This came to me from Jill, a participant in a recent workshop: 

“I was going to down the road of parenting by force and manipulation and was wondering why my four-year-old wasn’t being very responsive. I just figured resistance was normal.

“For example, John would lie to me. After paying attention to my reactions when he did things that frustrated me, I realized he was lying because he didn’t feel safe with me. Now he and I have pledged not to yell at each other anymore (we have a yelling household… I can hear my mother in my voice when I yell).

“I’ve been working on being calmer with him as well as prompting him to talk by saying, ‘You won’t get in trouble… just tell me the truth.’ And it seems to be working. On several occasions he has actually come to me and said, ‘Mom, I’ve got to tell you the truth about something….’ Don’t get me wrong – he isn’t always an angel, but I think we are on the road to improving our communication.”

If you notice that you are dominating your kids, you can choose to do something different. You don’t need a perfect answer about what to do. You’ll figure it out as you start to be more thoughtful about how you interact with your kids.

Jill’s story reminds me of a favorite quote about using force from the HBO series, The Wire, which I’ll paraphrase: “If you don’t make it safe, they won’t talk to you. And then you are only left with force. And in the long run, using force just doesn’t work.”