Does it seem like you have a war going on in your family—with you on one side, and your kids on the other? Many parents feel like they live in the middle of a battle zone and that at any given moment they might step on a landmine. Maybe you have a teen who is disrespectful and says rude and insulting things to you. Perhaps you have a child who won’t stop badgering you and fights with you when you set limits. Maybe your preteen insists on having the final word on everything and puts you down all the time. Or it could be that you, like many parents, feel like your kids act entitled and ungrateful and take advantage of you—and it drives you crazy.

Debbie Pincus, author of The Calm Parent AM and PM, has worked with kids and parents for more than 25 years, and she can teach you how to stop fights with your kids. Read on to find out what you need to do to gain peace in your home, starting today.

When you need something from your child so you can be calm and feel like the responsible parent, you put yourself in a vulnerable position because they don’t have to give it to you.

Parents today complain more and more about their kids being entitled and rude, as witnessed by the recent “Facebook Parenting Dad” story in the news. This father was angry and upset by his daughter’s tirade against him on Facebook, so he decided to teach her a lesson by shooting her laptop with a pistol. While this isn’t a tactic I would ever recommend, I understand his frustration in part. Parents have started to feel “bulldozed” by their own kids. They can’t imagine ever treating their own parents this way when they were young—let alone living to speak about it! Many parents get to a point where they feel so angry and victimized by their own children that they start to see their kids as an “enemy” that must be defeated. They respond by yelling more, invoking harsh punishments, and feeling overwhelmed and at odds with their child.

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So just how have we gotten to this place? We all know that times have changed—and parenting is much more difficult as a result. Years ago parents valued obedience above all else. They would use hitting, fear tactics, threats and withdrawal of love to scare kids into good behavior. And if we use these tactics today, we would probably get kids to act the way we want them to—at least temporarily. The problem is that this parenting style does not lead to good long-term connection, trust, or security and can easily backfire and cause major rebellion. While we still value obedience, now we also value connection, communication and independent thinking. But problems arise when we find ourselves at a loss when it comes to getting our kids to be respectful, grateful and under control. Instead, we can find ourselves in a state of war 24/7 in our homes.

3 Critical Changes That Shut Down Fights

Here’s where I believe the problem starts: the moment we convince ourselves that we must teach and lecture our kids into better behavior. Often, we don’t stop lecturing until they change or until we are confident they “get it.” We panic and wonder, “If my child doesn’t learn now, when will he learn?” Or we think, “If I don’t teach him how to do things right, who will?” While rooted in natural instincts (who doesn’t want their child to be happy, healthy and successful?) this can cause a cycle that leads to a series of escalating battles.

Let’s take a closer look and find a way out of this madness and toward a better way to parent.

Shine a light on yourself, rather than on your child. Get out of the mindset that your child is the enemy and you must win. Win what? No matter how your child behaves, you must commit to parenting from thoughtfulness, not anxiety and reactivity. Keep in the forefront of your mind that even at times of high stress, no matter how obnoxious your child’s behavior, you must remain a calm, steady leader. What are the characteristics that make up a strong leader? Strong leaders focus on the preservation of their own integrity. They have a willingness to take responsibility for their own emotional wellbeing and do not try to “make” other people happy by changing their character. Being a strong leader is a quality that will actually help your child want to be led by you, rather than to battle you.

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Stay out of your child’s way. As long as there’s not a health, safety or other dangerous risk involved, let your child make his or her own mistakes—and then let them face the natural and logical consequences for their actions. When you step out of your child’s box and let them make their own choices, there’s something crucial you’re not giving your child: ammunition. Simply put, there’s nothing for them to fight with or against. Staying out of their way allows them to grow.

Stay on your child’s team. Remember that you’re on your child’s team, not on the opposing side. Don’t become his adversary. You are his coach and limit setter, not someone who needs to “win” a battle to prove you’re in control. The truth is, every time you give in to the urge to wield the parental hammer—when you lose your temper and yell, scream or give an overly harsh punishment—you’re bringing yourself down to your child’s level and showing him that you aren’t really in control.

Putting Advice into Practice

How do battles begin and escalate? How do our once sweet little angels turn into our enemies? And what does this actually look like in real time with our kids—particularly our teenagers?

Let’s take a peek into the homes of Sara, age 13, and Daniel, age 9. “I want to sleep over at Lily’s house tomorrow night,” Sara says. Mom responds, “I’m sorry, but not tomorrow. I want you fresh and alert Saturday morning for our visit with Grandma and Grandpa.” Over at Daniel’s house, dad says, “We’re going to eat in a minute. Please set the table.” Daniel is playing a video game and says, “Not right now, I’m busy.”

What’s happening? In each case, the child wants one thing and the parent wants something different. Both children are being asked to accept limitations they don’t like, so they throw down a gauntlet.

Sara: “I’m going to that sleepover no matter what you say and you can’t stop me. I’m not going to Grandma and Grandpa’s house. I can’t stand my family!” Daniel gets mad at his father and shouts, “Why should I have to do all the work around here? It isn’t fair!”

What’s happening now? The parent has stated their position—and the child has stated their opposition. The stage is set for a battle which will truly begin if either parent picks up the gauntlet by responding at all.

Let’s pause the tape for a moment and talk about your role here with your child, because this is a very important moment in the anatomy of a fight. If you are going to preserve your integrity at this point and care for your own emotional wellbeing—and be the leader in your family—what would you do next? The answer: Stop participating. At this moment, the best thing to do is state your well thought-out position one more time—and then walk away.

“Easy to say,” you might be thinking, “but what if my child continues to battle by screaming at me, tantruming, calling me names, following me into other rooms, or throwing things around? I can’t let her just get away with that! I need to show her who’s boss.”

But here’s the truth: When you need something from your child so you can be calm and feel like the responsible parent, you put yourself in a vulnerable position because they don’t have to give it to you. When the message becomes, “I need you to behave. I need you to stop badgering me. I need you to be respectful. I need you to listen to me,” you have effectively put yourself at your child’s mercy. Feeling at a loss, many parents go to desperate measures to try and get what they need from their kids—respect and obedience. The child resists the parent’s effort with equal intensity and now the power struggle is in full force. They bribe, cajole, threaten, punish, appease, to no avail. And their once darling child now feels like the enemy that must be taken down.

So let’s go back to Sara and Daniel’s scenes and push “play.” Let’s say that in each case the parent wasn’t able to disengage from the fight, but instead started yelling back. The fight is now in progress and the argument is escalating. Now Sara says, “I’m going to Lily’s house no matter what you say or do to me. I hate you! I wish I had a different mom.” Daniel says, “You treat me like a servant around here. I get asked to do everything and blamed for everything. It’s not fair!”

What’s happening? These are maneuvers by Sara and Daniel—predictable ones. If your child tries this, don’t get thrown by them. Kids are good at strategies that push our emotional buttons, especially when you allow them to work. The purpose of this kind of manipulation is to pull you back into battle when you hear your child’s threats of leaving, bad language or cries of “poor me.” They know how to push your buttons and they desperately want to get a reaction from you. Why? Because once they have you in battle, they gain a sense of control and power. They also have a feeling of connection with you, albeit negative. This feels good to your child, at least in part. She prefers this to feeling alone or feeling the pain of her disappointment. Teenagers particularly both need and want to be independent of you. By battling, she gets to feel independent and engaged with you at the same time. Trying to get her to stop by jumping into the fray will only escalate the battle.

Remember, defining your well thought-out position and not letting yourself get thrown off course is true leadership. The argument will end if you don’t continue to engage. When you drop your end of the rope, your child must wrestle with herself instead of with you.

If the parents in our two scenarios are able to disengage, the scene might look like this: Once she calms down, Sara might think to herself, “I really want to go to Lily’s, but I don’t want to get in trouble. I guess I’d better stay home.” Or Daniel might reason, “I don’t want to set the table, but I really should if I don’t want to have a consequence. I’d better go do it.”

Defiant Kids

What if you have a defiant kid or are in an ongoing, entrenched battle with your child? You’re probably reading this and thinking, “My kid will never calm down and comply.” And you might be right—he might walk out or defy you in some way. That’s when you have to decide, from your own place of integrity, what to do next. You have a choice as a responsible parent. You might let the scene play itself out. You might disengage from the argument and set down limits around his behavior. If your child is destroying property or being physically abusive, you might choose to call the police. Be the leader you need to be as a parent and ignore the gauntlet that gets thrown down. Respond from a thoughtful place with limits and consequences, and keep reminding yourself, “We’re on the same team.” The important thing is that you continue to show up for your child.

Our children are not our enemies. They just need grownups to help them grow up. By staying out of your child’s way and in your own box, regardless of how defiant your child is, he will have the chance to face his own conscience. This is exactly what he needs to do in order to grow up. And staying in your box is exactly what you need to do to grow as a parent.

Related Content: How to Walk Away From a Fight With Your Child
Child Outbursts: Why Kids Blame, Make Excuses, and Fight When You Challenge Their Behavior

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For more than 25 years, Debbie has offered compassionate and effective therapy and coaching, helping individuals, couples and parents to heal themselves and their relationships. Debbie is the creator of the Calm Parent AM & PM™ program and is also the author of numerous books for young people on interpersonal relations.

Comments (17)
  • Kim
    Tonight I did something I really never thought I would. I came home after a grueling day and my daughter started in right away with her smart—- mouth. My stepmom died days ago I told her I may need to hold your hand Thursday I may need support “ herMore reply? “ well don’t get mad if I don’t, sometimes I just don’t like to be touched “…!? I said I gave birth to you, jokingly, ) besides that I’ve never cried so much because of her mouth, she pushed me to my breaking point and I called the police. ( this has been building), I said come on down they want to talk to you “ sweet as can be she tells her side, I’m her mom, I know she’s Acting.) One officer said “ well, keep her age in mind “ I said Do you have kids? Nope. I asked the other officer, he stepped in and said this is your mom,.. do you pay any bills?” ( of course not!) when she tells you something you listen, don’t talk back, end of story, she’s the parent “, I said Thank you “. My daughter just looked down with a smirk. I said I just want to be honest, if she starts again I’m calling you again, sorry, and she’ll have to sleep at her boyfriends “, I was crying the whole time, . They told her to go in her room and stay there. I don’t regret this,it is breaking my heart:/ but, maybe now she’ll think twice about what comes out of her mouth. Or, if it happens again, she can spend the night in jail. And I will sleep just fine , as much as she has hurt my soul. Sad thing is, I can get along with Anyone, it’s one of my best traits, I’m compassionate and loving, but I Will Not be walked on . Or mistreated.
    • Sally
      Kim, I think you’re missing the point of this stay calm tactic. While you’re daughter may not talk respectfully to you all the time, this scenario was not disrespectful at all, she was setting a very clear boundary with you and you disrespected her with a snarky comment. NotMore wanting to be touched is a very real boundary and she is a child- she is not responsible for making you feel better or comfort you. You may not like that, but she is her own person. Your comment then you calling the police on her was pure manipulation on your part. Plus there is nothing illegal about a child not wanting to do what you say so what a huge waste of tax payers money for you to waste police resources on your parenting. They would never put her in jail for the night for not listening to you. That’s not how it works, police are not there for you to to just take away people that don’t agree with you or to enforce discipline on your child. They have actual crimes to deal with. I hope you take the advice in this article and learn to stay calm.
  • Alexandra Okhotina
    I feel, that Sara's mom and Sara, Daniel's dad and Daniel should find a compromise, not argue, not getting in war with each other. Plus instead of the yelling and mean talk Sara can tell to her mother: " Mom, I'm upset, because you not letting me to have theMore sleepover with Lily, and Daniel could ask his dad nicely to lay the table this time. Each kid should be learned how to use any coping skills, which works for them.
  • Harry
    My daughter is a month off her 16th birthday, and you have just described her, Melissa. I actually laughed when I got to the end of what you wrote, as almost word for word is my experience. Whatever I do its my fault, my fault that we live in aMore step family she doesn't want to. My fault that her room is too small so she can't keep it tidy. My fault she can't get better grades, because she can't keep a study area clear, because the room is too small. Even my fault that the goldfish died!! If you found a solution, please let me know or my mental prolapse will be complete.
  • melissa
    My 16 year daughter fight constantly. She thinks that she is right about everything and nothing is her fault. She takes no responsability about anything and when I try to correct her it is automactally my fault no matter what. I don't want to fight all the time but IMore want her to realize when she does something wrong and to stop blaming everyone else. And my husband does not support me at all. He stays completely out of it even if he thinks I am right so I am the ONLY enemy. I get so sick and tired of it I don't know what to do anymore. I have tried just keeping my opinion to myself but then she gets mad for not talking. HELP
    • Harry
      Ah, I just notice, should've replied than started a new thread...
  • David4023
    To bad this isn't in chinese, maybe my wife and my step daughter might figure out how to stop fighting, I've tried desperately to advise my wife that "your" information comes from years of experience and knowledge but who knows if they will listen.
  • Truant concerned Mom

    I could relate to this article a lot, but I need more! Play the scenario through farther. What do I do? My 12 year old refuses to go to school, clean his room, eat meals, etc.

    So, youre saying I just tell him he needs to do these and then walk away? Then what? What will he do? What consequences can I use? So tired of the fights. Looking for the next article and more help!

    • Looking for answers
      @Truant concerned Mom  I don't have the answers but this sounds just like my almost 13 year old.  He thinks he would rather work than go to school and fights me on every little request.  I only write to say there are many that are in the same spot.  IMore don't want to miss anytime with him but in those moments I wish he were already grown.
  • SoIrritated
    Nothing in this article worked.
  • Corkey94
    My daughter is 5 years old, every time I tell her no or tell her yes but draw a limit to anything she wants to do. She screams, hits herself, kicks, yells, and everything else. I have went to numerous Dr 's to figure out what I could doMore but it never works. Her sister is starting to act her behavior as well I need help please what should or could I do?
    • Greimr
      Read the calm parent AM and PM. This is just a helpful article. If you want to get more in depth read the book. I know I'm going to.
    • DeniseR_ParentalSupport


      I hear you. It can be so distressing when it seems like

      every time you set a limit with your child, she acts out. It sounds like you’ve

      reached out for help but have not seen any success in changing her behavior.

      One thing I think may be helpful to know is that the behavior you describe is

      normal for a young child. At 5, your daughter is going to have a low tolerance

      for frustration and she most likely lacks skills for dealing with it

      effectively. So, when she gets upset or angry, she lashes out in an attempt to

      manage the situation. The most important aspect of managing this behavior is

      how you react in the moment when it’s happening. As Dr. Joan Simeo Munson

      explains in the article Hitting, Biting and Kicking: How to Stop Aggressive Behavior in Young Children, you

      want to be sure you’re not inadvertently reinforcing the behavior by giving it

      too much attention. Instead, you want to set the limit that the behavior isn’t

      OK and then walk an age appropriate distance away. If she tries to reengage

      with you, calmly let her know that until she calms down, you’re not going to be

      able to help her. Another important part of helping your daughter is having

      problem solving conversations that focus on more appropriate ways she can

      respond when she gets upset. For more information on problem solving

      conversations, be sure to check out Sara Bean’s article The Surprising Reason for Bad Child Behavior: “I Can’t Solve Problems”.

      We appreciate you writing in and wish you the best of luck moving forward. Take


  • anoynamouse

    I got NOTHING out of this article. I've tried everything here and twice and every night after school is a fight to the end with my 6 year. I simply feel that putting her in all day kindergarten was a massive mistake. It has changed her personality dramatically. She does fine in school, doesn't fight, attentive and polite. Comes home and it's battle (especially with my wife) until bed time. 

    We are the poster children as parents of calm and structured (without being ridged) and the kid has a great life. To listen to a 6 year whine like a 16 year is pretty much killing the buzz of childrearing and destroying my wife and our relationship.

  • Blakejing
    My daughter  keeps my wife and I fight all the time
  • Debbie
    Not sure if anyone is still replying to this thread. Today my 17 yr old son starting destroying property because he didn't get his way. I called the police, he is going to stay at a friends house for (my thoughts were a night or two) he saysMore we may not see him again because we called the police. Now what?
    • Marissa EP


      Hi Debbie, I am sorry you had to experience this behavior

      with your son today. It can be very scary when kids become violent or

      destructive when angry, and safety becomes our number one concern. You did the

      right thing in the moment, by calling the police, and taking some space from

      each other while he stays with a friend is also a good idea, to allow

      yourselves time to cool down.  Saying you may not see him again is your

      son’s way of trying to regain control of the situation, so we would recommend

      not giving that any attention, and instead focusing on a http://www.empoweringparents.com/the-surprising-reason-for-bad-child-behavior.php you can have with your son before he returns home. This would

      include having him make a plan for what he is going to do next time he gets

      angry, instead of destroying property. You can also hold your son accountable

      for the destruction by having him repair or pay for the damages. Kim Abraham

      and Marney Studaker-Cordner talk more about how to do that in their article

      entitled http://www.empoweringparents.com/is-your-defiant-child-destroying-or-damaging-property.php Best of luck you,

      and let us know if you have any more questions.

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