Why Sharing Power Matters

The traditional family model for hundreds of years has been a “Power-Over” model. The parents hold the power; the kids learn to live and grow within that power structure; and one day the kids grow up to build their own family, in which they will hold the power. 

More and more, child psychologists, family experts, and parents are seeing the benefit of creating a “Power-With” model within a family. In a family where power is shared, children are learning – in age appropriate stages – how to center the needs of the whole family, how to problem-solve together while considering viewpoints outside of their own, and how to responsibly put one’s opinions and ideas on the table and come to mutually respectful solutions. This is also a cultural phenomenon around the world: People are working toward a world where ALL are worthy of dignity and respect (not just those with “power”).

In an old-school model where “children ought to be seen and not heard,” kids are expected to follow the rules set forth without question. And, those rules are enforced through reward and punishment. The cooperative, power-sharing skills are built later in life, in different settings such as school, teams, work, or civic engagement. 

Building these skill sets within the family doesn’t merely set kids up for long-term success. Sharing power with your children creates an environment where family members willingly follow the agreed-upon rules because they had a say in creating them. They also know that their voice counts, and they can safely speak up when they see something that can be improved. They know the consequences of actions (both positive and negative) are logical, fair, and respectfully upheld. These are all hallmarks of the “Power-With” model. 

So, how do you get started creating a “Power-With” home?

The answer: Think of all the ways you are already doing just that! 

Here are six ways you are likely already sharing power with your kids, and how to keep up the beneficial work!

6 Ways We Share Power

1) Creating Agreements

How it shares power:

Creating agreements around common family practices like laundry, morning routines, or instrument practice is powerful when we come up with the agreements together. Having a say in how something goes gives a sense of ownership, and it ensures that everyone in the family finds the agreement to be fair and respectful. Children and adults alike have many areas in life where we don’t get a say. The family is a place where having one really matters!

How to do more of it: 

Next time you see an issue you’d like to address (for example, dirty dishes left in the sink – hypothetically speaking, of course), try creating a new family agreement. What IS the agreement we have around this? Does everyone know the specifics of the agreement? What would they add or change about how we handle this? Are there any new solutions to try? What are the consequences if the agreement isn’t upheld? Together, come up with the agreement and the consequences for not keeping the agreement, taking into account everyone’s thoughts and ideas. Try out new agreements for just one week, then revisit to see what worked and what didn’t. 

2) Apologizing

How it shares power:

Apologizing to another family member is a tangible, active demonstration that you are not perfect, nor do you expect anyone else in your family to be perfect. It evens the playing field for kids, who start out life seeing their parents as all-knowing and all-powerful. In a family where people regularly apologize to each other, children learn that mistakes are not the enemy – mistakes are important learning opportunities! Children get the message that having power and a say in how life goes is not connected to how much life experience one has or how perfectly they can articulate themselves or navigate the world. Kids in this kind of environment are less likely to grab for power. 

How to do more of it:

In genuine moments where you have made a mistake and feel like an apology is appropriate, have your kid witness your apology to another family member, or directly apologize to them. You don’t have to overdo it, and you want to be careful not to hand them power over YOU by taking responsibility for something that’s not yours to own. You also don’t want to apologize as a way of coercing an apology in return. The tone should be light. It’s normal to mess something up, or say something we wish we hadn’t in a moment of reaction. Normalize messing up, apologizing, and committing to learn from mistakes. 

3) Appreciating Each Other

How it shares power:

Appreciations can come in many forms. We can say thank you when someone in the family helps out, when we notice an extra effort they made to achieve or learn something, or even when we simply want to acknowledge a quality we see in them that makes us smile. This sends the message: Your presence matters here. I see you. I notice you for things large and small. It reminds your child that the way they carry themselves and their actions hold power and make a difference.

How to do more of it:

You can create a practice of appreciating each other on a regular basis, or give yourself a simple challenge to acknowledge each family member once a day. The key is in appreciating things beyond grades, good behavior, sports accomplishments, or winning. Focus on noticing things that someone else might miss – like subtle qualities and characteristics. It’s also encouraging to focus on the effort someone makes, rather than the end result. 

4) Listening

How it shares power:

When we listen to someone without giving advice, without trying to fix their problem, adjust their attitude, or change their point of view – when we really listen without judgment – we send an important message. We are telling someone that what they are saying, and how they see the world matters. It is worthy of hearing and their experience is valid. 

How to do more of it:

Try asking open-ended curiosity questions. When someone is sharing, express that you are listening with a closed mouth and an open heart. 

5) Recognizing Responsibility

How it shares power:

When we give our kids the training they need to tackle age-appropriate responsibilities, we give them a big boost of power and autonomy. There are very few kids out there who delight in household chores, of course, but deep down they appreciate being trusted to get the job done and take care of their schoolwork and responsibilities. We can inadvertently start to exert power over them if we do too much for them, over-remind them about their responsibilities, or correct or re-do the work they’ve done. 

How to do more of it:

When it comes to your kids’ responsibilities, whether it’s feeding the dog or finishing that college essay, pause before jumping in to remind or help, and ask yourself:

  1. Whose responsibility is this?
  2. Does my child have the training to complete this responsibility?
  3. How will I talk to them so that the responsibility for the task or problem stays in their hands?

6) Respecting Privacy

How it shares power:

Respecting each family member’s privacy sets an example and creates a message of trust and respect. You let your child know that it is OK to have realms of their lives that you can’t claim ownership over or control. This is an important part of the individuation process they will undergo in their adolescence one way or another. By acknowledging that they are going through it and setting expectations together, you give them the power to grow up and stay in communication with you throughout the process. 

Of course, this isn’t to say we shouldn’t be mindful and attentive to what our children are doing and who they are interacting with, especially online. However, finding a way to do so within an agreement-based framework – where the rules are co-created and managed together –  can keep the communication open and the trust in place. 

How to do more of it:

Knock before entering. Ask before assuming permission when it comes to looking at their artwork, writing, schoolwork, or over their shoulder at their phone. Avoid snooping around your child’s room or devices. 

For specific guidelines on how to create Screen-Use agreements, you might want to try a template like this one, and be sure to include agreements on what you are willing and not willing to do when it comes to their privacy. 

Sharing is Caring

In a “Power-With” home, the adults and the children do not share equal amounts of power. Rather, adults share power in age-appropriate stages as a training tool. The benefits of this are both short and long term. Kids who experience shared power are less likely to grab for it with power-struggles or tantrums. Kids who learn how to share power as they grow up are better equipped to share it with others in school … and eventually in their work and communities as they grow up. 

What are other ways you share power in your home?