A Tip to Stop Power Struggles

Posted January 25, 2016 by

A Tip to Stop Power Struggles

If there’s a surefire technique in parenting, we think this is it: Leave the room when things get heated.

We hear from parents all the time about power struggles with their children. Kids won’t get out of bed. They refuse to do their homework. Toddlers fight putting their shoes on.

The list goes on, but the solution can be simple. Walking away is the fastest way to stop a power struggle. And you might be amazed at what happens next.

If you are struggling with your child, physically leaving the situation is very powerful. We suggest this technique to parents all the time, and we hear back from them that it works.

The next time you’re in a power struggle, walk away. You could be amazed at what happens.

Often when you leave the room, your child will start doing what you had asked. Brushing teeth, getting dressed, starting math homework.

Magic? Not quite. But it feels like it! When a parent leaves the room, the child doesn’t have anyone to fight against. You have removed the power of an argument from the room.


“Remember, when you engage in an argument with your child, you’re just giving him more power.” – James Lehman, MSW, Creator of The Total Transformation

Leaving breaks the cycle of heated emotions and threatened consequences. Everyone has time to calm down, and your child has space to make a different choice.

If you want to read more about avoiding power struggles, this article by James Lehman is a great place to start: Avoiding Power Struggles with Defiant Children: Declaring Victory is Easier Than You Think.

Wishing you the best this week,

Rebecca W., Empowering Parents Coach


Rebecca Wolfenden is a loving Momma to her son and a dedicated 1-on-1 Coach. She earned her degree in Social Work from West Virginia University and has been with Empowering Parents since 2011. Rebecca has experience working with children and families in home settings and schools, and has extensive practice working with people of all ages who have survived significant emotional and physical trauma.

Popular on Empowering Parents

View Comments

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

  1. cindymacy567 Report

    I have two adult children and my daughters be sharing a townhome with me. They work and help with rent because I can’t afford it on my own but my issue is the struggle of housework. I work a ton usually over 40 a week. I’m very tired most of the time. I do dishes and clean when I have the energy. I don’t usually eat at home and dirty dishes. But daughter is always fighting with me saying she isn’t doing the dishes again because she did then last time and she does everything she says. I hate this argument. She acts like a child. How do I so this fighting.

  2. xdiazfiles Report

    I have 3 children and do not like it when my wife feels like she needs to undermine my authority over my child when I m trying correct their disrespectful behavior. She say’s things in front of my kid like you have to earn respect, and and stop throwing a tantrum when I m trying to control the situation. She tends to come in and try to control me or correct me in front of children. I now have NO power or now my oldest wants me to explain myself when I try and discipline him?! I am extremely frustrated nd concerned that this single parent mentality while both parents are present is actually becoming counter-productive in the up-ringing of our children…..Please help!!!

    • Empowering Parents Coach drowden Report

      I understand where you’re coming from. It can be tough when
      parents aren’t on the same page. You bring up a good point, when parents
      disagree in front of their children, it can take away from both parents
      authority, as James Lehman explains in his article https://www.empoweringparents.com/article/differences-in-parenting-how-your-child-may-be-using-it-against-you/. It may be helpful
      to sit down with your wife at a calm time to talk about your concerns. Some
      parents find it helpful to talk over the issue with a marriage or family
      counselor. Having a neutral third party who is able to offer you some
      suggestions for better ways of interacting might be productive. If you think a
      counselor could be helpful, the 211 Helpline can give you information on
      services in your area. You can reach the Helpline 24 hours a day by calling
      1-800-273-6222 or by visiting them online at http://www.211.org/.
      We wish you the best of luck moving forward. Take care.

  3. Kloman Report

    I have read a few of these and I am in the same boat! My son is 12 and when I try to disengage he follows or he will not get out of bed to get ready for school! Myself and/or his older brother wind up yelling and physically dragging him out of bed. I can’t just walk away and leave him there. He has more than enough time to get up but won’t. And I can’t have him be late for school. When we try to get him out of bed he physically attacks me. It doesn’t matter if he goes to bed at 9pm or 10:30pm. I am way past my wits end. It’s to the point where I think I may have him go back w his father that same night…which is Wednesday. Any ideas??

  4. mitra_delgosha Report

    Thank you for this interesting article. However in my case
    it doesn’t work: my son is 10 years old and doesn’t accept any request or
    remark that may suggest he is not « perfect ». He is also extremly
    jealous of his 7 years old brother and never gives up trying to show he knows
    way more things than him, he’s way stronger… He’s also very stubborn and even
    an hour later (if my husband and I leave the room) he will reaffirm his point
    of view again (just to make sure he won!). I would add that he is kind and
    smart but I don’t know why he shows this superiority complex for several years.

  5. rwolfenden Report

    It’s normal to be concerned when you discover that your
    child is spending significant time with someone who is involved in risky,
    unsafe and illegal activities.  It’s typically more effective, though, to
    focus on your daughter’s own choices and actions, rather than try to convince
    her that her friend is a bad influence.  If you are concerned that your
    daughter may attempt to run away, or harm herself or someone else, I recommend
    developing a plan you can implement to keep her safe.  For assistance in
    creating this safety plan, you might find it useful to work with local
    supports, such as crisis response services or local law enforcement.  You
    might consider contacting the http://www.211.org/
    for additional information on resources in your community.  I recognize
    what a challenging situation this must be for you, and I wish you and your
    daughter all the best moving forward. Take care.

  6. Wondering Report

    If I leave the room my child feels they won and naps, listens to music, etc instead of doing what I asked. Now what?

  7. Dana Report

    Our 16 year old son goes berzerk when we disengage and leave the room. Ever since he was little, he follows us and is relentless in not allowing us to disengage. This year, though, he has started damaging the house when we leave an argument. Earlier this fall when I told him I needed to take a break and would follow up later when we both were calm (and locked myself in my room), he put his head and hand through our door! I think he has a deeply held fear of abandonment but his escalation is intense and he doesn’t calm down when left alone. Any suggestions?

  8. JanPodris Report

    When I leave the room my children follow me so they can continue to engage, or they completely ignore me & keep doing what they want. What am I doing wrong?

  9. Elise Report

    I always refused to engage with my children In the heat of the moment. That’s exactly what they want to make you overreact and make you look (and feel) bad.

  10. AListener Report

    My only concern with this approach is potentially breeding”passive aggressive” approaches to conflicts- which seems just as unhealthy as anything else…Seems like the article would be well served to suggest suitable feedback to share with the child as the act of “retreating” or stepping back from the situation unfolds.

  11. stj Report

    My 14 yr old has been using power strugles for as long as I can remember. I wish I had known this technique when she was a toddler. Last night we got into an argument. She is homeschooled and she refuses to do her school work. For all the stupid reasons: My friends go to a “real school”, not an option in our neighborhood. My friends all have phones and their parents don’t look through their phones. I don’t like to talk to my friends get me a therapist. All my friends have therapists to talk to. That one really shocked me. Why do so many have to have therapists? Maybe because they have given in to powerstrugles too. I do not want to, or have the money for, a therapist. I think she needs to realize she is not incharge. My husband and I went to see our pastor last year for councling, and agreeded with us, and gave the same advice as you. Walk away. I struggle with it but am really trying harder in the past year. She is better in the past 9 months. But a weekend with her one friend always starts a new argument when she gets home. Others have told me that girl is trouble. I was hoping she had changed. Maybe not. I shouldn’t have to take her to a therapist, because her royal princess demands it.

  12. Help this mom plz Report

    I’m a single mom who works full time. No support, financially or emotionally, from my ex husband. My kids and I live with my 83-year old father. Two of my kids are homeschooled because their anxiety levels prevent them from attending school. My middle child, my daughter, has just started this year with not wanting to go to school and coming up with ailments when she has none. How do you get your child to go to school? I don’t want to make her go to an alternative school but that may be my only option. Please, any suggestions will be appreciated.

    • rwolfenden Report

      Help this mom plz 
      It’s a normal
      response to feel stressed out when your child is refusing to go to school, and
      you’re not alone in experiencing this situation.  After taking her to the
      doctor to rule out any underlying issues which might be contributing to her
      refusal to attend school, it might be useful to talk with her about what she
      will do to meet this responsibility, and how she will be held
      accountable.  You can find some tips on what to include in this
      conversation in https://www.empoweringparents.com/article/i-hate-school-what-can-i-do-when-my-child-refuses-to-go-to-school/ 
      Take care.

    • copperpony Report

      Help this mom plz Check with the school. Maybe she is being bullied. There has to be a reason that she does not want to go to school. Take her out separately and have a heart to heart with her too to try and find out what the problem is. There may be some reason she doesn’t want to tell you.

  13. Texasflower214 Report

    I have issues getting my 15 year old out of bed EVERY day. It can take anywhere from 45min-1.5hrs. I have to constantly stop getting myself ready in order to tell her, once again, she needs to get out of bed. Walking away does NOT work with my daughter. I’ve done the walking out with many instances. It’s hard to walk away when she follows me in order to try continuing the argument. Except for getting out of bed. I walk away, nothing happens. I come back she yells at me that she is getting up, but then continues to lay there for another undetermined amount of time. I started recording the difficulties I have with her every morning for documentation. I don’t know what to do with her any more! I’ve tried ice, frozen marbles, a squirt gun, a cup of ice water, pulling all her covers off, pretty much you name it I’ve tried it. I have sooo many more issues with her it’s ridicules, but lets start here. Any suggestions?

    • Ackmanj Report

      I would suggest just leaving her, and allowing her to bear the consequences of her actions. She’s 15 now and she’s old enough to understand decisions have consequences. And she’s old enough that you can’t be completely responsible for her actions. You can encourage her and point her in the right direction, but you can’t force her. Maybe when she gets a few detentions or punishment from school, that will give her the stimulus she needs?

    • rwolfenden Report

      It sounds like you
      have been doing a lot of work, and putting in a lot of effort in order to
      ensure that your daughter is up and ready to leave for school on time. 
      It’s understandable that you might feel frustrated and resentful at her lack of
      compliance.  For help in changing this daily dynamic with her, check out https://www.empoweringparents.com/article/my-kid-wont-get-out-of-bed-stop-the-morning-madness-now/.  Thanks for
      writing in; take care.

    • copperpony Report

      Texasflower214 You need to let her bear the consequences of not getting up. Whether it’s getting in trouble for school for being late. or taking away her privileges like her phone, time at the mall or time with friends. Whatever is important to her. My kids are in their late teens. We had to start doing this. Trust me ,  it does eventually work. She will be surprised at first and will try to continue the battle you have been having. Be tough, but not mean. You are the parent, she is the child. You need to do this NOW, before she gets any older. Check out Danny Silk’s book, Loving Them on Purpose. We loved it. Available on Amazon. Also Mark Gregston, check him out online. His advice has been invaluable for us.

    • Frances Mo Report

      Texasflower214 I totally understand why you are struggling with your daughter, it sounds really similar to issues I have had with my son since he was 14 (now 15).  For a long while I worried why he was so tired, wondered about his health- physical and mental health- was it low blood sugar, hormone issues, teen depression?  Who knows. I am still worried about him.  However, I have seen too much intervention, and ‘trying to control him’ as my son sees it, has only made things much worse.  Things have escalated so bad that there have been quite a few occasions in the last year that have seen his anger and aggression overflow into physical aggression (he has grabbed my arm leaving bruises, pushed me, kicked me off his bed, roared at me swore at me… so difficult to understand from what was previously such a loving and calm boy).  As time has moved on in this last year, and although I still REALLY struggle with this, I have totally backed off.  He has been late for school a few times as I drove off, after giving him clear notice the night before, telling him he was responsible for getting himself up and out of bed as he would repeatedly shout aggressively at me wakening him.  He continued to be angry at me, but we have now come to a place where he almost always gets organised early enough to walk to school, but will sometimes ask nicely if I can drop him half way if he is running late.  It was really difficult for me to let him sink, but I see now I had to do it.  Too often I dropped him to school and again he would respond to me aggressively and I was frequently in tears after I dropped him to school, after we would be shouting at each other in the car.  No way to arrive at my work (I’m a teacher!!)  It still happens, the odd late morning, the odd bit of shouting at me because he feels tired and stressed, but we both understand now that he has to be responsible for sorting himself out in the morning- he is 15 and 6 ft tall for goodness sake! Try to calmly tell your daughter in advance- over the weekend- new rules for mornings- get her to take the responsibility for herself.  Not easy, but be good to yourself- don’t put yourself in the firing line any more.  It is such a long road we are on with these teens that we barely recognise.  I just hope that as both sets of grandparents tell me… this time will pass.  Fingers crossed!  Good luck to you (and me too haha!)

  14. SamanthaSmart Report

    I have leaving the room down to an art.  However, my children hit or kick the walls to express their frustration that I have left the room.  What do we do at this point?



Join our NEW Total Transformation® Learning Center!

Practical, affordable parenting help starting at $14.95/month BECOME A MEMBER TODAY!

Empowering Parents is the leading online resource for child behavior help


Parent Coaching Sessions

7.5 Million

Global Visitors

10+ Years

Helping Families