Whole Parenting Family

Power Parenting: Why Force & Fear Don’t Work Long-Term

bacon BAY CON

Her new favorite food and word, bay-cun. BAYCUN. BAYYYYYY!!!

bacon bacon bacon

Her brother prefers corn to all else.


If you have a child over the age of two, tune in. If you have one of those adorable little tikes, tune out because it is too much of a stretch for your imagination to handle that your sweetpumpkin would ever drive you to want to use force as a parenting tool. See other tantrum hints here.

Clear? Okay, older child parents. How are you feeling today? Have you felt that hot hot burn of anger and frustration yet? Have you felt your whole body ignite in one snap of a little whippersnapper’s voice calling out NO! Chances are high that if today wasn’t one of these days, it happened at some point this week.

Guiding little children through the valleys and peaks of life is hard. For all the obvious reasons, and then for some more nuanced. For me, and maybe for you, the nuanced ones include helping your child make the right choice with the desired outcome (going to the bathroom before nap time, taking a nap, not screaming in your face or punching your arm), keeping your cool when you are upset, and not succumbing to the false belief that force is a long-term solution.

Examples of what I mean by force. I do not mean child abuse. That kind of force is a clear line we all pray we never cross. I mean these kinds of things: dragging your child by the wrist, shouting in anger  on repeat, threatening to throw away toys, scaring your child with your tone or displays of anger (slamming things on the counter, throwing things in frustration).

Here’s why they don’t work long term, in my limited experience as a mother of a 3+ year old boy and almost year & a half girl:

fear only lasts so long,  

you have to raise the threshold of fear as the fear factor wears off,

it’s a power struggle that is limitless,

it will only get harder the bigger and older they get to use fear to keep them in line,

it undermines your true position of authority as the parent,

it means you’re slacking in the self-discipline department,

it teaches a horrid example of how to treat the ones you love best,

it shows your child your worst self. 

I have lost my temper as a mother, wife, friend, daughter, and sister. The times I am most ashamed of are losing it as a mother. When my son seems giant-sized in my mind and I cannot “make” him to listen to me, I have to breathe and remember, this isn’t a power struggle. I am in charge. I can be detached and matter of fact, lay out the consequences and let him feel them as a result of his choice. I am a thirty year old lawyer. He is a three year old boy.

I can curb my temper, my lack-of-sleep temper. My everyone-is-crying-today temper. My I-don’t-have-dinner-ready-and-it’s 6pm temper. My you-trashed-the-one-room-I-picked-up-today temper. My leave-your-sister-alone temper.

And I can remember that my children need boundaries, and I am that boundary most of the day. Even on our worst days, discipline from me is helping them learn to discipline themselves. Even on our best days, they still have to be able to be themselves and exercise free will. And every day, I must treat them with the love and respect they deserve as human beings.

Even when they just run away from me.



  1. Garrett on September 24, 2013 at 10:11 am

    Well said Nell. Very articulate, made a ton of sense and it is something that I needed to read and that I need to practice. Thank you for making it practical and applicable!

    • Natural Mama Nell on September 24, 2013 at 4:18 pm

      I just know I struggle with this! And it so helps to know none of us are alone!

  2. elizabeth on September 24, 2013 at 10:30 am

    and repeat. ad nauseaum.

    thank gosh it isn’t just me who struggles with this. there are days when it feels like i’m the most impatient mama in the world. and then i remember (mostly) that yes, i am a thirty year old lawyer, and he is a 2 1/2 year old boy like you’re saying. and learning to live with the consequences of his choices is a valuable skill.

    discipline: not sure who it’s harder for, me or c.

    • Natural Mama Nell on September 24, 2013 at 4:17 pm

      I think discipline and consistency are way harder for us adults than for them. They’re craving it! And we’re all over the map. It’s so hard to actually be dispassionate and dole out consequences.

  3. Amy @ Motherhood and Miscellany on September 6, 2014 at 1:54 pm

    Oh, I love this. Words I needed to read today.

    • Natural Mama Nell on September 8, 2014 at 4:49 pm

      So glad!