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Ending Power Struggles Before They Even Start

I’m privileged to receive a steady stream of questions from parents about various issues (and regret not being able to answer them all). The most common dilemma by far is discipline. Loving, thoughtful parents simply want to know how to give their kids healthy limits and boundaries, but this area of parenting is fraught with confusion, emotions and misunderstanding.

Successful guidance provides children the safety and comfort they need to flourish. When boundaries “work”, children don’t need to test them as often. They trust their parents and caregivers, and therefore their world. They feel freer and calmer and can focus on the important things: play, learning, socializing and being happy-go-lucky kids.

When setting boundaries, the emotional state of the parent almost always dictates the child’s reaction. If we lack clarity and confidence, lose our temper or are unsure, tense, frazzled, or frustrated — this will unsettle our kids and very likely lead to more undesirable behavior. We’re gods in our children’s eyes, and our feelings always set the tone. With this understanding, it’s easy to see why struggles with discipline can become a discouragingly vicious cycle.

Here’s how one family found their way out of the confusion:

We experienced a light bulb moment in our home recently. We have been struggling to set clear boundaries. We felt our boundaries were clear, but it was obvious our son wasn’t getting what he needed. Two things happened to fix this problem.

1. Acknowledging feelings

First, I have always tried to empathize with his feelings: “You are angry because…” But this is something my husband hadn’t really implemented yet.

On a night when we were all out later than normal (helping some friends load a moving truck, our boy was very tired. He fell and bumped his head and just wasn’t recovering emotionally. We quickly left, and he kept crying. My husband (out of the blue for him) just said “You bumped your head and it really hurt! You are so upset!”

My son immediately stopped crying. He then began to “tell” us (he isn’t really talking yet but is very clear in trying to communicate) that he had hurt himself. My husband kept responding the same way, and my son settled and fell asleep within minutes. My husband was amazed and I was so proud!

2. Following through

The second thing was that we found a post on your website that was an email correspondence between you and another mom experiencing the same thing we were (example given was her daughter kept knowingly throwing toys outside even though mom kept telling her she didn’t like it until finally getting frustrated and locking the door). You said something like ‘they don’t want to be annoying. If they keep testing they are asking for HELP. Ask them once and then if they don’t quite get it, lock the door. If you become annoyed or frustrated you haven’t acted quickly enough’.

Read more: Janet Lansbury


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