Teaching Kids About Power & Control

By Sunny Lim

Having conversations with your children about power and control is difficult but necessary. These subjects are important, but they might be complicated to talk about since they’re sensitive and tied with issues regarding domestic violence, abuse, and bullying. 

However, starting these conversations and teaching your children from an early age is a great way for them to learn how to detect warning signs or manipulative and controlling behaviors.

Before you start talking to your kids about power and control, establish limits and boundaries for your conversations. If you need to mention sensitive or upsetting information, make sure you carefully explain it in terms that children can easily understand.

Always encourage your children to ask questions during these conversations, too. These are difficult topics to process and talk about, so there are no stupid questions. Let your children know that it’s okay to be inquisitive. Create an open dialogue with a non-judgmental environment. 

There are also helpful charts and diagrams about power and control that you can use during your conversations, such as the Duluth Model. Founded in 1980, the project is named after Duluth, Minnesota — the city the project started. The Duluth Model (also known as the Domestic Abuse Intervention Project) features wheels about different types of abuse and examples. Their website allows you to download and print wheels for free, so you can print multiple copies for your kids or keep copies for yourself. Additionally, the diagrams are available in more than 10 languages, so it comes in handy if you need multilingual options. 

Depending on your child or children’s ages, you might use different techniques to talk about difficult topics. Before you start the conversation, remember it’s okay to feel a bit nervous about not knowing what to say. For some parents, talking about issues such as death, bullying, and other social issues make them freeze because they don’t know how to approach it, but there are a variety of tips for talking to your child.

Reassure them

If your children are younger, they’re at a developmental stage where they are more likely to take things literally and become frightened more easily. In this case, make sure to reassure your child that even though these topics might be scary, you as the parent won’t let any harm come their way.

Acknowledge their feelings and yours

Make sure to check in about your child’s emotional state throughout the conversation. Ask them how they are feeling after you explain the topic. Let them know how you’re feeling too, so your kids feel encouraged to share their emotions.

What they know

A good way to start a difficult conversation is to ask your child what they already know about the topic. See if your child mentions any stereotypes and personal thoughts, so you can use them to guide the conversation.

Break down the issue 

If your child is younger, they might not have a wide range of knowledge and vocabulary to work with, so break down the topic into simpler terms for your child to understand.

Be careful with language and bias 

While describing power and control, make sure not to use biased language such as using only male pronouns. Use gender-inclusive language, such as the abuser, victim, or survivor.

Use examples and past events 

You can use your personal story, a fictional scenario, or a real-life event to further explain the topic. 

Provide causes and reasons

Tell your children about what causes someone to want power and control over another person. Providing context helps your children further understand why a person might act maliciously towards others.

Ask open-ended questions

Encourage critical thinking by asking your child open-ended questions to make them think about how they would proceed with an issue. Some questions include: what do you think of when you hear the word “power,” how can power be used in a positive way, how can power be used negatively, and what drives a person to desire power and control?

Ask about their personal experiences

Ask your children if they’ve seen or heard about situations that relate to power and control. If it’s applicable, ask them if they’ve also experienced it themselves.

If you or someone you know is in an abusive relationship, there is help. You can visit the Break the Silence Against Domestic Violence website at www.breakthesilencedv.org or chat with one of our helpline advocates at 855-287-1777.

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