Respecting Kids: Controlling vs. Empowering

Toca Magazine Writer Dana Villamagna tells how her childist approach to parenting means less stress in the long run.

Parker Barry

Busy parents know that the old standby “Because I’m the parent and I said so,” can be the most efficient way to get a kid to quickly brush their teeth, share a toy or go to bed. But just because we can impose our will on our kids doesn’t mean we should. In my egalitarian approach to parenting, I offer empowering alternatives.

Consider these controlling vs. empowering approaches to three common parent-kid scenarios:

Food Fights

  • Controlling: Put the meal in front of your kid and tell them to eat it or get no dessert.
  • Empowering: Offer your kid everything served, and include at least one healthy choice that you know they like (even if it’s just a side) at each meal. If your kid says no thanks to everything else, politely accept their decision just as you would an adult guest declining an offered food. Stock a mix of healthy choices at kid-reachable height in the fridge and pantry so kids can get a snack anytime they’re hungry.


  • Controlling: Put your kid in time out until they stop crying.
  • Empowering: Approach meltdowns as serious requests for help to sort out feelings. Give them language: “You’re really mad because we need to leave the play date and you want to stay.” Empathize, reassure and give choices help them move on: “I know it’s hard to leave when you’re having fun. We will play with Max again soon. What would you like to do when we get home, play outside or have a snack?”

Bedtime Battles

  • Controlling: Read a book about how to get kids to sleep through the night. Set a bedtime based on what you learned from the book and require your kid to be in bed, lights out, at that time every night.
  • Empowering: Establish a calming evening routine — bath, snack, reading, dim lights, snuggling — to help your kid settle in, but keep it flexible for the nights when your child is more or less tired than usual. If your kid’s having trouble sleeping, work together to brainstorm different solutions unique to their personality, nighttime worries and sleep habits.

Empowering kids to make as many choices for themselves as possible may take more time, but it means less stress in the long run for both parents and kids. It also demonstrates to kids that we respect their needs, preferences and ideas as just as valid as our own. That alone is worth the extra time and effort.


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