Parent Power: Children’s Responses to Control

Parent Power:
Children’s Responses to Control

Social changes have radically assaulted the family and traditional (Old School) parenting methods over the past 25 years, making parenting more difficult.

Significant Social Changes

Some of the things that have changed and made it more difficult for parents to know how to parent are the following.

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Parent Power: Influence Rather Than Control

Parent Power:
Influence Rather Than Control

Parents have much greater power in relation to their children than most ever realize. But it’s the power of influence, not control. While you can’t make your child do a single thing, you have far greater influence than you might think.

The Source of Your Power

The source of your power in relation to your child is the emotional attachment (emotional bond) between you and your child. One biological mother and one biological father bring each and every child into this world. They constitute the first and strongest determinants of life or death, of love and security, or loss and insecurity for the newborn. (For many newborns surrogate or adoptive parents serve in this role.) Every newborn infant depends one hundred percent for his/her physical and emotional health on the ability of the parents–especially the mother. The newborn’s parents, or other parenting figures, give what is required for physical and emotional (and to a great extent intellectual) prosperity or doom.

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Power Struggles Rob Parents of Power

Power Struggles Rob Parents of Power

Power struggles seem to pervade all aspects of life. At the macro level, groups of people have fought each other for control of resources throughout history, and it continues to this day. At the national level groups fight for control of resources, money, and votes. The same is true at the state and community levels. At the level of the family the same process occurs, where individuals–whether they be spouses, parents and children, or brothers and sisters–fight each other for control. Even within individuals, at the microscopic level, unseen and unknown wars are constantly being fought between cells for dominance within the person, which result in life or death for both those cells and their host.

I wish to focus on the family level. Power struggles in many families are almost endless, with spouses trying to control each other’s behavior and with parents trying to control children’s behavior while children try to control parental behavior. The process of these power struggles is often damaging, perhaps even life threatening, just as it is in power struggles at all the other levels. The outcome of the parent-child power struggles is too often serious harm to the parent-child relationship

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Teaching Kids Self-Control

Teaching Kids Self-Control

I define self-control as the ability to select an appropriate response to a feeling or thought from among a number of possibilities.

If you accept the assumptions (and conclusions) of the Volcano Theory, and if you accept that control over another’s behavior is a delusion (a belief falsely held), then how are you to “manage” or “govern” your child’s behavior? How are you to “get” him or “make” him do the right thing, or do what you want him to do, or behave the way you “need” him to behave?

The answer to these questions is really quite simple. You can’t. So the best thing to do is to stop trying to do the impossible.

What?!? Stop trying to make your child do the right thing?

Then what about the child who never picks up her toys? What about the toddler running blindly into the street? Or hitting her mother? Or biting her brother? What about all her unacceptable behavior at school, or in the neighborhood, or in your home? What about your teenager stealing, or fighting, or cheating, or cursing?

Again, you’ll stop trying to make her do the right thing. You might think I’m crazy. So, what am I talking about??

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The Behavior Dialogue: Negotiating Agreements — The “How To”

The Behavior Dialogue (Discipline Skill #1)
Negotiating Agreements: The “How To”

In this process (the Behavior Dialogue) you use all the listening skills (acknowledging, questions,and reflecting) and the illustrating skills (i.e., speaking skills, especially modeling and I-messages). While arriving at an agreement on something here and now is important to you, what’s even more important in the long run is that the child learning to respectfully negotiate a solution to a problem and reach an agreement that you can both live with.

The following steps might seem pretty complicated at first. But they’re very logical, and if you make this your standard M.O. (method of operation), you’ll get pretty good at it, and you’ll be able to do the whole process without even trying to concentrate on whether all the steps have been used. What’s even better, the child will also become capable, through practice, of intuitively using a very important life skill: negotiating an agreed-upon solution to relationship problems.

Step 1: Set the table–get her attention by inviting cooperation. Here you invite the child to enter into a dialogue with you about something you consider important. These should be stated as “I-messages.” In other words, they start with the word “I.” As the parent, I am conveying to my child that I am the one who has a problem, and not that the child is the problem, has a problem, or is doing something wrong. For example:

  • “Johnny, I’d like to talk to you about something that’s been bothering me.”
  • “I’d like to get your help on solving a problem we’ve got around here.”
  • “I was wondering what made you so upset with me yesterday when…….”
  • “Honey, I’m having a problem with something and I’m hoping you can help me with it.”

Step 2: In an I-message, state YOUR problem as clearly as you can. In other words, give your reason(s) as to why you think it’s a problem for you. You can refer to what the child does behaviorally. This is a legitimate part of an “I-message.” Give them your reason, too. Examples:

  • “I get irritated when you whine, because you’re not a baby and I expect you to act your age.”
  • “I got upset when you hit your sister earlier, because I don’t like you kids hurting each other.”
  • “I get worried when I don’t know where you are when you’re out at night, because it can be very dangerous and I’m afraid you might get hurt (or in serious trouble, etc.).”

Don’t pass negative judgments on the child, like “When you act like such a little baby,” or “When you bully your sister,” or “When you go gallavanting the streests all night.”

Don’t propose the solution. Don’t start out by saying something like, “Would you be willing to take out the trash?” Or, “From now on it’s your job to take the trash out whenever the bag is full.” It’s too early to start imposing solutions. You might say something like:

  • “I have a problem with the garbage bag getting full, and starting to smell, I really don’t like smelly garbage in the kitchen.”
  • “When you and I are at the store, and you start whining and crying and reaching for things, I get upset with you, I get distracted from what I’m trying to do there.”
  • “When you hit your sister earlier, I got angry with you because I was afraid you might hurt her.

Step 3: Ask for their ideas.. Build a list of possibilities. Here’s a great way to invite their cooperation. Simply ask, “What do you think we can do about this?” Or, “What should we do about this?” Or, “How can we handle this?” There are lots of ways this can be put out there–the point is you’re inviting their ideas before giving your own. Other examples:

  • “What ideas do you have about how we could handle this?” Or,
  • “How do you think this could be handled?”
  • “What do you think should be done?”
  • “How do you think you could do better in that situation?”

You’re asking him to brainstorm possibilities here. Accept and acknowledge everything he says as a possible solution, even if it’s unacceptable to you. Then ask for more ideas. Let’s say he says, “Make Sue do it.” Or, “Let mom do it.” Or, “Do it yourself!” You can respond with, “Okay, those are some possibilities. What other possibilities are there?” He might not suggest that he could do it, so you can put that one on the table: “Well, another possibility is that you could do it.” When he objects, listen to the objections (“Sue never has to do anything!”). Don’t get into an argument about what s/he says, but use I-messages to let him know how you see it: “I see you as part of the family team, and I expect you contribute your fair share.” Listen to his objections (“I always have to do everything!”). Again, don’t take the bait and get into an argument, but let him know what you think, using I-messages (“I expect you to do a little more to help out around here.”), not you-messages (“You never do anything around here!” Or, “You’re nothing but a lazy oaf!”).

Step 4: Share your ideas. You have ideas too. They count as much as the kid’s ideas! You might say:

  • “Okay, I have some ideas too. Would you like to hear what they are?” (Seek permission first!)
  • “Well, I have some ideas that I’d like you to consider.”
  • “I’m going to share my ideas with you.”
  • “I’d like you to hear my ideas now.”

Share those ideas on what you would like to see happen, or what you expect from your child as a member of the family team. Eliminate possibilities that are completely unacceptable to either of you.

Step 5: Pop the question: “Okay, so, what can we agree on here?” As this discussion continues, remember what your main objective is: reaching an agreement. Don’t force your solution, even if it means you don’t get an agreement this time around. Be willing to let the subject drop (for the time being) if he digs in his heels and refuses to play ball with you. “Okay, Johnny, we’ve eliminated all the possibilities. I was hoping you’d agree to take on that responsibility. Why don’t you think about it, and we’ll talk about it again later.” This is all about parenting smarter (New School), not power and control (Old School). You are trying to teach cooperation, not force compliance, submission, or obedience. This is part of why New School parenting methods work better than Old School methods.

You could, of course, try to ram it down his throat. (“That’s enough! It’s your job from now on, and that’s that! Got it?”). Life happens that way sometimes, and Johnny has to learn how to cope with it, right? Well, he will (hopefully) at some point, but right now you’re trying to help him to learn to negotiate solutions to problems and reach agreements. Try not to view this as a zero-sum, win-lose type of ball game. If you drop the discussion for the time being, and let Johnny think about it, he just might surprise you. He might come up with something “out of the box.” (“I talked to Sue and she’s willing to take the garbage out if I load the dishwasher for her twice a week.”) Or, he might even agree to do it himself–perhaps with a condition attached. (“Okay, I’ll take the garbage out if I can stay out till midnight on Fridays and Saturdays.”) If it’s an outlandish proposal, you might want to make a counter-proposal. (“Well, I think that’s too late, Johnny, but I’d be willing to say ten o’clock on one of those nights if we know where you are and how you’re getting home.”) You want more than what he might be willing to do. You want a commitment. Have a little more discussion here, and be willing to bargain, till you’re clear that he’s proposing an adequate solution in your eyes (that is, an agreement you can live with). If you incorporate his/her ideas into your agreement, you greatly increase the chance of cooperation and commitment to follow through.


The big value I see in negotiating agreements with children is that, besides teaching them how to do it, agreements constitute the basis for an effective discipline system. When the child doesn’t follow through on agreements, the parent has two options, at least: 1) administering the punishment (Old School approach), and 2) holding them accountable for breaking their agreement via the “You-and-Me Dialogue” (my New School approach). I prefer the latter, particularly with children who are willing to “play ball,” talk things through with you, and reach the agreement in the first place.



3 Steps to Parent-Child Harmony is my book  that describes in detail the differences between the Old School Parenting model and the New School Parenting model.  Please see these links if you are interested in more information or wish to purchase.

Learn More          Buy Now         Table of Contents & Intro


The Behavior Dialogue: Negotiating Agreements — The Rationale

The Behavior Dialogue: Negotiating Agreements:
 The Rationale  

The first New School discipline skill is the ability to negotiate agreements with a child about right behavior. I call this the Behavior Dialogue. This forms the basis for holding the child accountable for their actions, which is discipline skill #2 (the Accountability Dialogue, or the “You-and-Me-Dialogue“).

But first of all, what the rationale for why a parent should negotiate “acceptable behavior” with a child?. As the parent, shouldn’t you just define the rules, and tell the child what’s acceptable, expected, and demanded? No! The New School way substitutes agreements for rules. Why?

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The Problems with Punishment

The Problems with Punishment

Punishing children creates a number of problems, which, when taken together, can be both serious and counterproductive. In general, punishments are an invitation to trouble, and often carry with them significant, unintended, negative consequences. Punishments should therefore be avoided with all children, no matter their age. There are better ways than punishments for dealing with children’s unacceptable behavior. More about that later. First, let’s consider some of the problems with punishments.

Let Me Count the Ways

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The Problems with Punishments (Long Version)

The Problems with Punishments (Long Version)

Punishing children creates a number of problems, which, when taken together, can be both serious and counterproductive. In general, punishments are an invitation to trouble, and often carry with them significant, unintended, negative consequences. Punishments should therefore be avoided with all children, no matter their age. There are better ways than punishments for dealing with children’s unacceptable behavior. More about that later. First, let’s consider some of the problems with punishments.

1.   Punishments are often ineffective. Parents run out of things to take away. Children often reach a point where they just don’t care what punishment the parent imposes. Mountains of research over the  years conclusively demonstrate that positive consequences (rewards and appreciation) are far more effective than negative consequences (punishments) in influencing children to behave well. (This is true even with animals.) I have heard many, many parents in my classes say that punishments usually don’t deter anything. They just make things worse as the child becomes even more resistant or disobedient.

2.    Punishments are hurtful “power and control” tactics, and are really a form of bullying. In our culture the word “discipline” has come to mean “punishment.” The purpose of punishment is to inflict some kind of pain with the hope of both teaching a lesson and deterring future misbehavior. Unfortunately, it’s intended to teach children to behave properly by scaring them into submission. The real lesson that punishment teaches, then, is that when someone doesn’t do what you want, you try to hurt them and/or scare them into submission to your will. Parents are in many ways more powerful than children, and parents who punish use their power to “bully” the child into submission.

3.   Through punishments children learn to bully. Children learn what they experience and what their parents model.  Thus, punishments really teach them the wrong lesson: namely, “I’ll hurt you if you don’t give in to my will.” This is not only bullying, but also the perfect recipe for creating a bully. Ever wonder why bullying in schools is so widespread? Or why stronger siblings bully weaker ones? Perhaps it’s because parents routinely bully children with punishments and thus inadvertently teach children that it’s okay to hurt someone weaker than you in order to get them to bend to obey you. On the other hand, children raised by parents who use little punishment, but instead use more effective interpersonal skills in response to misbehavior, are not likely to bully weaker peers or siblings.

4.   Beyond bullying, children learn that violence is acceptable. American society is perhaps the most violent society in the world. Could it be that a major contributing factor is the way we raise our children, by using varying degrees of violent behavior from verbal bullying to physical abuse, to “beat them into submission”? I am referring here to verbal bullying and abuse as well as physical, and I’m calling all of it a form of violence against children. And it is completely unnecessary.

5.    Inflicting pain is not a loving act.  The end does not justify the means. Two wrongs don’t make a right. Rather than seeing a child’s misbehavior as an expression of his needs for autonomy and independence, or his need to vent anger, the parent who punishes sees only bad behavior and uses his/her power to inflict pain in an attempt to reduce or eradicate it. However, children are by definition immature, and their methods of getting their needs met or of expressing anger are likely to be self-centered, immature, and primitive. Isn’t this to be expected? Their misbehavior is often the result of a self-centered attitude that causes pain or injury to others–perhaps unintended, perhaps intended. In any event, children need to be taught to express themselves in loving ways that do not harm others. And parents need to be the ones who do the teaching.

6.    Punishments make parents the enemy, not the ally. In the eyes of the child, the parent is now the bad guy who, by inflicting pain, unwittingly invites from the child an anger response and a desire for “payback.” This has the effect of the parent inviting exactly what s/he does not want: greater defiance, more disobedience, and continued unacceptable behavior. The child learns to fight back by “pushing the parent’s buttons,” which is her way of using her own unrefined power to express anger and to bully the parent.

7.    Inflicting pain on children causes guilt reactions in parents. This is a powerful indicator that there is something inherently wrong with inflicting pain with punishments. Yet many Old School parenting experts and authors recommend it anyway, and expect parents to tolerate their guilt by going against what they instinctively know and feel. Inflicting pain is not a loving act, no matter how you cut it. I say, “Let your conscience be your guide.” If your behavior creates a guilt response in you, then you might just be doing the wrong thing, by your own standards. Your own conscience, your Higher Self, is telling you something important. Thank God you can feel it! A small percentage of sociopathic parents abuse and harm their children because they have no conscience and feel no guilt, and don’t know a better way. Don’t let Old School parenting experts talk you into acting like a sociopath.

8.    Punishments encourage children to get better at hiding their misbehaviors. I doubt very much that children who are treated with respect by their parents, and who are taught how to care about others by their parents, will turn to bullying younger, weaker, or more timid peers. To the contrary, children whose parents have the ability use to misbehaviors as occasions for teaching children better relationship skills will actually learn a better way.

9.   Parents punish because they don’t know a better way. In other words, when parents punish, they show their ignorance. Now, ignorance is not a bad thing, and I’m not blaming parents for being ignorant. It just means they haven’t learned something better. Parents raised by Old School, power-and-control parents, and taught by Old School power-and-control experts, quite naturally haven’t learned alternatives to Old School methods, even though those methods may not feel right or may be counterproductive. They need to learn a way of dealing with children’s misbehaviors that teaches children how they affect others and how to get their needs met in socially acceptable ways.

10.   Parents rationalize that punishments are not only necessary but beneficial. Many parents in my classes argue that punishments are good. Their own parents used them, and they turned out fine. They maintain that punishments did indeed deter their bad behavior, and they say they learned important life lessons from punishments. To that I say, “Are those methods working with your children?” They usually say “No.” Beyond this, many say they have not had a good relationship with their parents, evan as adults, due largely to the way they were treated. The lesson here is that as Old School, power and control methods, punishments may be effective in the short term, but they often produce long-term damage to the parent-child relationship. What parent would knowingly invite that?

11.   Punishments can relieve a child of guilt for doing wrong. In many cases punishments have what on the surface appears to be a short-term advantage: children often feel they deserve to be punished, after which they feel relieved. What could be wrong with that? While societal punishment after a crime may have merit as a deterrent with criminals who feel no remorse, it’s not that way with children in the family. A pattern of a) lack of self-control, b) guilt, c) punishment, and d) relief may inculcate a desire, based on fear, of not getting caught next time. But does it teach the child why what he did is wrong?

12.   Punishments do not exact from the child a commitment to do better next time. Punishment might relieve guilt, but where is the personal commitment to do better next time? Finding relief for guilt through punishment is a sorry substitute for a child learning empathy, respect, self-control, and effective relationship skills.

At the beginning of this section I mentioned that there are better ways than punishments for dealing with children’s unacceptable behavior. What are they? I referred several times to the answer: effective relationship skills. If parents really want to teach children appropriate behaviors and how to be caring, responsible, and cooperative, then teaching them to develop effective relationship skills is the way to do it.

So, what are these effective relationship skills? And how is a parent to teach them? In this book I am presenting parents with nine key relationship skills–three listening skills, three illustrating (speaking) skills, and three disciplining skills. Parents who already use them well naturally, or learn to use them by practicing them, will almost assuredly teach them to their children. Why? Because children learn to do what they see their parents doing.

The long and the short of it comes down to this: instead of rules and punishments (the Old School approach) I am proposing agreements and accountability (the New School approach). I’m arguing that parents who effectively use listening skills and illustrating skills can then effectively use discipline skills–one of which is holding the child accountable for misbehavior that breaks their own agreement with the parent.

So, take heart! You can stop using punishments, just as you can stop using other power and control tactics, like yelling. I always say that practicing techniques equals developing skills. By practicing the techniques presented in this book you will learn and also teach the relationship skills that make punishments unnecessary. And that learning and teaching is what discipline is all about.


3 Steps to Parent-Child Harmony is my book  that describes in detail the differences between the Old School Parenting model and the New School Parenting model.  Please see these links if you are interested in more information or wish to purchase.

Learn more.    Buy Now.   Table of Contents & Intro

When Rules Are Broken

When Rules Are Broken

Every organization or group, including the family, has certain standards of acceptable behavior. These are usually called rules, guidelines or standards. They are usually established by the administration, which, in the family, is the parents. They may be very clear, black and white, or they may be quite fuzzy and unclear. They may be specific or general, and they may be written, spoken, or even unspoken.

But every family has them, and it’s the parents’ responsibility to make sure they are known by the kids. Rules, or standards of acceptable behavior, are necessary for everybody, and especially for younger children, such as “No hitting,” “No playing in the street,” “No jumping on furniture,” “No snacks before meals,” “In bed by 8:00,” “Home by curfew” (for teens), etc.

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