Conversation or Coercion

The command-and-control approach to parenting works until it doesn’t. There comes a point when most children—if they are healthy—rebel against this. Or, if they don’t rebel, they just learn to go underground so that they can get their needs met.

Many parents are shocked when their well-behaved child suddenly declares “You can’t tell me what to do!” Shocked and fearful, the parent might respond with an idle threat. “Do as I say or…”

Have you ever noticed that when you use idle threats with kids, they do it back to you? “Yeah, well if you do that, I’ll do this…” Sometimes parents turn an idle threat into an actual punishment. Many parents believe that if they bark out that threat then, in order to keep respect, they have to follow through. This leads to resentment and more negativity, not respect. So how does this help? Your control forces your child to be obedient, to conform. This does not build a child’s sense of self, self-discipline or an ability to embrace responsibility. It might only work in the moment to get obedience but the cost will be devastating.

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Punishment and reward actually keep kids stuck at a lower level of moral development. If a child does something wrong and you issue a punishment, especially one that isn’t fair and done with anger, the child is not left to think about his behaviour. Instead, the negative experience takes over any learning or caring. The punishment evens the score. No need to reflect or feel any healthy remorse.

The higher road is being able to have conversations, ones that listen to the child’s point of view, experience and feelings, developing trust and closeness. This helps children develop a sense of self and nurtures growth. When they trust us, they learn that we have their best interest at heart so when we state a concern or make a request, they don’t rebel. When people say, effective communication doesn’t work with kids, they are missing the bigger picture. It teaches kids social skills, it helps them understand their feelings and yours. It takes them to a higher level of moral development where they consider their feelings, other people’s feelings and why limits exist. Take the higher road with parenting and you will see cooperation, harmony and a self-disciplined child.

LIFE Seminars has two books available, Sidestepping the Power Struggle and The Parent Child Connection. See

Dr. Allison Rees
Dr. Allison Rees
Dr. Allison Rees is a parent educator, counsellor and coach at LIFE Seminars (Living in Families Effectively).