How to avoid power struggles with your children

Written by Melanie Domen
Published on September 24, 2021

“I don’t want to take a nap! I am not tired! You are so unfair!” 

“I am the only teen in the world who does not have social media! You are so unfair!” 

As a mom of four kids ranging in ages nine to nineteen, I have heard it all when it comes to how “unfair” I am. 

I used to try to convince my children that I know what is best for them and either give the best reasoning as to why I have made the decisions I have made or stonewall them with the “because I said so” comment I swore I would never say to my children, remembering how it felt as a child when my mom said this. 

The result of both approaches was mostly disastrous. It usually ended in one or both of us crying, words that should not have been spoken in anger, and slammed doors. Even though I used great reasoning skills, it never seemed to end with “Thanks Mom, now I understand why you have these boundaries. It is because of your love for me. Can we pray so I can thank God for giving me such a loving parent?” 

Compassionate, slow to anger

When I parent, I try to use our heavenly Father as a role model—after all, he’s been in this parenting gig for thousands of years, right? 

When God showed himself to Moses in Exodus 34:6, he says, “The LORD, the LORD, the compassionate and gracious God, slow to anger, abounding in love and faithfulness” (NIV).

Psalm 103:13 says, “As a father has compassion on his children, so the LORD has compassion on those who fear him.” 

If an all powerful God who has the ability to act “with thunder and earthquake and great noise, with whirlwind and storm and consuming fire” (Isaiah 29:6) chooses instead to be slow to anger, tender and compassionate with his children, maybe I could tap into that and pray for a transformation in my own approach to my children. 

I made a decision to replace my anger and frustration with some more tenderness and compassion. 

Lead with empathy

After much trial, error, and mostly prayer, I finally felt freedom with an approach called “echo.”

The FBI calls this approach “mirroring” when negotiating with terrorists. Since sometimes it does feel like I am negotiating with terrorists, I deemed it helpful. 

But I chose to rename the approach “echo” because it reminds me what to do when the stress levels are skyrocketing, and it starts with an “e” which reminds me to lead with empathy. 

Here is how it works. 

1. Empathy 

Retrain your brain to put yourself in their shoes. Remember how it feels to be a child in this situation. Use your body language to show you care. Get on their same level. Look your child in the eyes with kindness and compassion, not aggressiveness. Also, a deep breath is usually helpful at this point, your brain needs all the oxygen it can get. 

2. Echo

This is usually easy to figure out because they are saying it over and over again.  Echo what they are saying back to them without judgment or sarcasm.  Remember God’s tenderness and compassion.

3. Validate 

Their feelings are real—even if you don’t agree. Even if they are dramatic or overblown.  Even if you feel they are 100% wrong. You can still validate their feelings without agreeing with them. (Read that again) You will never make them change their feelings or how they are choosing to approach the issue by combating them or saying they are wrong. (I’ve tried. It gets ugly when you are up against a strong-willed creature.)  

4. Offer a choice  

Most humans want a little control when managing their lives.  Since children are humans, it is helpful to offer a choice which provides a little bit of shared control.  You can still hold your ground with the end result (your child is taking a nap, or your teen is not getting social media right now) but give them a little bit of shared control.  After all, our heavenly Father gives us the power to choose every single day if you think about it.

2 real life examples

Below are two examples of how this plays out in real life.

With the preschooler

Parent: “It’s nap time!”

Child: “I don’t want to take a nap! I’m not tiredI’m not tired!”

Parent: Moves toward the child, gets on knees. Looks child in the eyes. “I see” (Empathy). “You are not tired” (echo).

Child: “No. I’m not tired.”

Parent: “I see. Sometimes it is hard to stop and make our bodies rest” (validate). “Do you want to take a long nap or short nap?” (Offer a choice). 

Child: “Short nap!”* 

Parent: “Fantastic! High five. I will start the timer as soon as you are asleep.” 

*If you are lucky enough to have a strong willed creature, like me, it might look like this: 

Child: “No nap!

Parent: “Sorry buddy, that was not a choice. Do you want to decide or do you want me to decide?”

Child: “Neither!”

Parent: “OK, I will decide then. Let’s go for a long nap today and maybe we can try for the short one tomorrow if you want to decide! (Say this with all of the kindness you can muster up, without sarcasm, and hold your ground.) 

With the teenager

Teen: “I am the only kid in my school who does not have social media. Seriously, I am the only kid in my school who does not have social media, Mom and Dad. I feel like I live in an episode of ‘Little House on the Prairie’ with your strict rules. Everyone communicates through Snapchat, and I feel like I’m totally left out.” 

Parent: “I see” (empathy). “It must be tough to feel like you are the only kid in the school without Social Media.” (Echo). “Middle school is hard enough trying to find a place where you belong and this must make it even harder if everyone is connecting through social media without you (validate).”

Teen: “Exactly.”

Parent: “I realize that social media is a part of society. You will be able to have it one day, I promise you. Can we talk about some character traits you think you will need in order to face the pressures that social media presents?”

(Tip: Some traits you might want to discuss are trustworthiness, self control, responsibility, the ability to withstand peer pressure and so on.)

Teen: “Responsibility.”

Parent: “That’s a great start. Can you explain why you think that might be an important character trait to have?” 

Teen: “Because I will need to be responsible with my actions on social media.” 

Parent: “Very true. What about self control? Where do you see this character trait being important?”

 

(Tip: Go through this discussion by asking lots of questions to turn their brains on and keep you from lecturing.) 

Parent: “I will be looking for these kinds of character traits in you. As I see them develop and or become stronger, I would love to have this conversation again and talk about how we can open up our limits to social media we are both comfortable with” (choice and shared control).

Teen: “Like when? Can you give me a timeline?” 

Parent: “That all depends on you and your growth! Do me a favor, if you feel like you are developing in a character trait and maybe I am not seeing it, will you please come to me and let me know about it.” 

Teen: “So, I was in class today and my friends were all gossiping about a kid I don’t really like. I wanted to chime in, but didn’t. I just want you to know that I am really working on self control.” 

Parent: “Looks like we are off to a great start. Thank you for sharing your thoughts with me. You are a great kid with some great ideas.” 

Peace and stability

In the end, when we model after our heavenly Father and slow down our anger, when we choose compassion and tenderness, when we listen to and empathize with our kids and offer choices, we bring God’s peace and stability to our homes. 

We share control, make them feel heard, and give their opinions value. 

If this works to help stabilize terrorists in the FBI, it can surely help us to stabilize our homes at nap time and during the teen years. 


Consider a few extra resources: 

Parenting Teens: Grace or Consequences?

Children Are Complex

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Melanie Domen

 she has raised her four kids ages 19, 17, 13, and 9 with her husband, Jeff, of 23 years.  She is a skilled communicator, and parenting coach who inspires parents to build strong relationships with their children, while  also establishing healthy boundaries and communication.  Melanie is certified in Love and Logic®, and has a degree in Early Childhood Education from Baylor University.   Melanie’s “happy place” is at home, around the dinner table with her family, followed by dishes and dancing in the kitchen.

Read more about Melanie

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