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When my daughter Molly was five, I was exhausted. I couldn’t see a way out of our daily power struggles. She was pushing all my buttons, and I was reacting with hostility. But it was the mental notes playing in my head that got me the most. I was worried we would fight always. Fortunately I was wrong.

One morning, the same whiny, angry face approached—but something was different. Every other morning when I saw this face, I thought to myself, “She’s out to get me.” This particular morning I thought, “Wait a minute, she’s not out to get me. She’s miserable.” Suddenly I saw her differently. Instead of a resistant, defiant—okay I’ll say it—brat, I saw a very upset little girl who didn’t want to separate from me. I was battling her and she was anticipating the battle. It was all she could do to get me to understand her, and I wasn’t cooperating.

My shift in perception—she wasn’t being a problem, she was having a problem—changed our relationship. My emotions switched from anger to compassion. Once I got there, I didn’t have to fight her anymore. We never had another power struggle because I didn’t engage.

A power struggle is a fight to the finish when you and your child are both out to win. Most parents believe they are right because, after all, they’re the parent. But consider this, if you win, your child must lose. Your fear fuels your need to win. Your child shows defiance and you think you’re a terrible parent and your child will be a terrible person. However, in the moment of the defiance, you do have a choice even if you feel trapped. You can fight back or not.

There is no power struggle if you choose not to engage. Here are some tips to keep in mind:

Let’s start with the Don’ts:

Here’s what you can Do instead:

When your child feels accepted for his desires, he is more likely to cooperate even when he can’t have what he wants. His resistance is telling you that he doesn’t like being pushed around. Don’t try to change him but do let him know that you understand even when he has to do it your way. Attempting to stop the child’s behavior with a power struggle shows disrespect for the child’s intention and asks the child to be the grown-up first.