ADHD in Boys

Why Dads Never “Win” Power Struggles with Their ADHD Boys

Power struggles exhaust parents and strain relationships. This is especially true for fathers and sons with ADHD. Here, learn why parents never really “win,” how to break the cycle, and what works better than stubborn standoffs.

power struggles

It happens almost daily: Dads get into power struggles with their ADHD kids because they want to prove they are “right.” But when your son is escalated and upset, he can’t hear you and he can’t learn. The fact is, when your son is upset and yelling at you, he is not going to stop and say, “You’re right, Dad. I should listen to you from now on.” It’s not going to happen. Why?

1. Power Struggles Are Your Son’s Tractor Beam to You

For your son, a power struggle is a way to draw you in. When you’re at a certain level of intensity, he has your undivided attention — more importantly, your emotional reaction shows him that you care. Remember, many kids with ADHD are happy to take negative attention if they can’t get positive attention. And they are happy negative attention if it’s coming from their dads, in particular.

2. Difficulty with Perspective-Taking and Flexibility Are Common

If your son has difficulty being flexible, he is going to get into more power struggles with you because his brain can’t figure out when being flexible may help him get what he wants. You can’t teach flexibility when a child with ADHD is escalated. Trying to reason or argue with him is not going to help.

Also, when a child with ADHD has trouble with perspective taking, they are more likely to get into power struggles because they can’t see your point of view. It’s possible that your son has trouble with both flexibility and perspective taking. If that’s the case, keep in mind that he’s not going to learn anything until you are both calm.

How Can You End a Power Struggle?

1. Don’t Give Attention to Your Son When He Instigates a Power Struggle

Next time you tell your son to take out the trash and he refuses or talks back, don’t react to that. The more attention you give that, the more you reinforce with him that he gets your attention when he behaves this way. If he doesn’t get an intense response from you, he is going to be confused and he’s going to realize, over time, that there are better ways to get attention.

2. Offer Your Son a Restart

If your son is screaming at his siblings or his parents, he needs a restart — a pause where his brain can calm down before he comes back and tries again. When you see a power struggle coming, tell your son to try a restart. If he refuses, then you tell him you’re going to leave the room and he can come get you when he’s ready to restart. That gives him an opportunity to self-regulate, which will help him feel less bad about his behavior.

3. Teach the Importance of Reciprocity in Relationships

One of the biggest problems I find is that parents of kids with ADHD give and give and give, and don’t expect much in return. We have to teach our kids reciprocity in relationships by pointing out the things we have done for them, and asking them to reciprocate in the moment. This is not laying a guilt trip; it is teaching about the give-and-take of a relationship.

We are all going to get into power struggles from time to time, but the fewer power struggles you have with your son, the better he’s going to be able to hear you and the better your relationship will be.


Power Struggles with ADHD Boys: More Resources

1. Read This: 10 Hard (But Essential) Truths for Fathers of Boys with ADHD
2. Read This: Fathers, Don’t Let a Condition Your Son Didn’t Ask for Define Your Relationship with Him
3. Read This: How to Be a Better Dad with ADHD

Ask your question about ADHD in boys here!

Ryan Wexelblatt, LCSW is the facilitator of the ADHD Dude Facebook Group and YouTube channel.