7 Tricks to Help in Diffusing Power Struggles With Your Child

When kids test the fence, they are also testing your patience.

In the martial arts style of aikido, one of the core principles is understanding this truth: when you meet conflict directly, you absorb it and fuel it. A person necessarily throws him or herself off balance in order to throw a punch. By deflecting and redirecting the force of the blow, you can neutralize your opponent and keep yourself safe. You do this by staying centered, witnessing what is happening, and getting out of the way.

Similarly, when it is our children who are throwing the punches, either verbally or physically, we need to learn to step out of the way, to deflect and to help them transform that force in a positive way. At the core of these tantrums and defiance is your child’s need to reassert power. These impulses are very much a response to the adults around them being in charge.

It’s important to see these acting-out behaviors as normal steps in any kid’s progress toward independence. That said, it can be incredibly frustrating to go through this phase alongside your child. Bear these nuggets in mind the next time you sense you are about to get into a knock-down-drag-out with your little one, and you may be able to cut that struggle off before it starts.

  1. Don’t ask the question. Experts go back and forth on whether or not our children have too many choices, whether we pander to their needs too much, or we are too tough on them. There is no one answer on this and so it comes down to parenting style, but in regard to preventing potential scenes, what do you think they are going to say if you ask: Are you ready to leave the park now? And you may get that answer anyway, but using neutral directives: “It’s time for all of us to leave the park now,” doesn’t as easily present an option.
  1. Prepare them for what is going to happen. To continue with that previous example, give children a heads up: “In five minutes, we are all leaving the park,” sets them up and they are not blindsided when play comes to a halt. If you have to drag your three year old on errands, give him or her some sense of what is happening.
  1. Avoid coddling bad behavior. If you meet with resistance, let them have that experience of being in a contrary place. Pandering to their cranky, bad mood will set them up to illicit that attention from you.
  1. Mind your tone. We often don’t realize when we talk to our children that we are coming in ready for a struggle. When bath time is a tearful scene everyday, it creates this hard edge in our voices we often don’t know is there and we are not paying attention because we are trying to complete the task at hand. We need to listen to ourselves as we communicate.
  1. Redirect to a choice. Sometimes kids just feel powerless and having a simple choice will be enough to reengage them away from the hot button issue. “What books are you going to read?” or “What jammies are you going to wear?”
  1. Do a Daniel Tiger. The PBS character sings a little song about getting angry and taking deep breaths. If things are heating up, and you can sing the song, do the breathing yourself and invite your child to do it too. Note on this: it’s not going to work right away. Deep breathing is the last thing kids want to do when they are frustrated, but it can help you immediately, and witnessing that practice will set them up for better anger management.
  1. We can often be dismissive or distracted when these conflicts come up, and like with any conflict, resolution happens when we are willing to hear the other side. Encouraging children to talk about it and actively listening is also a long-game technique, but again, it gives them the sense that they have leverage.  


It’s really challenging to stay neutral when you are trying to keep all the balls in the air and your child downshifts into an energetic wreck. Rebellion is the beginning of individuation; we just need to recognize that and like a student of aikido, learn to move out of the way.

About Susie Almaneih

Susie Almaneih spent several years during her young adulthood teaching children dance at her church group, as well as other cultural-based activities. Susie now spends as much time as she can giving back to the families in her community. Over the years, this love for community has evolved into a deeper love for delivering positive and creative content and awareness to families of all ages.

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