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As a newspaper columnist, Nancy Devlin, Ph.D. has written over 700 articles on subjects related to education and parenting. Welcome to her Classroom!

Power Struggle



Two  neighbors,  Mrs. Dunlevy and Mrs. Hanson,  do  not  get

along.   They  have not talked to each other  for  twenty  years.

Mrs.  Hanson is convinced that her neighbor, Mrs. Dunlevy  breaks

rules  just to aggravate her.  At one point, after a  fight  with

her  neighbor,  Mrs.  Dunlevy was charged as a  common  scold,  a

person who by brawling and wrangling, breaks the peace, increases

discord  and  becomes a neighborhood  nuisance.   Obviously  Mrs.

Dunlevy  is  enjoying  herself at Mrs.  Hanson’s  expense.   Mrs.

Hanson,  on the other hand, must be getting something out of  the

confrontations or she would get out of the struggle. It takes two

to have a power struggle.
The best way to diffuse anger in a power struggle is not  to

respond  to the challenge.  An example of this happened to me  at

the  bank.  I was standing in a long line getting more  and  more

anxious because I had not allowed myself enough time for  waiting

in  lines.  There were three tellers working.  At exactly  twelve

o`clock, one teller closed her door and went off to lunch.  I was

furious.  When I finally got to one of the remaining two tellers,

I  was  really ready to take out my anger on her.  I  started  to

tell her how I felt about the service.  She refused to argue with

me.   She  could have said sentences like, “Well we have  to  eat

too” or “We don’t get paid enough to take this kind of  abuse”,or

“I don’t make the rules around here.”  Instead she said,  “You’re

right,  we should have more tellers.”  I laughed because  it  was 

the perfect answer.  She not only diffused my anger she also left

me  with  no-one  to  fight with.  I  congratulated  her  on  her


Parents  can do the same with their children.  Once  parents

enter   into  a power struggle with a child, they have  lost  the

battle  because  the child is now in control.  Also,  most  power

struggles  escalate.  (Mrs. Dunlevy and Mrs. Hanson will  probably

wind  up  in  court because neither will  give  in).   When  this

happens  with children, they learn the usefulness of  power.   In

school, when a student says, “You can’t make me do that.”  A good

response  on  the  part  of  the teacher  is  to  say,  “You  are

absolutely   right, I can’t make you do anything you do not  want

to  do.”   The  teacher  should then step  aside  and  allow  the

consequences  of the students’ behavior to take  effect.   Nobody

can fight without an opponent.
It  is  helpful for parents to keep in mind  that  while  we

cannot make anybody, including our children, do anything they  do

not want to do, we can change our own behavior and responses.  If

you  find  yourself  getting into constant  power  struggles  and

shouting  matches with your children, change your response.   One

way to  do  this to stop shouting  and  bow out of the struggle.
One  of the conflicts Mrs. Hanson had with Mrs. Dunlevy  was

she  played her car radio loudly at six o`clock in  the  morning.

Mrs. Hanson`s response was to call the police.  Wouldn’t it  have

been  fun  if, instead of calling the  police,  Mrs.  Hanson  had

thanked  Mrs.  Dunlevy for playing the music because it  was  her

favorite  song.  Sometimes humor can do a lot to  diffuse  anger.         

The  technique of giving people permission to do  what  they

are  going to do anyhow is very powerful.  It gets you out  of  a

power struggle and the other person is no longer controlling your


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