative behaviors.


As you consistently implement Mind, Body and Soul Time, you’ll see the attention–seeking behaviors begin to fall off the radar screen. Which means more hours in your day as you spend far less time hassling over frustrating misbehaviors.


Sounds good to me!!! I’d love to hear how it works for you. xx

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