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