Does your home ever feel like a warzone? I know mine certainly has. Living with teenagers and their attitudes and arguments can be draining. There were times I felt like I was constantly on guard and under attack, just waiting for the next battle to erupt. I’ve made endless threats, taken away a million privileges, and sparred in countless arguments. I’ve had pity parties, retreated to my bedroom to cry, and felt guilty for not liking my kids. I’d lay awake at night wondering where in the world I had gone so wrong in raising these scrappy little warriors.
Finally, I decided what I had been trying simply wasn’t working, in fact, the more I tried to control my kids, the more they rebelled. My home was full of strife and struggle. This was no way for any of us to live and I knew something had to change. It took hard work, determination, and a million failures and trying again, but over time we began to see progress. I found there IS a way to have a more peaceful home, to enjoy your kids again, and to end the power struggles. If you are like me and you’re tired of the endless and explosive power struggles, I encourage you to try these steps. I know they worked wonders for my family, and I believe they can for you as well.
Understand The Battle
As frustrating as it can be, arguing and pushing the boundaries is a necessary developmental process all teens go through. It is part of how they learn the art of compromise, expressing how they feel, and learning how to respectfully handle conflict. The first step to ending the power struggles is simply to accept there will be times our teens push back, and that is okay. Understand that this is part of their growing and maturing process. Our job is not to end the battle with one fatal blow, but to teach them how to deal with conflict respectfully and productively. There will be times during and after a disagreement that your child will not like you (and quite honestly, the feeling may be mutual). It is just a fact of life that sometimes our teens are going to have negative feelings towards us. When we accept that disagreements are a natural part of raising emerging adults and that it is okay for them to dislike us at times, we can be in a better mental state to not overreact or blow up over every minor argument.
Set The Stage
Power struggles often come when our kids feel minimized, undervalued, or like their life is completely out of their control. There are things we can do to stop a power struggle even before it starts by creating a positive environment in our homes. Make sure your kid knows you believe in them and have faith in their abilities. Remember the 5:1 principle -it takes five positive comments to make up for one negative. If we want our homes to be a place where our kids feel capable and valued, we have to create an environment where they don’t feel beat down all the time. Let’s look for every opportunity to encourage and affirm them and focus on all the good we see in them.
Another key step to avoiding power struggles is to give our kids choices wherever possible. Say yes as much as you possibly can. Set clear boundaries and let them know that freedom is given until trust is broken. There’s no reason to argue with our kids when they’re fully aware of the expectations and consequences. They get to decide what they’ll choose – freedom or consequences. This mentality puts the power to choose right or wrong in their hands and shuts down the need for a power struggle. (Just be sure there is follow through with the consequences if they do choose that. They knew the expectations and they made a choice to have the consequences. This is how the world works and it is an important life lesson everyone has to learn.)
Know what you CAN control, and let go of what you can’t
Unless you plan on holding your child prisoner or following them around every second of every day, you don’t really have control over their actions. When we realize that ultimately we can’t control the choices our kids make, we can focus on what we DO control. We have control over how we respond to our teenagers (and that perhaps is the hardest part of all!) We control what arguments we do or do not engage in, what boundaries and consequences will be, and what kind of example we are setting for our kids to follow. We don’t have control over our kid’s actions, feelings, or reactions. And when you think about it, that is actually really liberating! When we keep our attention on our part in the power struggle, we have more mindful, intentional, and calm responses.
Engage with caution
Whether intentional or not, teens seem to always know just the right button to push to initiate an argument. As hard as it is to not react when your teens come in complaining, acting defiant, or ignoring, know that it is okay to not turn everything into an argument. Certainly, remember your expectations and boundaries and stick to them, but sometimes a teen just needs to figure out how to respectfully share how they feel. You can choose how you react, and if you choose a calm, non-attacking approach you can bypass the power struggle and get straight to the heart of the problem. If you jump into an argument with your teen expecting to prove that you are right, you may as well just go bang your head repeatedly on the wall, because it will be just about as productive. Choose your battles wisely and enter them with the purpose of resolving a problem and not just proving your point.
Create a better way to communicate
Our kids need to know that they can talk reasonably with us and that we will truly listen to what they are saying. This doesn’t mean we have to agree with everything they say or give in to every temper tantrum, but, I’ve found that inviting them to talk when things are calm can make a huge difference. Asking questions that give them the chance to share their side sets the tone for a mutually respectful conversation that models mature conflict resolution. Instead of the constant nagging, lecturing, and threatening, start with a calm question that gives them the first chance to share their feelings. Try something like, “Listen, I know we haven’t been seeing eye to eye lately. I want to change that. How are you feeling about our relationship?”
Chances are they’ll say something critical about the way you parent. It may hurt. Take the bullet calmly and avoid the need to defend. Keeping your cool when they share their heart will reap huge benefits in your relationship down the road. Once they have shared where they are coming from, validate it. Let them know you see their point and understand their feelings, then respectfully share your viewpoint without coming across as attacking or belittling.
Finally, empower them. Try saying “I realize that I can’t make your decisions for you. You’re old enough to decide how you want to live your life. I trust that you will make wise decisions and know you are capable of handling our family’s expectations.” Discuss your home’s expectations, boundaries, and consequences with your teen. Allow them to have some input and share their opinion instead of just rattling off the rules. Explain the reasons behind the rules, and if you have any personal stories from your own teen years consider sharing how your mistakes affected your life and explain why you care that your kid tries to avoid those same mistakes (Kids always love hearing stories of our mistakes, and the real-life application helps make our rules more clear, understandable, and memorable) You can even have them come up with their own consequences and compromise if needed. Remember, we want them to feel capable, valuable, and like they have some control over their own lives.
These steps may not completely end power struggles in your home, but they will certainly lessen their intensity and frequency and lead to a more peaceful, open, and respectful relationship for you both! It will take practice from both of you to move from war-zone battles to peaceful conflict management but the pay-off is so worth it!