Call me crazy, but I think the majority of the power struggles we find ourselves having with our kids (and yes, our teens) are avoidable.

The interesting thing about us humans is that we're wired to push up against anything that's pushing up against us. In other words, we have an almost knee jerk reaction to being bossed around, controlled, or given advice we haven't asked for.

In and of itself, that isn't a bad thing. We want our kids to refuse the direction or requests of strangers, and we also want them to learn to think for themselves, rather than indiscriminately following their peers, as they grow up.

But what most of us don't want are kids who become aggressive attorneys, arguing their case whenever we tell them they can't have a sleepover at their friend's house or when we ask them to take out the trash.

As most of you know who are familiar with my work, I tend to focus more on preventing problems than suggesting what to do once things have fallen apart. While I do offer lots of advice on getting out of trouble once things have deteriorated, I'm far more interested in helping parents avoid situations that create problems in the first place.

So if a child is chronically resistant or the power struggles are constant, rather than focusing on their behavior, I'm going to be asking the parent to take an honest look at how the relationship between them can be strengthened.

But for the purposes of this article, let's say things are generally good between you and your child, but now and again, they get in one of those phases where they challenge everything you ask or suggest.

It's not possible to have a power struggle unless both of you are participants. So one of the first steps I ask parents to do is to avoid giving their kids something to push against.

How do we do that?

The most important thing to remember is to avoid pushing. Come alongside your child rather than at them when making a request. Work from connection. Stay in your Captain of the Ship mode--calm and confident. (For more on this, please see some of the online booklets and downloadable interviews under "Parenting Tools" on my site.)

Power struggles happen when we get caught into what I call the Neck Up part of a dialogue with our kids. This has to do with focusing on the words, versus the feelings behind the words.

Child: "Why can't I sleep at Tony's?"

Parent: "Because you've been tired and need to catch up on your sleep."

Any child in their right mind is going to start creating a compelling case for why this is blatantly untrue.

Child: "No I'm not! I just seem tired to you because you're tired." or "I only looked tired this morning because I didn't want to go to school." or any number of other great arguments.

If you respond to the logic of their argument, you'll find yourself in a power struggle. So avoid focusing on the content, and instead help them feel understood and heard.

Parent: "I understand you guys want to do a sleepover, honey. Tomorrow night looks good for that" or "I wish I could give you the answer you want--and tomorrow night should be fine--but I'm afraid a sleepover isn't happening tonight."

Stick with acknowledging their upset or frustration. Avoid getting into a discussion about the reason, unless you honestly feel your child will be able to hear it and move on. With many kids it's fine to explain why they can't have what they want, but with kids who tend to move quickly into Attorney mode, it only fuels those power struggles you're trying to avoid.

Another key point: Try to avoid using the word "No." Instead of, "No, you can't have another cookie", try "Sure you can have another cookie--in fact you can have two cookies tomorrow!" One of the quickest ways to awaken a child's inner lawyer is to use the word "No." Be creative and use other words to convey the same message.

Remember: He who is most attached to a particular outcome has the least amount of power. Stay cool and in charge of your own reactions so you can remain the Captain of the Ship, even when you're sailing over stormy seas!

For more insights, ideas and suggestions, please visit, or email Susan Stiffelman at

Author's Bio: 

Susan Stiffelman is a licensed marriage and family therapist, educational consultant and parenting coach. Through her private practice, public presentations, workshops, teleclasses and website, she has become a source of advice and support for around the world. Her book, Cool, Calm and Connected: How to Avoid Negotiations, Arguments and Meltdowns With Your Kids, will be released soon. Susan can be reached at , or