HJ-ED-DHJHerald Journal Columns
November 27, 2006, Herald Journal

Conflict and power struggle pointers


Power struggles. Conflict. Testing the limits. Exerting independence. Testing patience.

All of those are challenges that we as parents and caregivers deal with as we raise our children. These challenges are also a natural step in our children’s growth, and we as the adults have to figure out and utilize strategies for dealing with and minimizing those power struggles and conflicts.

As our children grow, the challenges and conflicts change, but, nonetheless, they exist. As our children develop into the teen years, their own desire to be their own persons and exert independence continues.

The University of Minnesota Extension Service and University of Wisconsin Extension noted in its parent handout on Positive Parenting of Teens, prepared by Wenonah Johnson, that these struggles and conflicts are a healthy desire for autonomy and identity.

As parents, we want our teens to be confident and independent, but it doesn’t mean it is easy or doesn’t involve some struggles and challenges along the way.

The handout offers some techniques to help handle the conflict.

• Keep your cool. Try not to overreact when involved in a power struggle or challenging situation with your son or daughter. Keeping cool conveys who really is the adult and teaches our children how to deal with challenges as well.

• Establish a few ground rules and try to stick to them. Decide on a few non-negotiable rules that reflect personal and family values and goals such as, No television until homework is complete. No hitting. Put your clothes away.

Try not to argue over details. Don’t over-explain if your teen wants to try and renegotiate the house rules. Just remind them of the rules.

• Focus on what is important. Many conflicts/struggles are not worth your time and energy. I have to remind myself, does it really matter if their clothes don’t quite match when going to school? Does it really matter if their room is completely clean for a sleepover? Of course not.

• A key is to know when it’s worth it and when it’s not. We should try and keep conflicts to a minimum and concentrate on those that really and genuinely need our attention to protect our children’s well-being.

• Have realistic expectations of your son and/or daughter. It can be overwhelming for our children to follow rules if the rules are not appropriate for their age, maturity and personal growth levels.

• It’s also important to involve teens in decision making. Many conflicts revolve around sleeping, eating and dressing, so offer limited choices in these areas that will guide your teens. Again, this will give them a sense of power and independence.

• Look for opportunities to support and agree with your teen. They also need to hear us say, “Yes,” sometimes, and that we are not just rule setters with a set button of “No.”

Try to avoid conflicts when pressed for time or when fatigue and stress are factors, which can turn a disagreement into a full blown conflict or heated debate. Issues seem magnified when stress and fatigue are present.

• Spend positive time with your child. Try to find time every day to spend some quality, focused time with each child, focusing on them as individuals. Spend additional time each week doing something positive together that you enjoy doing together. It is time well spent, which can certainly strengthen parent/child relationships and even lessen the chance of conflicts.

• Encourage cooperation. Use encouraging messages, praise and statements of gratitude when children (of all ages) help out and cooperate. Encouragement increases the likelihood that cooperation will continue.

Have a great day and remember a little patience and appropriate praise can go along way!