Avoid Power Struggles: How to get kids to listen the first time

I don’t understand why you can’t just behave!

You say this to your kid. Maybe you scream it.

Because it seems like whatever you do, it is a constant power struggle with your child.

“Put away your cars in your room please”


“Why aren’t you listening to me?!?  I said to put away your cars!”

“NO!  I don’t want to.”

Oh my goodness, you think, this is why parents send kids to boarding school. You’re tired.

You’re so SO tired.

You don’t want to keep fighting with your child and yet you’re not seeing a way around a fight because they refuse to do absolutely EVERYTHING you say.

Read: Stop Fighting with Kids: 3 Ways to Make Power Struggles Disappear

Why Kids Don’t Listen

I get that.  When I first started working with kids, I thought the same thing. Except with me, I was way too nice.

If they refused to do something, I didn’t push them to do it.

As a result, my activities were a chaotic mess.  As a first year teacher, it took my class five minutes to line up for lunch because I let kids slip out of line when they forgot something at their desk or “needed” a drink of water before playing.

I wish my mantra would’ve been, “You will survive” and then shuttled them out the door.

I needed to find a way to get kids to listen to me while still maintaining a certain degree of harmony.

What helped me was delving into child psychology.  If I could learn better how to motivate kids so that what I wanted them to do was also in their best interest to do –  I’d be set.

And I did it.  Let me explain.

Read: How to Get Your Family to Listen with Losing Your Temper

Your request is denied

Imagine the following scenario.

You ask your daughter to stop talking while you’re saying goodbye to a friend who visited.

She keeps talking.

She isn’t listening to you.  In fact, she keeps trying harder to get your attention.  She tugs on your jeans… you try to ignore her.

She yells at you.  You still try to ignore her as you don’t want to encourage the behavior. 

Then, she pulls back her hand and slaps you right on the thigh.
You get mad, of course! 

Why does this keep happening and how can you stop it?

Read: 5 Alternatives to Timeout that You Can Use Immediately

How You Can Stop the Power Struggle

My first inclination is to bend when my kids fight me on something.  I’m the Yes parent. I say “yes” when kids ask me something and I’m distracted.

It’s not good.

Yours might be the same or you may dig in your heels and hear yourself repeating your parents’ phrase, “It’s my way or the highway!”

The best response is somewhere in the middle.  Kids respond best to strong boundaries said in a loving way. 

How do we do this?  I like to use the following steps.

What exactly does your child want?

Let’s go back to your daughter desperately wanting your attention while you’re talking to someone else.

As a kid, her brain is not yet at full capacity.  She doesn’t yet understand that interrupting bothers you.  

She can’t read your cues. 

Instead, she needs to know exactly how you expect her to act AND that you understand what she wants from you too.

First, quickly list off in your head.  What could your daughter possibly want in this moment? Does she want to:

  • be included in the conversation?
  • show you this really cool drawing she made?
  • tell you that her little brother just smacked her?

Pause.  Look at her and figure out what that is.  

Make Your Request as Clear as Crystal Pepsi

I kneel down to my child’s level so that I’m looking them straight in the eyes.  

I say something like, “I know you want to show me what you just built with LEGO’s and I want to see that.  But now, I’m talking to my friend. Can you help me say goodbye?”

What you’re doing here is immediately reaffirming your kid.  Your child no longer has to pester you with what she wants. She knows you understand.

But she also knows you’re busy with something else.  You’ve even invited her to help you. 

You’ve turned a possible power struggle into a chance for your child to cooperate. 

You haven’t given her what she wants, instead you’ve communicated exactly what’s happening in the situation. 

Her brain forms a little mental link to not interrupt you in the future.  It’s a start and through repeating this, she’ll get it. 

Teach her to negotiate

I don’t understand why you can’t just behave!

You say this to your kid. Maybe you scream it.

Because it seems like whatever you do, it is a constant power struggle with your child.

Kids don’t realize there’s another option to fighting you back.  Instead, you can both win.

Through negotiation.

It’s a skill I wished I learned earlier.  If you can’t tell by my being “too-nice” story, I’m a huge people pleaser.  It’s a trait that has made me very easy to deal with but also allows other people to walk all over me while I ignore my own needs.

With negotiation, you’re teaching your kids a skill they can use for the rest of time!

I’ve made a short video that teaches your kids how to do this.  You can use this for Kindergarteners and up. Your Kindergartener is going to need a bit more support putting it into action, but if you’re there to repeat it with them, they will get it after practice.

Power struggles don’t have to be a thing

There’s a common ground between giving your child what they want and getting what you want.  By figuring out what they want, acknowledging it and then redirecting them so that they can positively participate in whatever’s going on – you’re raising an intuitive and socially-minded kiddo. 

Ugh, power struggles! They wear parents down. This post shows how to get kids to follow directions without a fight. Great parenting tip and advice for moms who are tired of the constant pushback.

JoAnn Crohn

CEO/Founder at No Guilt Mom
JoAnn Crohn, M. Ed is a parenting educator and life coach who helps moms feel confident in raising empowered, self-sufficient kid while pursuing their own goals & passions.

She’s an accomplished writer, author, podcast host of the No Guilt Mom podcast, and speaker who appears in national media. Work with her personally in Balance VIP

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