Avoiding Confrontations!

“How many times have I told you to do such-and-such?”

It’s the familiar prelude to a power struggle between parent and child.

One of the most common complaints heard from parents is that their children don’t listen to them.

“I have to scream before he will even pay attention to me!” (That child has learned that the parent need not be heeded until a specific decibel has been reached.)


“I’ve got to tell her at least five times before she’ll do what she’s told!” (This child understands, based upon past experience, which the parent need not be taken seriously until the fifth time.)

Yelling and constant repetition make not a happy home. In fact, they create an atmosphere of strife and confrontation.

Prior to addressing the issue of power struggles, it is important to understand that the manner that a child perceives himself is different from an adult’s personal perspective.

While an average American tourist in a Third World country may be viewed as fabulously wealthy and any adult standing in a preschool class appears big and strong, the reality is that that wealth and strength is only relative to the person’s external trappings.

An emotionally healthy adult is capable of tapping into his inner views and values and respect himself no matter what is goes on in his surroundings.

By contrast, a child has not yet acquired a strong sense of personal identity and esteem. As a result, children use their surroundings as a barometer as to who they are. Their measurement of self-worth is defined by what is happening around them, and they take their cues from their interactions with others.

Now we can understand a fundamental underpinning of confrontations: Children would rather die than lose.

In the heat of a power struggle, a child is extremely intent on winning the battle at hand because he equates obedience with defeat. When a child hears, “Get into bed right NOW!” he has a great emotional investment in not obeying and thus not viewing himself as the loser of this battle.

Therefore, it is best to avoid confrontations as often as possible. What can we do to minimize confrontations, and how can we handle them when they are unavoidable?

1) Poor planning, rushing, and emergencies are prime times for power struggles. While raising children it is normal for the house to resemble a “madhouse”, it is often with a parent’s control to make wiser plans to reduce tension and lower the probability of confrontations.

Take the extra time to get up early, leave on a trip an hour before the last minute, and prepare activities, food, and clothing the evening before it is needed. You will reap the rewards of a calmer family and be less likely to find yourself demanding, “Get into the car right now!”

2) New situations demand proper preparation and explanation for a child. For example, prior to going to the mall (if that’s an unusual occurrence) it is incumbent upon a parent to map out the itinerary to the child. For example, “First we’ll be shopping for clothing, and I’ll try on a few things in a dressing room. Then, we will be taking pictures and you’ll sit on a blanket on a table and the photographer will ask you to smile and let you hold your teddy bear. If you behave well, and that means, staying close to me and not whining, we will buy you a treat after the pictures.”

Notice how this parent spelled out her expectations and clearly outlined exactly what good behavior is required in order to earn the reward.

Older children, too, need preparation for new situations that will be encountered such as vacations, visits to relatives, and community events that are new to them.

3) The self-esteem of the parent is of paramount importance in avoiding confrontations. If a parent’s suffers from low self-esteem, she may be tempted to “win” the argument with her child in order to prove to herself that she is in charge. The emotional “war” between the child and parent- both of whom are attempting to assert themselves is detrimental to both participants.

This is another valuable reason why parents must have their own inner sense of self-worth; which will allow them to be in a position to be firm without their ego getting in the way.

4) Poor sleep and diet are a major contributor to confrontations.

You know what happens to yourself when you haven’t eaten well or slept properly. Can you expect any different from a child? Enough said!!

5) Prior to putting a strain on a relationship, it is essential to nurture and develop that relationship’s positive side.

When you have a close relationship with your child a confrontation will not feel like a “put down” to the child. He is more likely to be understanding of his parent’s need, and not feel like he is “losing”, as a result of the closeness that is generally shared.

6) Distraction can work wonders. Young children are easily distracted by anything mildly unusual. A line I once invented to distract my son was, “Oh, no, it looks like a bunny rabbit bit off your tail!” For many months, saying that with mock horror could bring forth peals of laughter and make him forget that he was in the middle of refusing to get into the bathtub!

Offering a new choice can distract an older child from the issue at hand and lower the intensity of the confrontation substantially. When your teenager is balking at attending an event with the family, you can say, “Honey, it’s your choice. You can come with us right now and I’ll take you shopping in the afternoon, or you can stay home and we won’t be going shopping later. I’m not here to argue with you. It’s your choice, please decide within one minute, the whole family is waiting to leave.”

7) Find the pattern. Jot down a short note to yourself every time you have a confrontation with your child. After several weeks you will likely notice a pattern that has preempted the power struggles.

Do they generally happen in a specific location? At a certain time of the day? When your child is hungry or tired?

Finding a common denominator will allow you to work backwards to eliminate that source of stress on thus lessen the confrontations in your home.



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  1. kim feinberg says:

    Just as many parents have this going on in their home, so do I. I don’t know how many times just this evening it has happened. I have tried some of the above techniques and feel they do work. Some are so simple. My son tends to “not hear” while I feel he is selectively listening. This frustrates me. What can I do to get him to “hear” the first or even second time I ask him to do something (like turn off the TV)?

  2. kim feinberg says:

    When does this power struggle end?

  3. We all have our own perspective on life, and should be allowed some input into life choices – children are no different in this respect to adults – unfortunately many parents do not respect this and start from an early age to undermine the child with total control. Obviously as they get older they start to rebel against this treatment. The parent has no idea what the child likes or their feelings, because they have never been in a situation where they can find out – the child might not even know themselves and their own personal development doesn’t start until they become teenagers and are finally starting to become free.
    I facilitate personal development courses and also look into the behaviour of children and the effects food has on them http://www.GladToBe.co.uk and the results are quite amazing. By giving children a good image of themselves from an early age, without the use of emotional blackmail, they quickly grow into loving helpful young people. We can learn much by listening to our children!

  4. Tricia mentioned giving your children good images of themselves and i have also heard others say giving your child a sense of self worth is so important at an early age. i was just wondering what are some examples of this and how to give it to our children.

  5. Pamela Tiger says:

    yeah, i’d like to know, too. i SO don’t want them, but sometimes it seems like my house is just a place of power struggles. and my son is super-strong willed. he MUST have the last word. he tells me what to do, when and how to do it, orders me about. not that i take any of it! but i don’t know how to get him to stop! and he’s only 5. i’m dreading the older years if i can’t get him to stop this behavior.
    i’ll keep on listening!

  6. I really want to know how you get them to listen the FIRST or even the 2nd time … I have 2 boys – 10 & 17 yrs and they both are good boys, but have very select hearing when watching TV or playing on the computer and I am sick of having to yell to get their attention….. Help

  7. kim feinberg says:

    I am so happy to hear that I am not alone. When do kids finally grow out of this selective hearing stage? Do I have something to look forward to soon, besides all of the wonders of course?

  8. Pamela, I’ve obviously never met your child or you, so judge what I am saying based on your own knowledge of and experience with your child. I am speaking from my experience with my two children. Some children seem to have a stronger personality than others and are more prone to that kind of “I’m in charge, you’re not” type of behavior. Sometimes the “typical” parenting techniques aren’t very helpful. I found that seeing a counselor who could give me ideas on how to react to and manage my child’s behavior and who could also work with my child on learning how to appropirately react to normal everyday household expectations to do chores, to do what I had asked, etc. was really helpful. Ultimately my son was diagnosed with ADHD and mood issues as well. It’s been challenging but knowing what is going on has made managing the day-to-day and planning to help him grow and mature a bit easier. Good luck.

  9. thanks, heather. he has been diagnosed with adhd, but i refuse to put him on meds (i’m NOT starting a debate on this forum, just telling my POV) so it’s been a long, hard road working just behaviorally. it seems he’s gotten WAY more defiant in the last 2-3 weeks and i can’t figure out what it is. i’ve got loads of stuff from the counselor but none of it addresses what to do AFTER i’ve given the consequense and he proceeds to destroy his room, or the house, or throws all his toys outside. none of the materials go that far. he’s just one angry little boy sometimes. and OOOOH, that mouth, so sassy. other times he’s just as lovable– i get so many compliments on him. one of my friends has never seen his other side and has trouble believing there is one. yikes.
    didn’t mean to hijack the forum. sorry. just venting!! thanks for listening!

  10. Gabriela Amado says:

    Ellen, thanks for the advice, I have tried everything you mentioned with my three children and one thing that I don’t agree with is mapping out an itinerary for them. Sometimes things don’t go as planned and then the demands start and I just get mad at them. So I just get one step ahead at a time and never offer them treats if they behave. When it is possible to reward them, then it is a surprise and we review the reasons why they got it in the first place.

  11. Hi Ellen,
    You always have such wonderful “food for thought!”. I have read two wonderful books that I would like to share with your readers. One is Chores without wars, by Lynn Lott abd Riki Intner. The second is Redirecting Children’s Behavior by Kathryn Kvols. Both can be purchased at Amizon or other book sellers on the web. You can usually buy good used copies for pretty cheap. I find they are both chock full of wonderful concrete techniques to having more cooperation and less conflicts at home.

  12. Something I would like to add is that although we want our children to talk without a attitude or certain tone, sometimes a parent needs to listen to “what” is being said not “how” it is being said. Often a simple talk can quickly become escalated into an arguement and off the subject completely solving nothing. Beware.

  13. I just read some of the other comments and as a mom of a 19 year old and a 16 year old let me just say, “they do grow out of it” and “it does get better”.
    Again try not to get into a toe to toe battle of wills with your child. I quit saying things twice the day I told my children that from now on I would instruct them once to do something and if they didn’t, there would be a consequence. I carried out the consequence reminding them that they chose this upon them self, “as they whined “unfair”. I have a son with ADD and learned diet was important (red dye, milk, etc). Then as my kids got older and had complaints, I asked them to pray for me if they didn’t like my boundaries. I reminded them that God gave them to me to love, protect, and raise in the Lord. Since we attend church, when they made certain requests I would simply ask them “what does the bible say about that” (took the bad guy image off of me) and I promise you-it worked great!
    No more arguing or resentment toward me. We also have family prayer each night before bed to end our day focussing on God and sharing unity-our dreams are sweet. If you know what you are doing is right don’t feel guilty. My kids thank me now for tings I said no to-gave me tears and I in turn thanked the Lord for the strength. Love ya and don’t give up!

  14. kim feinberg says:

    I really “heard” the comment about listening to
    “what” is said rather than “how” it is said. That really hit me. At times I feel frustrated by my son’s attitude and at times don’t even feel like listening when a conversation begins rudely. I just realized after reading this writer’s comment just how much more the words mean rather than the tone (however, tone does say a lot as well). I am a school counselor and often have to read between the lines. I just need to pick and choose my battles and this may very well be one of those times.

  15. I have 4 children…8..14…15 and 19, we are a blended family going on 11 years now, its a miracle we are still all talking to each other. My oldest, a boy never bonded with is stepfather and he hardly saw his real father so I am very protective with him, my son can never do anything right and I am always stuck in the middle, protecting him even when he doesnt always merit it…..I do my best to be fair….by feel a very strong instinct to protect him from the negativity that has become so toxic in our home…. my husband doesnt seem to make any effort to bond with him or find any goodness in my son, I feel torn, although my first instincts are to make sure my son keeps his confidence and stays on track… any suggestions….. anyone out there in a similar situation……

  16. Lynn:
    I went through a simular situation and it just seemed like jealousy toward my son….”He gets away with…, you baby him”, etc. What broke all of that is hockey games. They (and grandpa) began going physically to professional games sometimes even spending the night across from the Ford center and just having a guys night. They go to certain action movies together and eat out afterward. They also went on father/son retreats/camp outs with church. I was very sensitive to how my husband spoke to my son until one day my son told me “mom it’s okay I know what dad meant by that comment-he wasn’t trying to insult me”. Guys have a whole different language then we do as females and it sounds rude! My son didn’t really want to be alone with him at first but once they got away from responsibilities and family members they were great. I also go eat or a movie or shopping alone with each kid. They open their heart to me just walking along the way. It is at those times they are most open to God’s word and advice. We just hang out. Family prayer works great! Hard to not like someone that prays for ya. God bless, Ingrid

  17. Hello everyone,
    I just learned of this site from a friend. It is so nice to read your situations. I can relate to them in many ways. I have three boys, 10, 9, 6 and I find that my youngest gives me the hardest time when it’s time for bed. He really knows ‘how to play me’. Many times I fall for it because it gives us some alone time. Cleaning his room is such a chore, I repeat myself constantly. I am now finding myself not saying oh he is the little one so it’s okay. The older two have been cleaning their room and picking up toys for years and did more then my third one does at age 6. So I find it a struggle many times. I know it, but I have to stick to it, the suggestion of making the time to get things done, not rush and say okay time for bed, hurry hurry, and same goes with cleaning etc…
    Happy Thanksgiving to all.

  18. Perhaps I’m dense, but I don’t see the above essay as more than a beginning and often far from the answer. I’ll list just one repeating scene as an example: eating breakfast before school. Our two younger children are in bed by 7:30pm and usually wake up of their own accord, so they seem to be getting sufficient shut-eye. My wife prepares their lunches the night before. Other than toilet time and getting dressed, their sole responsibility is eating their breakfast within a fair amount of time. What they eat is always healthy but has changed over the course of many months in order to help them enjoy it and have sufficient time to eat/drink it. Nevertheless, they seem to enjoy not finishing until my wife starts yelling at them, and they persist in delaying tactics (such as talking instead of eating). Now, I’m not in a position to take over this responsibility, nor do I feel I can judge my wife’s way of handling things; I do know that the rare times when I handle mealtimes (such as when I’m home from work and my wife is out), I don’t have such problems, but then again the situation is per se less stressful and lacking a deadline the way that weekday mornings can be, not to mention that “familiarity breeds contempt” (and its converse) has some applicability. I do know that my wife has tried to avoid the rut of yelling & confrontation and that this and other situations aren’t a matter of poor planning, my wife’s ego, or poor sleep (well, our kids’ sleep — my wife could definitely use more sleep :-)) or diet and cannot be done at an “earlier” time. I do agree that applying humor and avoiding yelling constitute a good beginning in any situation, including our relationship with our children.

  19. Hi MP,
    We used to have similar situations in our house around eating and getting out of the house on time…my kids are now 10, 13 and 15 and one way we have gotten around the nagging is to let the clock (or timer for younger children) be the “bad guy” then you mention the time and then follow through with the cleaning of the table or moving to the next step…most of the time now my kids are telling me what is next for our routine. I have found with my kids that less talking more action works well…and staying as even tempered as I can…always leave time to have fun with your kids even if it is a quick litte silly game they like…
    Good Luck and Happy Parenting!

  20. Sometimes we expect a child to know what to do or how to act. But sometimes they first need to hear that “it is a rule”. We all assume that anyone knows they are supposed to do a cetain thing. No one, especially a kid, will automatiacally do the right thing unless someone has first told him what the rules are. This is very hard because the rules keep getting added to without first been told. We assume too often they know and are doing things wrong or not all all on purpose. Once they know that something is a rule and only then should they be held accountable.

  21. As far as the eating meals problem goes-maybe they aren’t hungry. I have a husband and daughter that rarely eat early in the morning. My daughter would actually throw up if I insisted. We homeschool so her breakfast break is late morning. Perhaps if you do the time limit (buzzer as suggested above) put the food away, and later they do find out they are now hungry-they will eat when given food. I don’t know about you but it is hard to eat if I am not hungry, even if I am on a time crunch. If all else fails, send a breakfast bar to school with them. If they are hungry, they will eat. Good luck!

  22. My 4 year old is so strong willed there are days I feel I just can’t handle him anymore! Always back talking, always whining, does not follow directions, etc. I have tried so many books and suggestions. It is exhausting.

  23. Faith Moeller says:

    For Toni: One of the things that I did with my son (who is now almost 13) is to create a ‘rules chart’ together. We got a large poster board and sat down together and wrote down the rules. He came up with several rules. We also wrote down the possible consequences at the bottom of the poster. Some things were: losing a special toy, losing dessert, not going to a play date, etc. We also made it clear that I only had to ask twice at most. We posted this in a hallway where we both could see it clearly. If he makes a mistake, all I do is point to the rule board and he instantly rethinks the behavior/actions. Since he helped to create the rules and the punishments that go with it, he takes ownhership and this really helps with the problem. As far as backtalking, simply do not respond to him. He will get real tired of the silence and lack of response that it will quickly end! Hope this helps.

  24. Hi! I just found this site and I am loving all the articles and info.I have a 13 year old daughter.Her biggest problem is emotional I think.Like every child, she wants her dad to be around.He has only been around her about 4 times for short visits.3 of those times, when she was just in preschool, was when I contacted him and arranged to drive 200 miles so that she could see him.To make a long story short, I mentioned child support, and now he won’t talk to her at all and told her not to call so much. He only drove once to see her because I called him when I knew that he was in town with his other child.
    Anyway, I know she has alot of built up anger towards him.She has told me that she knows that I tried to help make her happy.But all this anger is affecting her socially and emotionally and in school. She used to be the top 5 of her class and happy.She always obeyed and for the most part still does, but there are alot of times that I feel like I have to get louder and louder for her to actually hear me when I know she is ignoring me, Other times she will run into another room and lock herself in until I have to unlock the door myself and then I am almost fit to be tied.I don’t yell at her often but I need her to take care of her responsibilities so that I can take care of mine and I do not have the time or energy to argue and fuss.She usually always gets mad at me for the rules that I set for her to go by.She thinks that other kids do not have rules. Oh…I could go on and on>>>and on.I feel as if I have to “bargain” with her to make her happy. Most times I just find myself slamming my foot on the floor and telling her “that is my decision, accept it as it is or face the consequences”.Overall,though, she is a sweet, loving child with a strong faith in God, we do have mostly great days when her struggles don’t get in her way. She just has trouble working through them emotionally.She has always been the “slow moving”, never in a hurry, to the beat of her own drum type of child. Don’t get me wrong I love that she is as unique as she is, but I constantly have to check in to make sure she is getting her clothes on or doing whatever it is she is supposed to be doing. In other words, we are always late getting somewhere no matter how early we start getting ready because I am constantly have to help her get ready not being able to get myself ready. Even if we were to get up at 4AM to get her to school at 8AM is a challenge. But…when she starts on homework anywhere from 3:30-5:30 and doesn’t finish until 10:30-11PM, I am not getting up at 4Am when we are only 10 minutes away from school and it’s all I can do to function on what sleep I do get after it has taken her almost 2 hours after HW to just get in bed and go to sleep so that I can go to sleep.If I have had a hard day, and just can’t stay awake no longer and I fall asleep before she gets into bed, she will stay up all night long if she can get away with it. Usually I’ll wake up sometime 3 or 4AM hearing pitter pattering through the house and then I scold her for not being in bed when she knows that she has school in about 4 hours.
    I feel as if I have taken away every priveledge that she has because of not turning in homework, making numerous zero’s yet still making average grades,etc. And the beat goes on and on and on.I made a reward rule for her that if she would just stay on her homework and get it done by atleast 7:30 atleast she could earn some free time. Oh, most days she does stay caught up in class with her work. I don’t understand why she just doesn’t understand that if she gets it done early then she could have all the rest of the day to do whatever she wants to do!?! Some days I get happy for her because she does get it done, but then most days it the same nightly scenerio. I know that she does wish that I didn’t have to work so much in order to spend more time with her on weekends, but if I don’t work I can not pay the bills. And no, we don’t buy things we don’t need or can’t afford. These are just plain old normal household bills. I am a single parent, self employeed hairstylist with a great clientelle base. But, it’s easier for those to tell me that I need not work so much but then how will I every save for retirement and be able to afford health ins, car pmt, rent , etc. I will come back later to tell more and ask for more advise on her other issues but its getting time to go run some errands so I have to go. I just need some raw and inspirational advise from you other mothers going through the same issues with your children. If you are going through similar issues any advise is more than welcome. Thanks!

  25. Lisa,

    I am not a single mother, but was raised by one who was a teacher. We did not have alot of things, but I had her unconditional love. I never saw my dad – his choice. I am now a mother of four girls, and while I do have a very helpful husband, there are many parenting styles that my mother used that I think helped me be who I am today. The most important thing was to hand the responsibility to me. I can remember my grandmother occasionally hounding me about getting my homework done when I was in the 3rd grade. At this point I would rebel and wait at least another hour before I would get started. My mother would always tell her that it was my responsibility, and I would have to answer for my actions. My girls are now 10, 8, 3 and 3. The 10 and 8 year old have been respsonsible for getting dressed without help, getting homework done, packing their backpacks, and making their lunch since Kindergarten. They now are dressed and at the table every morning, and I don’t have to help them study for tests or do homework unless they ask for it. The rewards are longer term – good grades on a report card results in lots of praise, and basically your having the freedom to do the fun stuff in life. Bad grades on a report card and no birthday parties, spend the night parties, etc until you pull them up (9 weeks later).

    I am struggling with the 3 year olds – power struggles seem rampant. Many days it seems as if it is two against one. Perserverance has got to be the key. If I can keep the same philosophy of give the responsibility to them, and reward them when they accept it, they will turn out to be responsible adults. If I survive that long. . .