Power Struggles: Avoiding the War

“The greatest victory is the one that requires no battle.”
― Sun Tzu, The Art of War

*Special thanks to Jeanine Fitzgerald and Peggy Hoime for the inspiration to write this post.


This was what my son screamed at me this weekend while playing a game that he made up, asked me to play, and never shared the rules. Perhaps you have been there with your child. Oh, the joy of big emotions! (For context, he is currently 5 years of age)

How we show up in moments like these will determine the level of trust we establish with our children. Also, just as important, we will be modeling the behavior of problem-solving when emotions take control.

I wish I could say that every time a power struggle happens with my children, I act perfectly…., but that is not reality. A year ago, I might have met his fire with fire of my own. A fire just a smidge louder…a fire that let him know who the boss was. A fire that most assuredly would have lost trust and made sure he explodes in a bigger way next time.

Nowadays, I might not be perfect, but I recognize my triggering points. When I feel that I am about to be triggered, I switch gears and try to remind myself of three important things:

1. Stay calm. Even if I feel disrespected or attacked, I find it works best to maintain composure. I am finding that there is no need to get defensive. Staying calm helps my child return to calmness and reinforces that they are in a safe place to act out. Children need to act out to work out these big emotions. If I were to lay into them about getting angry, I would only be reinforcing their behavior to continue.

Might I have been attacked? Yes. Might I have been disrespected? Sure. But who is the adult….me. I am the one who is aware, the one who has control, the one who can choose how to cultivate a young mind who is learning how to interact in this world.

Be unflappable….be the Jedi.

2. Ask questions. This one is absolute magic! When I begin to ask questions, it allows my child to continue to tell their story. This is important because, through telling their story, they will get to the root of the issue. When we get to the bottom of it, we can help them resolve what is going on. This would not happen if I raised my voice and fired back.

Questions also serve an important piece in allowing the child to move from their emotional brain to their intellectual brain. It just so happens that humans can’t be in both hemispheres at the same time. Hence, once I am triggered, I meet fire with fire (emotions with emotions)…all logic goes right out the window.

Questions also serve as a buffer for me to gather myself while I listen. I can make sure I do not move into the emotional (reactionary) part of my brain. This extra time allows the heat of the moment to die down for all involved.

3. Build them back up by normalizing the emotion. This point, I feel, is often understated in life, whether with kids or adults. When conflicts arise, it is critical to allow the other person to leave with dignity as they do. Conflicts are not about being right or wrong. Conflicts are not about winning and losing. Conflicts are an opportunity for both to grow and come out a little better than before. Normalizing the big emotions has allowed my children not to feel shame as they work through it. It also serves as a huge trust builder for a stronger relationship.

Imagine, with every conflict; both people come out a little stronger than before. No shame, no dignity lost. Just a moment in time in which emotions were ironed out. This is how continued influence is built. I am working hard on these, and I have a long way to go, but I have the roadmap to follow.

Be well.


Photo by Eco Tour Adventures

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