Alternatives to Punishment – Part 2

Power struggle happens when there unequal distribution of power between two parties. Empowering children means giving them enough power to reduce the situation of conflict. Let’s explore how do we do that.

It is our innate desire to hold power. When we feel powerless in an organization, we withhold information useful to the hierarchy. It’s our way of experiencing power.

The way we can reduce discipline problems is by understanding that most confrontations, most ‘No’s are “power games”. The way to “win” the power game is to give away enough power so that others do not want to take it from you. When you empower children they do not have to compete with you for power.

Simple yet effective! Let’s see how:


A Harmonious accord on a course of action. An arrangement that is accepted by all parties to a common code or plan of behavior.

Agreements are based on participation, understanding and acceptance. Once children have understood the reasoning, they will not test your boundaries continuously. Even if they do, normally a reminder suffices.

1) Time based Agreements

Perhaps the most important. When will the child do what? They agree to their timings for various things like play, homework, outdoor activities, TV dinner, sleep time etc. (If required, for younger children, buy a large clock and paste stickers/ labels at appropriate small hand positions). Insist that each agree to arrange circumstances so that they are on time. Become a role model yourself.

2) Safety related Agreements
Discus with lots of reasoning what is unsafe and why. Educate them what age will be safe for them. Agree on different measures both of you will take towards safety and even emergency. Few parents work out emergency drills with children like fire and burn, choking etc.

3) Respect for people, plants, animals and things
This includes a wide spectrum – language, courtesy, handling and care. Use broad agreements and show them through role modeling. Respect them and their material.

A parent told me that they had agreed that whenever someone feels like hitting another, they would grab a cushion, a bag or anything soft, keep it next to the person and hit that instead of the person.

4) Learning & School:
If parent’s expectations are clear and child’s efforts are agreed to, most learning can be fun. Similarly standards of learning, scoring marks and behavior to be maintained at school, if agreed, leads to simpler handling of all school related disciplinary issues. Also agree that all will learn from mistakes, which gives you a chance to excuse yourself, while teaches a child that a mistake is not something bad, just an opportunity upside-down

5) Agree to speak for only “I”:
Singularly most effective in avoiding conflicts. Everybody agrees to use only “I” messages – start every sentence with “I”.
Which means you cannot verbally attack another person, complain another person’s behavior or judge or blame another person. So you cannot say, “That child is so stupid”. Instead you have to say, “I don’t like him” or “I will not work with him” etc.

A power struggle situation means time for an agreement. So when a problem occurs lets look at it as an opportunity for growth.

  • Let’s anticipate a positive outcome and visualize a successful resolution for both parties.
  • Let’s not get confrontational. The bigger the deal we make, the more we loose. Some children become expert in provoking your standard emotional response. However, a power struggle is not a time to win or ‘nail’ someone. Its time to get the job done with minimum fanfare.
  • Let’s state only the facts and eschew any judgments (that is agreement no 5 anyway). So no “You make me mad”; instead, “I am feeling really angry”.

Let’s also accept that we cannot have a 100% conflict free home. But we need to use our resources to create a well-balanced environment, where children manage themselves, which is the ultimate in disciplining. Prevention sure is better than cure!