End Power Struggles by Giving Your Kid FLAC

Those two dreaded words every parent hates to hear: power struggle. They are inevitable and exhausting and beyond frustrating. But there is hope! By understanding the dynamics of a power struggle with your child, you will have the upper hand in moving past them. One effective method for managing power struggles with most children is the FLAC method developed by Michael Popkin, PhD & Elizabeth Einstein, MA, LMFT.

What is FLAC?It’s an acronym to help you remember the steps you can take to defuse power struggles with your kiddo. Let’s use the following example: Katie wants to stay outside and play with her friends across the street, but her mom is telling her it is time for her to come inside for dinner. Let’s see how her mom can give her FLAC:

FEELINGS: It is vitally important that your child feels heard and understood – your response to their requests and behaviors guides this. When you offer your child empathy and acknowledge understanding their feelings about a particular situation which they find unfair or unpleasant, you immediately shift from being an enemy to an ally, because you’re validating that a problem exists. Katie’s mom says, “I know you’re having a lot of fun, and it’s really hard to come inside because you’re afraid you’re going to miss out on the fun.”

LIMITS: Remind your child of the limits that need to be set, and the reason they need to be set. If you can’t think of a good reason for setting the limit, consider that you may be the one creating the power struggle simply for the sake of exerting your power, and not necessarily in your child’s best interest. Note that “Because I said so” is not a valid reason for setting a limit, because it can be argued by your child. Stating that “the situation calls for it because…” is more appropriate, logical and valid. Katie’s mom continues, “Still, it’s important to eat a healthy dinner so you’ll grow strong and have energy for playing, going to school and going to soccer practice, so you can’t just skip eating a meal.”

ALTERNATIVES: Often, acceptable alternatives are right in front of both you and your child that still fit within the limits of your instructions or routine. Once again, control is in question, and by offering your child a sense of control in the form of appropriate alternatives, you are placing them in control of decision-making, while you have already exerted control by choosing acceptable alternatives. This is key with power struggles – your child has to be allowed to make their own decisions so they do not feel trapped or stuck by grown-up rules. Katie’s mom adds, “Well, maybe there’s an alternative. I’ll consider letting you stay outside another 15 minutes if you use that time to help out. Maybe by picking up the toys in the yard or wiping the mud off your soccer cleats.”

CONSEQUENCES: Consider mentioning natural consequences or noting logical consequences that may follow, focusing on consequences instead of punishment (for the difference, see my blog posted March 10th). Use this as a motivational tool for guiding your child in meeting the limits that have been presented, and helping him or her to accept responsibility for choices. Katie’s mom finishes, “But here’s the deal. If you choose not to do something helpful with your extra 15 minutes, or you come in after we’ve already finished dinner, then you will have to be the one to clean up all of the dinner dishes tonight, and you will have to help me make dinner tomorrow so that I know you will not be late. Agreed?”

The next time you see a power struggle on the horizon, trying giving your kiddo some FLAC to defuse the situation.

*Adapted from “Active Parenting for Stepfamilies” by Michael Popkin, PhD & Elizabeth Einstein, MA, LMFT


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About Dr. Chaitra Wirta-Leiker

Dr. Chaitra Wirta-Leiker is an adoptee, adoptive parent, and psychologist who provides mental health support focused on adoption, trauma, and racial identity work. She is the author of the "Adoptees Like Me" book series.