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Who's in Charge - You or Your Child? (Part 1)

Updated: Nov 20, 2021

Dealing with misbehavior in their children is an ongoing struggle for many parents. Though currently there are numerous societal factors impacting how family’s function, the reality is that parents have struggled to effectively discipline their children for more than a generation now - struggles that started in the late sixties and continue today.

In my work with The John Rosemond Parenting Institute, I and my fellow coaches hear daily from parents desperate for discipline assistance. Submitted comments and questions confirm that significant numbers of parents find child-rearing to be extremely stressful. And why shouldn’t they, when much of their time is spent trying to get their child(ren) to follow even the simplest of directives.

Why Do They Act That Way?

Developmentally, by age 3 (barring any extenuating circumstances), children are capable of following age-appropriate directions the first time they are given. Parents who find themselves giving a child 3 years of age, or older, a directive 2,3, even 4+ times or succumb to bribing the child into cooperating are effectively allowing the child to take charge. Such is the case in many homes throughout this nation. The tail is wagging the dog - the dog being the parents and the tail, the child. This type of family dynamic not only wears the parents down but sends a clear message to the child that he/she is in control. Truth be told, many adults have been known to turn a deaf ear, claim to not have heard a comment, delay or fail to respond when spoken to as a way of controlling a situation. When children find success in displaying similar behaviors, they too recognize them as a way to exert control.

Growing up is all about progressively becoming more independent. By the time children reach adulthood, they are (hopefully) ready to independently make sound decisions and take control of their own lives. It is the parent’s job (for roughly 18-21 years) to effectively lead their child(ren) from being totally dependent (infancy) to totally independent (adulthood).

A child's quest for independence typically begins somewhere around age 2. The "Terrible Twos" are all about the child testing the limits in an attempt to take charge. Typically, the desire to be in charge is exhibited by resistance: running away to avoid getting dressed, pursing lips to refuse food, squirming ferociously when being strapped in a car seat and saying ‘no’ frequently are all part of the journey towards independence. When children test the limits, which they will do countless times over the course of the journey, they are also testing their parent's ability to be an effective leader.

Given the choice of following a strong leader or a weak leader most would choose to follow a strong leader. Those who have worked with weak leaders eventually realize they are not leaders at all. Many an office or business has descended into chaos due to weak leadership. Families are no different. Someone must be the leader of the family and it absolutely should not be the child.

Unconditional Love and Strong Leadership

As Rosemond stresses in his books and trainings, unconditional love and strong leadership are keys to raising emotionally healthy, well-behaved children. Because children are children, they have no idea what is in their best interest. Teaching them that their parents know what is in their best interest requires trust. Trust is a byproduct of unconditional parental love established during the first 2 years of life, when children are completely helpless and dependent on others for their care. Understandably, during this period of time children need to be the center of attention and their needs, for the most part, met on demand.

Feeling unconditional love and trust sets the stage for children to be able to move from being the center of attention to accepting that their parents are the leaders of the family. As such, by age 3, children should be paying greater attention to their parents than their parents pay them. I am not talking about neglect, but simply not allowing everyday life to constantly revolve around the children by making sure they are always happy, entertained and their every whim met. Many parents today seem to think that the more attention they pay to their children, the better parents they are. However, the message the children receive is that their wants and needs always come first, making them the focal point. When children remain the focal point of the family, it inhibits them from viewing their parents as the focal point (center) of the family unit. In order for discipline to be optimally effective, children must view their parents as the leaders of the family – leaders who are in charge. Children who are difficult to discipline see themselves, rather than their parents, as being in charge.

The year between age 2 and 3 is when expectations for behavior and consequences for misbehavior need to take hold. For sure, the year may be highlighted by the battle of the wills between parent and child. The parent must win the battle to be able to effectively lay a solid foundation for a well-behaved child.

Parents are shepherds who have a responsibility to lead their sheep. A shepherd who allows sheep to take charge may end up with a lost herd.

Stay tuned for Part 2 - "Taking Charge"

© Sharon Knapp Lamberth, March 14, 2021


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Mar 15, 2021

Enjoyed your article! So important that parents speak to their children from the beginning with respect. As the child grows, he/she will hopefully emulate that respect in stepping into independence. So much of parenting a child is about respect and balance!

Sharon Lamberth
Sharon Lamberth
Mar 15, 2021
Replying to

I'm so glad you enjoyed the article! Unconditional unconditional love and strong leadership from their parents provide children with a solid foundation for healthy development. The goal is to raise children who ultimately become respectful, responsible and resourceful adults. Since parents are a child's first role models, their example is powerful. Parents earn respect from their children by acting in a way that warrants respect - even when expressing disapproval for a child's actions. As you say, as children grow, hopefully they will emulate those same respectful behaviors.

Thank you for sharing your thoughts!

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