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Pick Your Parenting Battles

February 22, 2010

In a previous blog post, I talked about avoiding power struggles with your children. Sometimes we can do that by picking our battles. Some battles are important. For many parents, those are issues related to safety:

• Wearing a seat belt

• Playing in the backyard only

• Always knowing where your children are

Some non-negotiables are not necessarily related to safety but are about your family culture and values, such as sitting at the dinner table during meal times. Think about it- your family certainly has these types of rules, although they largely are unspoken expectations that everyone in your house just knows.

I once overheard a mother I admire tell her six-year-old twins that she had two jobs as their mom: to teach them manners and keep them safe.

This is ingenious! Think about it! Almost all of your non-negotiable rules can somehow fit into those two categories.

The rest? Well, if they are working for you and your family- then great! But many times I work with families who have come to a point where those rules just aren’t working anymore- for anyone. Their family life is fraught with arguing and parenting is not fun anymore because it seems to only involve reprimanding. Starting down this slope has the potential to damage your relationship with your child. Parenting isn’t supposed to be fun 100% of the time, but is should be at least the majority, right?

I’m not suggesting that you remove all major rules and structure from your child’s life simply because they protest. Children thrive on boundaries and structure- whether they realize it or not. But it’s typical (and necessary!) for children to experiment with their own power- their ability to say “NO!” and mean it. And maybe there are some situations where it’s OK to let that “NO” carry some weight in your house. Allow your children to experience the natural- positive AND negative- consequences of that decision. In the long run, it will be a more powerful teaching tool than any contrived punishment you could think of.


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Robyn Gobbel, LCSW is a child and family therapist in Austin, Texas specializing in adoption, trauma, and attachment counseling.  She is the founder of The Central Texas Attachment & Trauma Center.  

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