Power Struggles Destroy Your Relationship With Your Children

Power struggles are common in many families. However, it's much more rewarding to relate to children based on trust and mutual respect.
Power Struggles Destroy Your Relationship With Your Children
Elena Sanz

Written and verified by the psychologist Elena Sanz.

Last update: 21 December, 2022

As a parent, you’re only human. You have bad days, lose your temper, and make mistakes. Even when you’re aware of the importance of your role, and try to watch your words and act correctly, you can end up falling into the trap of power struggles with your children.

Relationships are complicated and people are complex. Sometimes, you’re overcome by impulses, fears, and your ego. Furthermore, parenthood will test your resources countless times. However, bonding with your children can be one of the most challenging processes you’ll ever experience. Thus, it’s important not to lose your sense of perspective.

Power struggles often hide a misconception of what it means to be a parent. In order to banish them from your routine, it’s imperative to analyze your beliefs and change course, because another type of parenting is possible.

As a matter of fact, you’ll see that it’s far more rewarding to relate to your children from a positive angle than having to take on the role of a sergeant major or a police officer.

Mother talking to her son

How to identify power struggles

Perhaps, on more than one occasion, you’ve found yourself in a loud and heated discussion with your child. You’ve said hurtful words in a harsh tone (or had them said to you) creating an environment where you could cut the tension with a knife.

Regardless of the outcome of such situations, you end up feeling drained, sad, and disappointed. Maybe even guilty. Indeed, no one wants to relate in this way with the people they love the most. Nevertheless, you know of no other way in which you can impose boundaries or discipline.

Before claiming that your children are disobedient, cheeky, or rebellious, ask yourself if you’re actually trying to educate them or just getting into a power struggle.

For example, imagine that you’ve told your child to wear their blue coat and they refuse. They claim they prefer the gray one. You insist, in a firmer and more impatient tone, that they obey your order and put on their blue coat. They simply rebel more.

Hence, the argument starts. However, what’s really the problem? Your child had chosen a garment appropriate to the weather and the social situation, even if it wasn’t the one you preferred. Do you realize that the only thing that moved you in the argument was your need to control and impose? Do you understand that your child’s rebellion was just a cry to be heard so that their opinion was taken into account?

A democratic family

Power struggles frequently appear when the family is conceptualized as a hierarchy. Obviously, the importance of setting boundaries to provide guidance and structure for your children is clear. Nevertheless, you shouldn’t misunderstand them.

The rules that are established must be consistent, agreed upon, and must be based on love and respect, not on the need to dominate your children.

It’s far more beneficial for a child’s development for them to grow up in a democratic family, in which horizontal relationships of mutual trust are established. This doesn’t imply that parents and children are at the same level in terms of functions, but it does mean that no one is above anyone else on a personal level. Everyone deserves the same respect and consideration.

When you start to consider your child, your power struggles end. When you stop seeing yourself as their owner and start seeing yourself as their guide, everything changes.

From that point, all your actions will be aimed at understanding your child and helping them in their own development, not trying to make them blindly obey. You’ll stop taking their tantrums personally and begin to understand that they’re simply a part of their developmental process and that you can help them deal with them.

Mother talking to her daughter having a tantrum

You’re a team

Forget power struggles with your children. You aren’t opponents, you’re a team. No one should win, no one should impose or bend the will of the other. In fact, you both win when your relationship works.

You’ll be surprised how your child reacts when they’re treated with respect and understanding, when they feel listened to, validated, and taken into account. Furthermore, they won’t see themselves as a tyrant for wanting to have a say. On the contrary, they’ll learn responsibility and cooperation and increase their self-esteem.

All cited sources were thoroughly reviewed by our team to ensure their quality, reliability, currency, and validity. The bibliography of this article was considered reliable and of academic or scientific accuracy.

  • Rojas, M. (2015). Felicidad y estilos de crianza parental. Documento de Trabajo). México: Centro de Estudios Espinosa Yglesias.
  • Ayala-Esqueda, Z. M., Gritti-Garcia, J. N., Maciel-Navarro, Z. Y., Rivera-Parra, B. A., & Zavala-Hernández, X. (2014). Maltrato infantil vs paternidad positiva. Ciencia & Futuro4(2), 76-87.

This text is provided for informational purposes only and does not replace consultation with a professional. If in doubt, consult your specialist.