This is part of a series of blog posts on parenting in which we’re taking a detailed look at the foundation for creating a healthy and healing relationship with your child based on compassionate care, appropriate structure and mutual respect. Learn more about the full series here

Many parents are unclear about the use of power and the use of force.

True power is based on love, compassion and understanding. Compassion provides the capacity to be patient, persistent and positive in the face of ongoing adversity.

Then there’s force. The laws of physics teach us the use of force automatically creates a counterforce. So, for example, the more we use a strategy employing violence, domination and control, the greater the likelihood of escalating conflict.

Mahatma Gandhi, leader of India’s independence movement from British rule, knew the difference between the use of power and the use of force. He used the power of gentleness, persistence and implicit will to defeat the British Empire without raising a hand in anger. He understood what research has shown: The use of force is never a permanent solution to conflict (Hawkins 2002).

Children instinctively know this, too. They are most influenced by those with whom they feel the deepest respect and strongest connections. You cannot make lasting changes in your child’s attitudes and behavior by lecturing, correcting, punishing and humiliating. Children learn best when encouraged, not criticized. This is particularly true of children with low self-esteem and negative self-images. Your child only will follow your lead if he wants to — and he will want to only if he feels good about you and feels positively connected with you.

Connecting with your child

Connecting with your child involves empathy, support, nurturance and love. Children need to sense their parents are genuinely interested in them as people.

Setting limits is also a part of connecting. Children need structure that includes consistent, predictable and reasonable rules for a feeling of safety and security. Structure leads to respect, trust and secure attachment.

The ability to form and maintain positive connections is essential for healthy childhood development. This involves taking into account the needs, feelings and opinions of others, and is accomplished by understanding and respecting another person’s point of view. The resulting rapport makes it possible for your child to develop trust in you, be open to your influence and seek your guidance. Parents who successfully connect with their children are emotionally available, actively involved in their lives and model respect and compassion.

Connection versus control

Parenting approaches are based on either connection or control. The goal of connection-oriented parenting is to establish a respectful, trusting and reciprocal relationship. This results in your child being motivated to accept your advice, follow your lead and internalize your values.

The goal of control-oriented parenting is to change the child by modifying behavior. This results in children who are motivated to struggle for power, reject your suggestions and keep away from you.

Sol let’s take a closer look at the difference between connection-oriented parenting and control-oriented parenting philosophies and methods.

    Parenting for connection is reciprocal and interactive, a sharing of ideas and influence. Parenting for control is dominant-submissive with the emphasis on compliance to overbearing authority.

  • Parenting for connection focuses on the positive. Parenting for control involves criticism and focuses on the negative.
  • Connection-oriented parenting is characterized by two-way respect with parent and child respecting one another. Respect flows only one way in control-oriented parenting. The child is expected to show respect for his parent; respect is demanded, not earned.
  • Cooperation is encouraged in connection-oriented parenting, such as at times when parent and child work together to solve a problem. Control-oriented parenting uses confrontation, which leads to hostility and defiance.
  • Parents using a connection approach teach through providing reasonable consequences. Parents using a control approach tend to be punitive, angry and vindictive.
  • Connection-oriented parenting highlights the primacy of the parent-child relationship, while control-orientation places the focusing on changing the child’s behavior.
  • Parenting for connection is based on a model of health and resource, skills-building and the flow of resources to gain positive outcomes. Parenting for control is based on a model of illness that focuses on a child’s pathology and deficits.
  • Connection-oriented parents use an assertive communication style that is clear, direct and non-threatening. Control oriented parents are aggressive in their communication. They often are hostile, offensive and threatening.

Some results of connection-oriented parenting

Learning is internalized and endures for children with connection-oriented parents. Changes are temporary for children with control-oriented parents: Lessons are superficial and short-lived. A connection approach results in a desire to comply because of genuine caring. A control approach leads to a fear-based compliance, fear of punishment and disapproval. Parenting that emphasizes connection offers children choices and helps them learn to be responsible and accountable for the consequences of their choices. Parenting that emphasizes control gives ultimatums and demands certain behaviors while discouraging the learning of responsibility.