Parenting Without Power Struggles

No one wins when a parent and child become involved in a power struggle; most parents learn this lesson very quickly after engaging in a few heated battles with their children. At the end of a power struggle, all parties end up feeling battered and hostile and then regret engaging in the struggle in the first place (if they can even remember how it started). These struggles create distance, animosity, self-doubt and general emotional distress. Why is it then that we often go down this road where we, as parents, feel like we need to prove that we have the final say and control over our child? Power struggles with our children are damaging to everyone in the household and can have long-term effects on our relationship with our child as well as their own long-term development.

How can you maintain parental control without engaging in power struggles with your child? Unfortunately, there is not just one answer for every family and situation. However, many parenting experts have discussed this topic at length and there is a bevy of helpful literature available to parents as they navigate this challenge. A few of our suggested reads are listed below.

“Eighteen Ways to Avoid Power Struggles” by Jane Nelsen (

“Avoiding Power Struggles With Children” by Eva Nislev (

“Avoiding Power Struggles With Defiant Children Declaring Victory is Easier Than You Think” by James Lehman (

“Parental Put Downs and Power Struggles with Adolescents” by Carl Pickhardt (

“Avoiding Arguments and Power Struggles With Your Kids” by Sal Severe (



A Helpful Article on Choosing Your Words Carefully

As parents, we often remind our children that words can be hurtful and are quick to correct them when they call their sibling a name  or say emotionally charged negative things we know they don’t mean. We immediately rebuke them and suggest an apology is in order. However, I wonder how many times our words have knowingly, or unknowingly, hurt our children.  The sentences that begin with “How many times have I asked you…” or “How many times do I need to ask you….” may not be as harmless as we think.

Meri Wallace’s post “Choose Your Words”, part of the “How to Raise a Happy, Cooperative Child” blog on, is a helpful reminder that verbally expressing our frustration can seriously affect a child’s self-esteem. A simple choice of words can cause a child to ponder their self-worth and feel demoralized. Remembering they are children and taking a moment to step in their shoes can help avoid turning the situation is something bigger than it needs to be.  This is an important parenting tool but also an important tool for anyone interacting with children, such as teachers, aides, and coaches.

Please click here to read Meri Wallace’s article.


All Praise Is Not Created Equal: Personal Praise vs. Effort-Based Praise

We all want our children to grow up as confident human beings with  a solid foundation of positive self-esteem.  Sometimes, when we see a child struggle with self-esteem or confidence, we look for opportunities to praise them, in an effort to build them up. Of course, these intentions are nothing but honorable and well guided. However, new research indicates that the type of praise you shower on children may affect already delicate self-esteem and could undermine your good intentions. For example, highlighting a child’s personal qualities (you are a great swimmer!) may not be as fortifying as highlighting their efforts (I can really tell that you have been working so hard on your backstroke!).  In addition, research shows that children with low self-esteem receive more personal praise than those with higher self-esteem. And as such, their expectations for themselves become higher, as they always achieve to be the best or the superstar, which is an unrealistic expectation, leading to disappointment. Praising children for their efforts,  rather than focusing on the outcome, will help them boost their self-confidence and encourage them to continue pressing forward with their efforts.

Read more about this topic and research at   “Children & Praise: Why Certain Types of Praise May Backfire”, by Debbie Glasser, Ph.D

Why Can Some Kids Handle More Pressure Than Others?

Have you ever wondered why some kids “test” better than others? How some kids seem to juggle school, activities, jobs, and a social life while others can barely hold on to schoolwork? Po Bronson and Ashley Merryman, authors of Top Dog: The Science of Winning and Losing, wrote an article published in the NY Times Magazine that explains some of these mysteries. Read their in-depth and enlightening article here.



Rewards vs. Bribes: Are You Corrupting Your Child?

Does rewarding your child equate to bribery? Have you struggled with the thought of compensating your child for doing something you think they should do without compensation? Have you worried that you’ll be corrupting your child if you do reward them for just meeting expectations?

These are all questions that many parents wonder as they are in the grocery store, wishing their kids wouldn’t fight while they shop for dinner. Or, when you really need them to finish their homework so you can get them to practice. You just want them to comply. Without struggle. Without drama. Without a lot of discussion.

You can reward your child without it being a bribe. However, rewards can be bribes as well. What’s the difference? It is a bribe when you are under duress. You had no intention of offering a reward, your child is in control of the particular situation, and you need control back. For example, it’s Monday morning, your children are all melting down and refusing to get out of bed and get ready for school. It’s 20 minutes before the bus arrives. You give in and tell them they can have a candy bar for breakfast if they would just get out of bed and get ready in time. That’s a bribe, and the next time, they may demand a candy bar just to get out bed. On the other hand, it’s Monday morning, and your children know that if they get up and get themselves ready without hassle and make the bus on time, there will be an ice cream sundae snack after school. This is a deal you made with them when the school year started. Sometimes, you have to remind them of the ice cream sundae deal, but for the most part, every Monday, they get up and get ready without much fanfare. That’s a reward.

In our home, we have a coveted prize box that is filled with items that I know my kids will enjoy. Most items cost less than a dollar and I have fun finding things to add to the box.There are certain situations that my kids know will earn a trip to the prize box. They remind each other to do the right thing so that we can “do” prize box. It definitely doesn’t work every time. That would be too easy. But I have noticed that the stress level in our home has decreased. I feel like it helps me engage in more positive parenting. There’s less yelling and frustration. And the kids know what my expectations are and most of the time, they agree when we can’t “do” prize box because the expectations weren’t met. .

If you know there are certain days, events, or activities that illicit stress in your home, put a reward system in place. Make sure the reward is appropriate for your child, it should motivate them to do the right thing without diluting the situation. Be clear and consistent about the reward and what your child needs to do to acheive it. There will be times when you do need to use a bribe, it happens. But it should be an exception, else your children will be on to you and may manipulate situations in order to receive bribes. Rewarding children by celebrating appropriate behavior is effective in teaching the benefits of responsibility

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