Power Struggles— 5 tips (explained) to avoid them.

Power Struggles— 5 tips (explained) to avoid them.

One of my most valuable parenting tools is a PDF worksheet I came across years ago, by Jane Nelson. For those of you who don’t know about Dr. Jane Nelsen, she is one of the founding authors of the Positive Discipline books that are based on research from the 1920’s that suggested that children should be treated with respect and dignity. The Positive Discipline folks have a extensive website with a lot of great resources for teachers and parents.

There are 18 suggestions on the full Power Struggle PDF. I have picked out my top five from the list and added my own explanation and some examples.

The part about Positive Discipline that I LOVE is that a lot of the suggestions work well in all relationships. Power Struggles always leave people feeling off balance and they damage trust in a relationship.
None of these tips are mind blowing— if you really thought about it you likely would have come up with some of these yourself. That does not mean that they are easy to implement.


If you are interested, please read on and then try them out. What can it hurt?  Like all advice, it’s best to see what fits for you and adjust any suggestions based on your own inner knowing and values.

Here you go. My favorite tips from the 18 Ways to Avoid Power Struggles list.

6. “Listen: Stop talking and listen. Use reflective listening. Reflect back what you heard to see if you are getting it. Use active listening. Try to understand not only what your child is saying, but what she means. If you are right, the child will feel understood and will feel relief.”


Amity’s take: Reflective listening only works if your heart is in the right spot. If you are angry your kind words will come out angry. For this to work I suggest bitting your lips and saying noting until you can get in the right frame of mind. Stop. Breathe in to the count of 4, and breathe out to the count of 8. Do this three times. This should calm you down a bit.

Next, remind yourself that all we need is love. That is what the nagging, demanding, or stubborn person really wants. They want to be loved, and as a caring adult you have the obligation to provide that love. I know it is hard when your depleted but trust me here, try it a few times and feel it working. Say something like, “I love you and I want to help you through this.” Or, “I know your angry at me, I still love you and will wait until your are ready.” Or, “I know you are angry and I’m getting angry too, but I am going to calm down so we can work this out.”


10. “Use ten words or less. One is best: Toys. Towels. Homework. (Sometimes these words need to be repeated several times.) Avoid lectures.”


Amity’s take: I’m going to leave you with a statement that my son yelled in my face as I was giving him a lecture when he was about 4 years old.


That is about all that people can hear when they are upset, and kids have a more limited ability to take your adult statements. Keep it short, clear, and kind!


16. “Use your sense of humor: Here comes the tickle monster to get little children who don’t pick up their toys. This creates closeness and trust and can be followed by one of the above.”


Amity’s take: Sometimes we get angry over things that really should be laughable. What happens if you give up and lay down on the floor and fling your body around, or you do 15 jumping jacks to get out your frustration, or you hide yourself in your coat hiding until your kid can be nice again, or sing a song about love and hold your arms out wide for a hug. Mix it up. Be creative. Express yourself and your love non-verbally too. I know this sounds a little too much for some of you. I get it. You don’t have to be like me but do come up with your do-able ways to mix some fun with frustration. Our lives or short and might end tomorrow— do you really want to go down in history fighting over the small stuff?



7. “Decide what you will do. I will read a story after teeth are brushed. I will drive only when seat belts are buckled. (I will pull over to the side of the road when children are fighting.)”

This one is HUGE. If you don’t know what you will do it is best to just let what ever it is go until you have this figured out. This is also something that you might want to talk about with other people who are helping to raise your child. Get on the same page and craft a message that is short, direct, and kind. When you talk about what YOU will do, it takes away any shaming or critical language that can have a negative longterm impact on a person.


12. “No words: Use pantomime, charades, or notes. Take a child by the hand and gently take her where she needs to be. As Rudolf Dreikurs used to say, “Shut your mouth and act.”

Amity’s take: See my notes on 16!


17. “Spend special time. Schedule regular time with each child.

In addition, while tucking children in bed, ask, “What was the saddest thing that happened today; and what was the happiest thing that happened today? After listening to each, share your saddest and happiest times of the day.”


Amity’s take: Special time is SO important. Most of the time in my life when I reflect back on the root cause of the problem it stems from me being too busy to pay attention to the person who I am now upset with.

For those of you who have taken a Bringing Baby Home workshop you know that you need more than 20 positive interactions to every 1 negative interaction to ensure relationship satisfaction is maintained. That means YOU as the responsible grown-up has to make a nearly constant effort to create moments that your family feels special and loved.

Side note**My daughter looking over my shoulder just said “Don’t you mean a power snuggle?” Yes! That is exactly what I mean. Special time can equal a power snuggle, count me in kid!

The trick with special time is that kids are smart and their job is to push and push and push until you set a firm boundary. This pushing can drive you nuts and make you mad. It takes a lot of work to keep a positive outlook.

That means that it’s important that you have a few strategies in place to give yourself a little “special time” too. This might be big breaks from parenting where you can really relax. Or, more likely it is small things such as:

-Stopping for five seconds as the sun shines on your face, letting it feel good. (It happens to be sunny today, but you can replace wind, rain, or cool air for the sun.)

-Wash your hands a bit slower and notice the bubbles slide over your hands and how the water feels as it flows over your skin.

-Sit down to eat a meal. Yes, you too can sit and eat slowly, chewing your food all the way before you swallow it down. Taste the flavors.

-Hit the hay 15 minutes early.

-Dim the lights after 9pm.


You get the idea. It is easy to keep going and ignore yourself until everything is done and you are too exhausted to partake in anything but crashing into bed. That speed is not sustainable! If you can find a few ways each day to give yourself and the people you love a little time-in you might notice that the power struggles start to diminish without much effort.

I hope this is helpful to you.

Care and love,


Have a parenting or relationship questions for me? I’d love to give out some more advice and inspiration. Send me an email, text, or a phone call.

About Amity Kramer

Amity Kramer has been helping families cultivate unconditional love since 2008. She is a Birthing From Within Mentor, Certified Gottman Educator, and founder of Thresholds. Amity leads soulful workshops for families in transition. She also is a practicing birth and postpartum doula which gives her a unique window into the joys and struggles of family life.

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