Managing Power Struggles with Teens

Tips for Avoiding and Reducing Arguments With Kids by, Susan Carney

Spend less time fighting with teens by using these six suggestions for coping with power

Relationships between teens and adults are full of disagreements. Often, however, these disagreements escalate into full-blown battles. Why? Because teens are developmentally programmed to resist limits and adults need to enforce them. But there are things adults can do to navigate these situations with as little fighting as possible.

Being Consistent

Kids will find any hole they can crawl through. Plus, if they know an adult is likely to wobble, that only increases their resolve to argue or resist. Adults, who do what they say they will, and enforce their rules each and every time, will have fewer issues with power struggles than those who don't?

Staying Calm

When kids test limits or are disrespectful, it's easy for adults to get emotional. However, when adults get upset, the intensity level of the entire situation increases. The goal should be to stay calm and help the child stay (or regain) calm. Raising one's voice, becoming irrational, saying something that may later be regretted, or other unproductive reactions are all possible when emotions get involved.

Dealing with kids can be upsetting: be sure to use the traditional strategies to stay calm, such as counting to ten, taking deep breaths, and using positive self-talk. Temporarily leaving the situation may even be necessary.

Offering Reasonable Choices

Power struggles happen in part because teens feel a sense of powerlessness. Limits and consequences, though necessary, often add to that feeling. Sometimes, giving kids some limited choices can help them feel a sense of control and, often more importantly, save face. For example, if a teen has to complete a task or chore he finds unpleasant, offer him a choice about when he does it.

Staying Respectful

Kids are often rude and disrespectful to adults. Unfortunately, adults often tend to "give what they get". However, meanness, sarcasm, insults, and other jabs are not going to win the battle or the war. What they will do is diminish and damage the adults' relationship with the teen, perhaps irreparably. Remember that the adult needs to take the high road here. Also, avoid switching the focus of the situation onto the teens' attitude; that only dilutes the importance of the issue at hand. Instead, address any disrespect at another time.

Keeping Consequences Proportionate

When kids are driving adults crazy and emotions are running high, it can be tempting to throw out harsh and permanent consequences (i.e., "You're grounded forever.") Wildly irrational consequences are meaningless to teens because they know they won't stick. Try hard to keep the consequences proportionate to what has happened. If necessary, take some time to calm down and reflect before deciding on them. Or better still; involve the teen in discussing what they think appropriate consequences would be.

Keep Consequences Enforceable

The source of many power struggles is often a consequence that relies on the teen's cooperation (extra chores, more homework) to enforce. Consequences that the adult has complete control over (allowance, privileges, etc.) are better because there's less risk of another fight when the consequence is implemented. By keeping emotions in check, staying respectful, and keeping consequences appropriate, adults can do a lot to reduce power struggles with headstrong teens.

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WinGate Therapy
WinGate Therapy

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