3 Parenting Power-Struggle Pitfalls and 3 Tools to Navigate Through Them

Brittney Serpell

Power struggles come with the territory of parenting. Before they can even talk, the awesome little people we have the privilege to raise start to exert their wills and test their boundaries.

All too often as parents, we struggle to manage ourselves well in these power struggles, and end up reaching for tools like anger and punishment to feel powerful and regain control of the situation. When we do, though we may “win” in getting our child to do what we want them to do in the moment, we ultimately lose by causing collateral damage to our heart-to-heart connection with them. If this becomes a pattern in our parenting, we will ultimately sabotage the goal of raising our kids to be powerful adults who care about being responsible for their half of connection with us and others. Therefore, it’s vitally important that we navigate through our power-struggle moments in ways that protect the heart-to-heart connection we’re building with our kids.

The following three tools for avoiding power-struggle pitfalls are ones I learned years ago, when my dad first discovered Love & Logic. After becoming certified and using them every day with my own kids, I discovered another layer of appreciation for them. I hope you find them as helpful as I do!


When I ask parents to tell me their top “triggers” in a power struggle, disrespect is always at the top of the list. For many parents, encountering disrespectful language or behavior is the quickest way for them to lose it and react in a punishing or controlling way. Unfortunately, reacting to disrespect with disrespect (and punishment and control—as opposed to healthy discipline—are inherently disrespectful) does not teach our kids to be respectful. We shouldn’t ignore or tolerate disrespect; rather, we must learn to respond to it in a way that allows us to uphold the standard of respect we’re trying to teach.


Lately, one of the most common power struggles I have with my kids happens around homework. They have been known to push the disrespect button in their attempts to get me to change the expectation of when their homework assignments will be done. When the sass starts flying and the comments are saturated with rudeness, my first response is this: “Wow. The way you are talking is not fun for me. I’d love to talk to you when you’re ready to be respectful. I’ll be in the kitchen when you’re ready.”


In an argument, the goal of connection gets replaced with the goal of being right, and disconnection is usually the result. This is why no one really wins in an argument. As parents, it is easy to think we are being helpful by trying to communicate why things are the way they are, only to find ourselves on a slippery slope headed right into a painful argument. It’s important to keep ourselves from engaging when our kids throw down the invitation to argue.


One-liners are short responses that help you refuse to engage in a disrespectful argument over something you are requiring from your child. The top five one-liners to memorize and use are: “Probably so.” “I don’t know.” “That could be.” “Nice try.” “I know.”

Say that your child wants to argue about why they have to complete to chores before they play outside. This is the moment to choose a one-liner instead of a lecture. For example:

“But why? Don’t you believe that I’ll do it later tonight?”

“Probably so.”

“What does that even mean?”

“I don’t know.”

“You are being so ridiculous!”

“That could be.”

“None of my friends’ parents are this mean!”

“Nice try.”  

“You are so mean!”

“I know.”

Remember, the goal of these is to keep you from entering a disrespectful argument. You are choosing to protect your connection with your child, even if they are not. Also, make sure you stay away from sarcasm when using these one-liners.


I have a big soft spot—and a trigger point—with this one. Teaching my kids to love and be respectful toward each other is a massive priority in our home. So, of course, when they decide one day to speak cruelly or just plain annoy each other, I have to admit I can get pretty frustrated—especially when all three are going at it with one another at once! However, losing it and screaming, “Be nice to your brother/sister!” isn’t the most effective way to encourage kindness. (Perhaps you’ve tried that one too?) Again, we need a respectful way to require respect from our kids.


This is a tool I bring out when a sibling conflict erupts in the car or when we’re in a time crunch to go somewhere. I simply ask my kids, “Do you need a referee? I charge $10 a minute, and I take cash, toys, and hard work as payment.”

My kids have learned that I’m not kidding when I say I will be expecting payment. I remember Delani and Ady once fighting over a spot in the car when we were already running late. I let them know I could help referee if needed, then stood there watching as they continued their squabble, making sure they didn’t get physical with each other.

After a few minutes, they stopped and looked at me. I said, “Don’t worry, girls. You only owe me $30 so far. Go ahead and keep fighting about this.” They immediately quit arguing, climbed into their seats, and buckled up.

I got in the driver’s seat and asked, “You done?”


“Great. Let’s go.”

Once we got back home, I asked how I should expect payment. It ended with them doing extra chores, which was fine with me. I had a lot of laundry to do that day. Win for mom!


The heart behind these tools is to help you take good care of yourself as a parent in the power struggles. When you feel frustrated and overwhelmed, these will help you manage you. Our goal as parents should be moving toward our children and protecting our connection with them at all times. They are watching our every move, and the most important thing we can give them is a powerful display of self-control and a heart for connection.

Moms and dads—you’ve got this!



P.S. Keep your eye out for a Back to School sale of our Parenting Track, coming soon!

PPS. If you want some great tools for everyday parenting I do free parenting classes on my Facebook page you can follow me here: Brittney Serpell – Loving on Purpose

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