Power struggles with your child or teen can be one of the hardest problems for parents to manage.
Some Non-Compliance is Normal
Non-compliance and defiance are normal processes that happen from children/teenagers towards parents.
Children learn about how the world works and their place in it, by trying lots of different types of behaviour, which are not always in line with what adults want to see! Although we want our kids to do as they are told when they are told, and to follow rules we set (or society sets), we know and largely accept that this will not always be the case.
Certain periods of development typically see increased levels of non-compliance and defiance. Although all children are different and develop according to their own rate, these periods often tend to coincide with stages of development when the child is asserting independence (eg the “terrible twos”, the dreaded teenage years).
These periods can certainly be trying but they are normal stages that the child goes through. Parents can navigate these stages by implementing relatively standard parenting practices, by telling themselves that this phase will eventually pass and is pretty normal, and by remaining patient.
When Non-Compliance Becomes a Serious Problem
Sometimes the stage never seems to pass, or the degree of non-compliance is so severe that it can significantly affect family functioning, the child/teen’s functioning and parent-child relationships.
Parents in this situation can find that no matter what they do, the child or teen remains non-compliant and defiant. As a result, they get stuck in a never-ending battle of wills.
There are many situational factors and diagnosable conditions that can lead to this kind of continued escalated behaviour, including but not limited to:
- Peer issues (eg falling in with a bad crowd, bullying);
- Trouble coping with life pressures (eg school demands);
- Developmental delay (eg immaturity, intellectual or genetic disorders);
- Mood problems including Anxiety and/or Depression;
- Autism Spectrum Disorder or Asperger’s Syndrome;
- Conduct problems (eg Oppositional Defiant Disorder, Conduct Disorder);
- Issues in the family (eg family breakdown, blended families, new parental relationships);
- Inconsistency in parenting practices (eg between parents, between households);
- Major changes to the child/teen’s life (eg moving to a new area/school);
- Adjustment Disorder;
- Grief, loss and bereavement;
- Traumatic events and abuse.
Parents can feel extremely frustrated, lost and defeated, as if they have lost control and even that they are failing as parents. In many of these cases, parents find themselves battling in a Power Game.
What is a Power Game?
Power games exist when adults are engaged in a pattern of trying to “make” the child or teen behave the way they want them to, typically to DO something they want them to, or STOP DOING something they don’t allow.
At the same time, the child or teenager is trying to exert their will over the adult’s, by refusing to comply, or using behaviour to try and make the adults bend to THEIR will.
Does the following sound familiar to you?
- My child/teen rarely does as they are told no matter what I do or say;
- My child/teen does what they want no matter what I say or do;
- Consequences don’t work for my child/teen;
- I keep making bigger or longer punishments and still they don’t work;
- My child’s behaviour is getting worse (escalating);
- Taking things off them doesn’t work;
- Punishments don’t work;
- Rewards charts don’t work;
- I find myself yelling or losing my temper;
- My child engages in payback behaviour towards me;
- I am stuck in a never-ending battle of wills with my child;
- I am exhausted.
If many of the statements above are true for you it is very likely that YOU ARE IN A POWER GAME SITUATION.
Power Games Do Not Work Out Well for Adults
The biggest problem if you are caught in power struggles with you child or teen, is that you as the adult, will often come out on the wrong end of things. There are a number of reasons for this including:
- One person cannot control another – there is no link between your brain and theirs and so you cannot “make” them do/not do anything.
- If you have this problem, your child or teen has likely worked out that you can’t control them – this is why they challenge us, disobey us, disrespect us, disregard us (eg “You can’t make me”, “I don’t care what you do”, “if you do that then I will ….”).
- The child will often go further than the adult will – poor insight, poor emotional control/regulation, impulsivity, immaturity and other developmental factors make it more likely that the child or teenager will take things beyond the point where an adult would stop (eg aggression, assault, breaking things, running away, putting themselves into dangerous situations such as running onto a road or sleeping rough, hurting others etc).
- Once we are in a power game, the main issue becomes control and a battle of wills, not the actual behaviour that started the problem in the first place – we lose focus.
So if you find yourself in this situation, you need to get out of the power game and use a different approach to get the child to comply.
An experienced psychologist can provide objective, non-judgmental support using professional knowledge and evidence-based approaches, to work out what is going on and how you can change things for the better.
There are several ways in which working with a Psychologist can help you to get out of the power games you find yourself in, and see real change in your child or teenager’s behaviour.
- Assessment to learn what is behind the Power Game –
- Analyze the context in which the behaviours are occurring and identify the factors driving the behaviour;
- Analyze the approaches currently being used by adults;
- Identify conditions or sometimes even Disorders that are affecting the child’s behaviour or perception of their world.
- Work with the Adult/Parent to –
- Design an individualized behaviour management approach to get out of the Power Game. This should be tailored to the context of the situation, your individual child or teenager, and your unique situation.
- Improve coping strategies for the adults to deal with the distress caused by these situations.
- Work with the child or teenager to –
- Address the contextual factors, conditions or Disorders affecting the child or teen’s functioning (eg therapy for anxiety, trauma therapy, conflict resolution and assertiveness training).
- Teach new skills (eg better communication; management of frustration, anxiety, anger; problem solving).
- Help the child/teen to make the new behaviour management system work for them.
- Family therapy to –
- Address issues in the family that are driving non-compliance.
- Improve or rebuild damaged relationships.
- Learn to work together so everybody gets more of what they want.
- Live happier lives.
I have been successfully helping families where children or teenagers and parents are locked in severe power struggles for over 20 years; since 2002 I have been doing this work with families in their own homes. I have extensive experience working with the conditions, contextual factors and Disorders that can be at the root of non-compliance problems. I am used to working with complex and extreme behavioural presentations, as well as more typical presentations.
Feel free to make an appointment with me so we can get you out of the cycle of power games, and/or improve your overall management of non-compliance and defiance.
Author: Adam Bear, B Sc, B Sc (Hons App Psych), MAPS.
Child and adolescent psychologist Adam Bear has over 20 years’ experience working effectively with eliminating power game situations and increasing compliance for children/teens, including those with complex and/or extreme presentations. Adam’s warm, non-judgmental and relaxed, approachable style, allows him to form trusting and real therapeutic connections with young and older people alike.
To make an appointment try Online Booking. Alternatively, you can call M1 Psychology Brisbane on (07) 3067 9129