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What Does It Mean to “Share Power”?

Actions That Share Power

Search Institute has identified four actions that share power:

  • Respect me: Take me seriously and treat me fairly.
  • Include me: Involve me in decisions that affect me.
  • Collaborate: Work with me to solve problems and reach goals.
  • Let me lead: Create opportunities for me to take action and lead.

Getting Started: Ideas for Parents

Here are some ways moms, dads, and other parenting adults share power with their kids:

  1. Let them pick shared activities. They can sometimes decide what you’ll do together and what you’ll talk about. Don’t jump in too fast when they don’t make quick decisions or think of things to talk about. Sometimes it helps to let them pick from two to three choices that work for the schedule and budget.
  2. Offer choices, rather than always giving instructions. (“So, what could you do differently to tackle this problem?”)
  3. Learn from your kids—and show it. They often have a lot to teach us as adults. Let them know when you’ve learned something from them that you’re excited about.
  4. Take time to understand each other’s point of view when you disagree. If you can, reach a consensus or compromise. If you come to agree with them, admit it and celebrate their persuasiveness!
  5. When you need to make a decision that your kids disagree with, explain your final choice to them. Thank them for taking time to share their perspective.

Collaboration is at the heart of sharing power. Download these tips for collaborative decision-making in families.

Uncomfortable Sharing Power?

Some dads, moms, and other parenting adults get uncomfortable when talking about sharing power with their kids. Keep these thoughts in mind:

  • “Sharing power” is not the same as “equal power.” It doesn’t mean letting kids make all their own decisions. Parents do, and should, have more power and authority than their kids, particularly when the children are young. As parents, we know more, have more resources, and are physically stronger. Part of our job in raising our children is to teach them, guide them, make demands on them, and set limits that help them grow.1
  • “More power” isn’t the same as “all power.” Though parents have more power in parent-child relationships, our kids also have—and need—power in our relationships. Discovering how we share power in our relationships and encouraging kids’ power to grow as they mature is a core task of parenting.
  • With power comes responsibility. This means treating children with love, respect, and fairness without manipulating, coercing, or threatening them in ways that harm them or our relationship. This abuse of power can include physical or emotional violence or manipulation, including withholding affection or approval in order to get our way.
  • If we want kids to become responsible, they need to learn to use power. They need opportunities to make choices, work through problems, make mistakes, and learn from their actions. Otherwise, they will not develop responsibility. We must let go for them to grow.
  • Sharing power happens in different ways for different families and different kids in different places and cultures. Do what fits best for your family right now.

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Take a quick quiz to reflect on how you share power in your family. Use the results to explore new ways to share power and work together.

Parents Do you already have a Family Quiz Code? Click here. Click here to take the quiz and get a Family Quiz Code to share with your family (optional).
Youth* Click here if your family has a Family Quiz Code. Ask a parent to set up a Family Quiz Code.

* The quiz is designed for youth ages 10 to 18.


What’s the quiz for? This quiz is for your own reflection and discussion as a family. It is not a formal assessment.

How does it work? The first adult who takes a quiz is assigned a random number, which we call your Family Quiz Code. They then share that code with everyone else in the family. Each person just enters this Family Quiz Code when they start a quiz, and all your results are automatically combined so you can talk about them together.

Why do you need a Family Quiz Code? This anonymous code lets you see the results from everyone in your family combined.

Who will see the results? No one else will ever know your responses, unless you share them. The Family Quiz Code cannot be used to find or identify you or your family.

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How Do We Influence Each Other?

Family members have a great deal of influence over each other: Parents influence kids. Kids influence parents. Siblings influence each other. Grandparents influence grandkids. Grandkids  . . . you get the idea. All of these “influences” are, in some sense, a form of power we have in each other’s lives. Families are stronger when they’re intentional in the ways they share power with and influence each other. Use these discussion prompts to start conversations about how you intentionally use or share power in your family.

Discussion Starters with Your Kids


  1. What does the word power mean to you? What attracts you to the word? What worries or turns you off about the word?
  2. What are the ways each member of your family influences others in your family? This can include personal preferences (such as fashion or music preferences), how your family spends time and money, and core beliefs and values.
  3. Look at each of the areas of sharing power, including the ways family members respect, give voice to, respond to, and collaborate with each other. When are some times when you’ve done some of these things well in your family? Which are particularly hard for your family?
  4. When is a time you’ve been thankful someone has used their “power” to help you? When is a time they’ve shared their power with you that you’ve really appreciated?
  5. How are the “power dynamics” in your own family similar to and different from previous generations in your family or other families you know? What might be some of the reasons behind those similarities and differences?
  6. If you were to identify one area of sharing power that you’d like to work on in your family, what would it be? Why?


Discussion Starters with Other Parenting Adults*

  1. How does the idea that sharing power is an important part of family relationships strike you? What parts of it make the most sense? What doesn’t make sense?
  2. When have you found great satisfaction as a parent by sharing power with your child? What gave you that satisfaction?
  3. What’s hardest for you about sharing power with your child? How have you managed the hard parts?
  4. What are some ways you’ve seen families effectively share power when their kids are different ages, from infancy to adulthood? At what ages can it be most challenging?
  5. What advice would you have for parents of younger kids when it comes to sharing power in the family?

* These parenting adults may include your spouse or partner, extended family members, friends who are parents, or a parent group or class.

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Practical Ways to Share Power

Families are stronger when they are intentional in how they share power with and influence each other. These activities give your family a chance to think about the ways you do or don’t share power—and how you might strengthen this area of family life.

Respect me: Take me seriously and treat me fairly (two family activities)

It can seem easy to respect someone—when they do what we think they should do. Or when they do something we greatly admire. Or when we feel close to them. Or when they’re super-talented or achieve a big goal or milestone.

But how does respect work in the everyday ups and downs of family life, where we know each other—warts and all? How do we take each other seriously and treat each other fairly on a day-to-day basis? These activities give you a chance to explore these questions together.

1. Respect or Disrespect? 15 min (plus some “investigation” work)

We see respect and disrespect all around us. What do we learn from it?

Whether we consume television, social media, movies, or advertising, we see countless examples of where people respect—or disrespect—each other.

  1. Decide together as a family how you’re going to find examples of respect or disrespect in the world around you. You could:
  • Go to a movie or watch a TV show together.
  • Have each person look for examples as they go through their day.
  • Just think back over the past week for examples you remember.
  1. Talk about what you saw and learned. Use these questions to guide your conversation:
  • What were some of the most obvious examples of respect? Disrespect?
  • Why do you think the people in the examples you found respected the people they respected? Do you think those were good reasons?
  • Similarly, why did people disrespect others? Were those good reasons?
  • Which examples reminded you of your own family? In what ways?
  • If they were to do a news story about respect in your family, what examples would you want them to highlight?
  1. Perhaps you found some examples that inspired your family to be more intentional about how you show respect to each other. Brainstorm ways you might do that.

2. Signs of Respect 20 min

Talk about how family members understand and experience respect.

This activity gets your family talking about the ways other family members show respect to each other.

  1. Give each person a notecard or a sheet of paper. Have each person write their name on the sheet, then pass it clockwise to the next person.
  2. When each person gets someone else’s card, write one way that person shows respect to others in the family. (Don’t talk about it; just write it down.)
  3. Once everyone has written down their idea, pass it clockwise again. Repeat the process. Keep going around (skipping the person whose name is on the card) until you run out of examples of how people show respect to each other.
  4. Then give the cards back to the person whose name is at the top. Have them read aloud what’s written on the card for them.
  5. Talk about what you each saw on the cards about you.
  • Were there any surprises in what was written about you? Anything missing that you expected to see?
  • How much do the ideas reflect your experiences in your family?
  • What might enhance the ways you show respect for each other in the future?
  • What’s one small thing you’ll try to do differently based on what you learned?

Tell the world: If you like, pick one or two of your favorite examples of how family members show respect, and write it with markers on a large sheet of paper. While holding up the sign, take a selfie together with the person who demonstrates respect. Post the photo to your favorite social media site.

Include me: Involve me in decisions that affect me (two family activities)

As kids grow up, they typically want more and more of a say in decisions that affect them.2,3 Those realities require us to revisit how we share power as our kids grow up. These activities give your family a chance to explore ways to include everyone in decisions, including how to negotiate through differences.

1. Four Corners—Me, You, We, Other 30 min

Explore how family members experience differences in who decides what in the family.

  1. Bring the whole family together. Find a room or other space where you can get to four corners and move around pretty well. Make a label for each corner (or just remember them) that reflects who most often makes decisions about the topic (in box below) these days in your family:
  • Me—I personally decide this.
  • You—Someone else in the family decides it (not me).
  • We—We decide this together.
  • Other—Someone else decides.
  1. Read one of the “who decides” prompts in the list below. Who decides . . .
  • What the family will eat when you have meals together.
  • What to listen to (if anything) when you’re in a room or car together.
  • When you go to bed and get up.
  • How you style your hair or what clothes you wear.
  • People’s chores or responsibilities at home.
  • How much time (and when) you can use a cell phone, tablet, video game, or other electronic device.
  • What your family does for fun together.
  • Whether and when you participate in religious or cultural activities.
  • When or whether kids do homework.
  1. After each point, have people move to the corner that best fits who they think makes these kinds of decisions in your family. When everyone has picked a spot, talk about:
  • Why they picked where they’re standing. Give examples.
  • Whether they think this is the best way to make these decisions in your family right now. Why or why not?
  1. Then go back and talk about another area that interests your family. (Add your own topics if you like.)
  2. When you’re done, discuss these questions:
  • Is the mix of who makes the decisions working well for our family? If not, what might you change?
  • Are there more areas where you think it would be good for your family to negotiate and decide together? What would those be?
  • How might some of these patterns could change in the future? Why?
  1. In the next few days, listen for examples of when and how your family makes sure people have a voice and how you make decisions together, either large or small.

2. Practice Negotiating Together 45 min

A step-by-step process for working toward solutions that work for everyone.

For each person to have a voice and share power in families, you need ways to work through disagreements—besides always reverting to “Because I said so.” This activity guides you through a simple negotiation process. Identify an area of tension (start with something small), and try these steps to work through it together.

  1. Before you get together, identify an area of conflict or disagreement that is small and specific, and that affects everyone who will be part of the discussion and negotiation. How can you best describe it without blaming anyone or assuming the solution? For example, “Our kitchen and living room always have stuff piled around” is better than “Andy never picks up his junk on the living room floor.”
  2. Find a time and place when everyone can focus, with no one rushing off or distracted and where you can talk privately. Also, don’t try to negotiate when you’re in the middle of a conflict. (Some families find that a regular, scheduled family meeting is a good time.)
  3. Describe the issue at hand, as you understand it. Ask others to clarify it from their perspective. Again, insist that people don’t get into a “blame game” or assume that they have the solution. Work together to come to an understanding of the problem that everyone agrees is accurate.
  4. Brainstorm things that are contributing to the problem. These can include things people do, things about the circumstances, and any other issues.
  5. Ask each person to think of ways they might be contributing to the problem. If others see something someone does as contributing, they can add that, too. Consider potential ways everyone might be contributing, not just one person. (There may be factors beyond the family, too, that are making it harder.)
  6. Agree together on a shared and specific goal. Make it a goal that everyone really cares about. Make sure you all understand what’s in it for the other people.
  7. Next, brainstorm a bunch of ways your family could tackle that problem, based on what you think contributes to it. Take turns thinking of ideas that would involve both individuals and the family as a whole. Don’t debate them yet, but try to get lots of ideas out (at least three ideas per person).
  8. Evaluate your ideas. Which few seem to have the best chance of making a difference? Combine them and refine them. Think of the pros and cons, including how likely it is that each family member will actually be able to do it and stick with it. Highlight ideas that involve everyone and that everyone believes can work.
  9. Work together to pick one or two things you’ll do together (or each person will do) that work for everyone. Talk about how you’re going to check in on how it’s going. Also think about what you’ll do if people don’t follow through.
  10. After a few days, check in with each other to see how it’s going. Adjust, if needed. You can even go back to your longer list of ideas to try something else. If you’re still stuck, have another brainstorming session to come up with more ideas.

Through it all, remind family members that the goal isn’t to “get your way,” but to come up with a shared solution that meets everyone’s needs and keeps your relationships strong. (It may even strengthen them.)

Once you’ve tried (and refined) these steps for smaller challenges, your family will be ready to try this process on other challenges you face.

Collaborate: Work with me to solve problems and reach goals (three family activities)

A dictionary defines collaboration as “working with another person or group in order to achieve or do something.” For families, it means learning and solving problems together.

A lot of those things happen in our families—from working together to go to school and work each day to working together to figure out how kids can be their best.

Figuring out when to collaborate and when to “just do it myself” can be hard. In these activities, your family works together to learn how your family collaborates, including how you work through conflicts together.

1. Different Ways We Make Decisions 30 min

Sometimes families collaborate. Sometimes they don’t. What works for your family?

How does your family make decisions and get things done? The answer, probably, is: It depends. It depends on the topic, the time, the circumstances, and other things. What works for some families won’t always work for others.

What does matter is that you’re intentional about when and how you collaborate so that everyone has a voice and contributes. (Unilateral decisions tend to undermine strong relationships and healthy development.3)

  1. Find two or three dozen small objects you can use. These might be coins, gumdrops, checker pieces, poker chips, chocolate kisses, or other items. (We’ll call them tokens.)
  2. Label six small sheets of paper as follows (one phrase per sheet), and spread the sheets out on a table or another open surface:
  • Tell me what you think, but I’ve decided what we’re doing.
  • Here’s what we’re doing. Got it?
  • Whatever you want is fine.
  • I’ll use your ideas when I decide.
  • Let’s figure this out together.
  • Let’s talk about it, then you decide.
  1. As a family, think about family decisions, big and small, that your family has made in the past week or month. These could range from what you have for dinner to whether to move to a different home, state, or country. The decisions can be serious or funny.
  2. For each decision, figure out together which sheet of paper best represents how that decision was made. Place a token on that sheet. (If none of the sheets fits, you can always add a different one.)
  3. Keep identifying decisions until you get at least 20 tokens on sheets—or until you run out of ideas.
  4. Then talk together about where you put the tokens:
  • Do the labels with the most tokens reflect how your family makes decisions in everyday life? Explain.
  • Do the patterns you see reflect what you think is good for your family? If so, why? If not, what would you change and why?
  • Where might there be more opportunities for your family to collaborate on making decisions or getting things done?
  • Did most of the tokens go where one person wanted them to go, or did everyone have an equal voice in where you put the tokens? Did that experience reflect what typically happens in your family?
  • What ways you make decisions or get things done could be more collaborative, with all family members having a meaningful say in them?
  1. Think together about what you might do in the next week to experiment with collaborating more on some everyday decisions. See how it goes and whether it might become a part of the way your family gets things done.

If you’re stuck, check out these tips on collaborative decision-making. Which one might help your family?

2. Exchanging the Baton 15 min

Use the idea of a relay race to talk about ways your family has collaborated to help each other grow.

In a track-and-field relay race, members of a team take turns running a leg of the race carrying a baton. Each runner then hands off the baton to the next runner within the exchange zone.

The exchange zone in a relay is a useful way to think about sharing power and collaborating in families. In many areas of life, parents are the first to “run” with all the responsibility. Then they enter an exchange zone where they coordinate and collaborate as they pass the baton. Then the kids in the family “run” with the responsibility.

There are some important differences, of course. In life the exchange zone is much longer, and it’s not clearly marked. Also, in collaboration, you’re not limited to a “blind handoff,” like sprinters do; it’s more like a long-distance relay where there’s more time for the exchange.

Use the idea of a relay exchange zone to talk about how your family collaborates in ways that prepare kids for life:

  1. Find a stick or ruler to serve as a runner’s baton that you can pass around during this activity.
  2. Start by giving the baton to a parent, who talks about an early memory about beginning to collaborate in making decisions and taking responsibility with one of their children. (Early decision-making might include things like deciding which socks to wear.) What do they remember about how that went?
  3. That parent then passes the baton to the kid they talked about. The young person then recalls a time when they worked with someone else in the family to do something really important for them. (Some kids remember being helped to learn to ride a bike, cook, read, play an instrument, or play a sport.)
  4. They then pass the baton to that person, and repeat the “relay exchange.” People may talk about times they either “received” the baton or “passed it on” to someone else. Go around as many times as you’d like.
  5. Use these questions to discuss the “exchanges” you’ve had in your family—and how you will work on making “handoffs” go better in the future:
  • What, if anything, did you notice about how people describe their exchanges? Were they fun, hard, confusing, or a mix?
  • Exchange zones are part of the rules of relay races. Why do you think they’re important in families?
  • What are things you do (or could do) together in these exchange zones that make for a smooth handoff?
  • What are some responsibilities or decisions you’re working together on now? What insights from this activity might help that go more smoothly?
  • In relay races, the runners often have a verbal signal (they may shout “stick!” or “hand!”) to let the other runner know it’s time to begin the exchange. What are signals you give when it’s time for someone else to reach out to take a new responsibility? What might work for your family?
  • Finally, unlike relays where you can perfect the handoff, growing up and collaborating is much less controllable and requires lots of give and take. How can your family stay supportive, even when the “exchange” isn’t going smoothly?

3. Look Back on—and Learn from—Past Conflicts 45 min

How do you let go to grow—and hold on at the same time?

Many of the squabbles and conflicts that happen in families, particularly during the teen years, are about who decides what and who is responsible for what.1 This can come up in different ways for different kids and families:

  • Some young people want more responsibility than is comfortable to parents. They may resist parental guidance when they want to figure things out on their own; or
  • Some young people may be reluctant to try new things or take on responsibilities. Kids feel pushed beyond their comfort zone, and parents become exasperated!

Either way, conflict, frustration, or worry can strain relationships during these times.

How do we share power and collaborate when we disagree or have conflict? Put another way, how do we maintain a healthy, positive relationship even as we’re working through hard issues and changes?

This activity is designed to help you practice when the conflict isn’t as emotionally intense. It helps your family think through how you’ve handled these conflicts in the past—and what you’d like to try moving forward.

Remember: Mutual give-and-take between kids and parents during decision-making and times of conflict contribute to young people’s development of confidence as well as communication and problem-solving skills—which are qualities they will need throughout life and in their other relationships.1

  1. Make sure everyone feels comfortable. Set a positive tone for the conversation. For example, each person could talk about one thing they’ve enjoyed in the past week or one thing they’ve appreciated about someone in your family in the past week.
  2. Identify a recent incident when you had a family disagreement or conflict about responsibilities or decision-making. Use this incident as the “case study” for this conversation.

NOTE: It’s better if the incident was resolved adequately so you’re not still trying to resolve it when you’re trying to understand it. Once you’ve practiced with some incidents that have been resolved, you can use some of these processes to work through unresolved issues.

  1. Clarify the purpose of this conversation—to examine a recent family disagreement so we can get some new insight about the process we use in our family for resolving disagreements. We’ll be talking about how we deal with disagreements, not trying to resolve specific disagreements.

Also, the purpose is not to assign blame or to rehash the conflict. Rather, we want to learn some things together that can help us resolve disagreements better in the future. We’ll highlight both what worked well and what didn’t.

  1. Clarify what happened in the incident that you’re debriefing. Ask each person to share their own perspective and experience. (Listen for what feelings are being expressed as well as what is said.) These questions may help:
  • What was the conflict or disagreement about? Was the specific issue the real disagreement, or was something else going on?
  • Where were you? Who else was there, if anyone? Was something else going on that affected the issue?
  • What were you feeling while all this was going on?

Work together to come up with a shared summary of what happened that includes each person’s perspective and experience.

  1. On a sheet of paper, create a chart with two columns: Label one: WHAT WENT WELL. Label the other: WHAT COULD HAVE BEEN BETTER. Either have an open brainstorm or use these prompts to guide you:
  • How did people deal with their emotions during the conflict? How did they deal with other people’s emotions?
  • In what ways, if at all, did people use the following helpful strategies:
    • Listen to each other and ask clarifying questions.
    • Show concern or empathy for the other person, even while disagreeing.
    • Set aside distractions (such as cell phones) to give others your undivided attention.
    • Restate the conflict from the other person’s perspective.
    • Other strategies.
  • In what ways did people avoid focusing on the conflict by using some of these unhelpful strategies:
    • Get mad, shout, or try to use your power to get your way.
    • Avoid conflict by giving up or giving in without expressing yourself.
    • Get distracted and not stay focused on the issue.
    • Freeze up so you can’t really deal with it at the moment.
    • Other strategies.
  1. When you have at least 15 or 20 ideas, work together to identify and circle three or four issues that would, if addressed, make a big difference in working through family conflicts about responsibilities and shared decision-making. Focus on areas that everyone can work on together to improve so it’s a shared responsibility.
  2. Brainstorm ideas of what you can do the next time to address these areas. Post these ideas on your refrigerator or another place where you’ll all see them. Revisit them from time to time as reminders; update them when you need to.
  3. Conclude by asking each person to respond to these three questions:
  • What did you most appreciate about this conversation?
  • What are you personally going to work on the next time there’s a disagreement about responsibilities and decision-making?
  • What are you most hopeful for about how our family will deal with conflicts the next time?
Let me lead: Create opportunities for me to take action and lead (three family activities)

Each person in the family can be responsible for leading some part of family life. Some may be big things―like deciding where to live, major investments, and overall family priorities and values. Other everyday roles can also be opportunities to lead, even in small ways, such as planning meals, organizing an outing, or thinking through the weekend schedule.

These activities explore how everyone can take on leadership roles that fit who they are and help them grow—while also helping the family stay on track.

1. Who Leads What Each Week? 30 min, plus time to follow through

Review your week of activities to discover ways everyone does—or could—lead.

Sometimes we get so caught up in doing everything the way we always do it that we don’t stop to think about how we might adjust to give someone else a chance to try something new. This activity encourages your family to do just that.

  1. Get a copy of a calendar of your major family activities for a typical week or two. If possible, have a copy that you can mark on. (Otherwise, write on sticky notes that you put on the calendar.) Find a different color of pen, pencil, or highlighter for each family member. (Or just pick a different shape―circle, square, star, squiggle, etc.―to represent each family member.)
  2. For each family activity, decide together who was the “leader” for the activity. That is, who decided whether to do it and made sure it happened? Mark each activity with that person’s color, symbol, or initials. If two or more people decided it equally, include all their markings.
  3. Look to see if there are any big gaps on the sheet when no one made clear decisions. Are there other major activities you’d add?
  4. Do some family members lead many more activities  than other family members? Does all that “division of labor” make sense? How would you explain the differences?
  5. Could some areas shift? What might you try?
  6. Find one or two areas of responsibility or leadership that someone in the family with fewer responsibilities could try leading a couple of times. See how it goes.
  7. Talk about the shift in responsibilities and leadership:
  • What did you notice about yourself as you made the shift (particularly if you took on more responsibility or gave up responsibility)?
  • What was it like to share power in this way? What worked well? Why? What didn’t?
  • If you were to keep doing this, what would you do to keep it going longer? What would make it more successful?
  • What did you learn from this experience about sharing power? How did it affect your relationship? Your views of yourself?

2. Leading Through Relationships 15 min

Explore what it means to be someone who leads with relationships.

Sometimes we think of leaders as being strategists. But some of the best leaders lead through relationships. Just as relationships are the basis of strong families, they can be key for being a leader. This activity helps your family think about the relational qualities you value in leaders in your home and in your lives.

  1. Optional to add some fun: Pass around a bag of M&M candies, chips, raisins, or other treats you have handy. Have each family member take anywhere from three to ten pieces. (No one eat any; no explanation.)
  2. As a family, identify two to three leaders you all admire. (Think of ones you know some specific things about, not just ones you know vaguely.) They can be both people you know personally and famous people. Talk together about what you admire and respect about them.
  3. Download or print the five elements of developmental relationships from Search Institute, a list that identifies five aspects of relationships that help young people learn and grow. These qualities may also be relevant for “relational leaders” who bring out the best in those they lead.
  4. Now, have each person try to think of qualities one of these admired leaders have that fit with the elements of the relationship framework. The trick: Each person needs to think of the number of qualities to match the number of pieces of candy or snacks they took. (So if they took eight M&Ms or chips, they need to think of eight qualities of that person that fit the relationship categories.) Then they can eat their snack.
  5. Continue until everyone has had a turn. If anyone struggles for ideas, encourage others in the group to name a relational leadership quality in that person instead.
  6. Then talk together about the importance of these relational qualities for leaders:
  • How much do you think it matters that leaders exhibit these five qualities? Are there other things that are more important? Which of these is most important?
  • If someone were to describe you as a leader, what qualities do you hope they would list?
  • What do you think it means to be a leader in our family? Do you see yourself as a leader in our family? Why or why not?
  • In what ways would you like our family to help you grow as a leader?

3. Start Something New 30 min for two family meetings, plus planning and implementation in between

What would different family members like to lead?

One way to take on a leadership role is to start something new.

  1. If someone in the family has an idea for a family activity they’d like to do, determine what questions they need to answer to propose, plan, and lead the activity. They might start with these kinds of questions:
  • What would we do?
  • Why would we do it (benefits, value)?
  • Who would be involved?
  • When would we do it?
  • How much would it cost?
  • Where would we go?
  1. Encourage them to write down their idea, refine it, and talk with others about it. If they seem to be getting off track to something that simply isn’t going to work because of budget, time, or another factor, find a way to give positive feedback along the way. (Use the Motivating Feedback tip sheet to guide your feedback.)
  2. Have the person call a family meeting to present their idea to the whole family. Provide encouraging feedback, and work together to follow through with the plan.
  3. After the event, have another family meeting to talk about how it went. What did you most enjoy together? What was it like to lead something for the family? What would you do differently the next time?

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What Does It Mean to Share Power?

What does it mean when we say that sharing power is key to family relationships? What kind of power? How much is shared? By whom? When? Why? Your family’s culture, background, beliefs, and circumstances all affect how you might answer those questions. The answers change as kids grow up. However, at its core, sharing power in our relationships involves these four key actions:

  • Respect each other: Take each other seriously and treat each other fairly.
  • Include each other: Involve each other in decisions that affect them.
  • Collaborate: Work together to solve problems and reach goals.
  • Let everyone lead: Create opportunities for all to take action and lead.
How Do Families Share Power?

U.S. parents are much more likely to say they respect their children and include them in decisions than they are to say they collaborate with them in solving problems or giving them chances to lead, according to Search Institute research.

For more research on providing support in family relationships, check out Search Institute’s research on families.

Take the Share Power quiz to explore the ways you share power in your family.

The Power of Sharing Power

How power is—or is not—shared lies at the heart of every relationship. Sharing power with children helps prepare them to be responsible adults. It also shapes the quality of our relationship with them as they grow up.

Sharing power with children makes a positive difference in many ways:

  • Family relationships grow deeper when we influence each other and learn from each other.9 Parents report being closer to their children when there is give-and-take between them.6
  • When kids know how to share power, they are more prepared to form strong relationships with peers, partners, bosses, and colleagues throughout life.7
  • Through shared power, young people learn critical social skills. These skills include communication, negotiation, and problem-solving.1
  • Young people become more self-confident and responsible. They gain a positive identity. They also learn to form deeper relationships and a sense of positive give-and-take.4
  • Teenagers are more likely to avoid risky behaviors when parents encourage decision-making and set clear limits. These risky behaviors include premature sexual activity. However, if parents give kids lots of freedom without support or clear limits, young people are more likely to engage in high-risk behaviors.3
  • Families can share power in many ways, depending on culture, values, and other differences. However, young people do best when their opinions are respected and they are guided toward maturity.4
  • When power is used in negative ways, it has serious and lasting effects on young people’s well-being. Physical and emotional abuse is very destructive.5,8
When Conflicts Occur

Sharing power recognizes young people’s increasing ability to think critically, make decisions, and have a voice in family life (and other areas of life as well). This leads to more give-and-take in the relationship, with each person influencing the other.

But that’s not always a smooth process.

Short-Term Conflicts

Sometimes kids think they’re ready to make some decisions or be more independent than parents think is appropriate. These mismatched expectations can create conflicts and undermine closeness until relationship roles and expectations adjust.

These kinds of conflicts are a normal, often healthy, part of growing up and shifting toward a more equal power relationship between parents and adult children—particularly in relationships that maintain mutual respect and care even in the midst of disagreements.4

Long-Term Problems

If kids consistently feel that they’re not being treated fairly or respectfully in decision-making, or that they’re not being heard or taken seriously, it can undermine the quality of their relationships over the long term.4

In addition, some power dynamics in families are not normal or healthy. When parents use guilt, withdrawing love, coercion, violence, or other emotionally manipulative strategies to control a child’s motivations and behaviors, young people tend to face a number of challenges later in life, including:

  • Having a harder time forming close relationships;
  • Being more likely to be lonely or experience depression; and
  • Being less likely to think for themselves when making decisions.7

Some Conflict Is Part of Growing Up

Serious, ongoing conflict is not inevitable. Only about 5 to 15 percent of teenagers have extremely conflicted relationships with their parents.2 For most families, conflicts over power and independence increase during the middle school years, then begin to even out or decline through high school as new, more egalitarian, patterns take shape.

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Share Power

Relationships involve a give and take. Our kids learn and grow when they have a voice in the family and are part of making decisions that affect them. How we share power—how that changes as our kids grow up—prepares them to be responsible, contributing adults.

Let’s Get a Pup, Said Kate (Family Strength: Negotiate) Written and illustrated by Bob Graham
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For your school or organization. For your family, or visit your local library.
Download the discussion guide in English and Spanish.
Brothers at Bat: The True Story of an Amazing All-Brother Baseball Team (Family Strength: Collaborate) Written by Audrey Vernick Illustrated by Steven Salerno
Get the Book
For your school or organization. For your family, or visit your local library.
Download the discussion guide in English and Spanish.
Ruby’s Wish (Family Strength: Respond) Written by Shirin Yim Illustrated by Sophie Blackall
Get the Book
For your school or organization. For your family, or visit your local library.
Download the discussion guide in English and Spanish.
Research Sources


  1. Kuczynski, L. (2003). Beyond bidirectionality: Bilateral conceptual frameworks for understanding dynamics in parent-child relations. In L. Kuczynski (Ed.). Handbook of dynamics in parent-child relations (pp. 3–24). Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage.

Try It

  1. Eisenberg, N., Hofer, C., Spinrad, T. T., et al. (2008). Understanding mother-adolescent conflict discussions: Concurrent and across-time prediction from youths’ dispositions and parenting. Monographs of the Society for Research in Child Development, 73(2), vii–160. doi:10.1111/j.1540-5834.2008.00470.x
  2. Pakalniskiene, V., & Seiffge-Krenke, I. (2011). Who shapes whom in the family: Reciprocal links between autonomy support in the family and parents’ and adolescents’ coping behaviors. Journal of Youth and Adolescence, 40(8), 983–95. doi:10.1007/s10964-010-9603-9
  3. Wray-Lake, L., Crouter, A. C., & McHale, S. M. (2010). Developmental patterns in decision-making autonomy across middle childhood and adolescence: European American parents’ perspectives. Child Development, 81(2), 636–51. doi:10.1111/j.1467-8624.2009.01420.x

Learn About It

  1. Conger, K. J., Williams, S. T., Little, W. M., Masyn, K. E., & Shebloski, B. (2009). Development of mastery during adolescence: The role of family problem-solving. Journal of Health and Social Behavior, 50(1), 99–114. doi:10.1177/002214650905000107
  2. Eisenberg, N., Hofer, C., Spinrad, T. T., et al. (2008). Understanding mother-adolescent conflict discussions: Concurrent and across-time prediction from youths’ dispositions and parenting. Monographs of the Society for Research in Child Development, 73(2), vii–160. doi:10.1111/j.1540-5834.2008.00470.x
  3. Lanza, H. I., Huang, D. Y. C., Murphy, D. A., & Hser, Y.-I. (2013). A latent class analysis of maternal responsiveness and autonomy-granting in early adolescence: Prediction to later adolescent sexual risk-taking. Journal of Early Adolescence, 33(3), 404–428. doi:10.1177/0272431612445794
  4. Laursen, B., & Collins, W. A. (2009). Parent-child relationships during adolescence. In R. M. Lerner & L. Steinberg (Eds.), Handbook of Adolescent Psychology: Vol. 2: Contextual Influences on Adolescent Development (pp. 3–16). Hoboken, NJ: Wiley.
  5. Lowell, A., Renk, K., Adgate, A. H. (2014). The role of attachment in the relationship between child maltreatment and later emotional and behavioral functioning. Child Abuse & Neglect 38, 1436–1449.
  6. Oliphant, A. E., & Kuczynski, L. (2011). Mothers’ and fathers’ perceptions of mutuality in middle childhood: The domain of intimacy. Journal of Family Issues, 32(8), 1104–1124. doi:10.1177/0192513X11402946
  7. Oudekerk, B. A., Allen, J. P., Hessel, E. T., & Molloy, L. E. (2014). The cascading development of autonomy and relatedness from adolescence to adulthood. Child Development, 86(2), 472–485. doi:10.1111/cdev.12313
  8. Sperry, D. M., & Widom, C. S. (2013). Child abuse and neglect, social support, and psychopathology in adulthood: A prospective investigation. Child Abuse & Neglect, 37(6), 415–425. doi:10.1016/j.chiabu.2013.02.006
  9. Tuttle, A. R., Knudson-Martin, C., & Kim, L. (2012). Parenting as relationship: A framework for assessment and practice. Family Process, 51(1), 73–89. doi:10.1111/j.1545-5300.2012.01383.x
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