Why Parents Need to Be The Boss

Posted September 21, 2010 by

A big stumbling block for parents today is discipline. Some choose to avoid it altogether, while others struggle with what is appropriate. What do you do from day to day, moment to moment? One of the things I’ve noticed over the last twenty years is that parents’ confidence in discipline has suffered. Parents are tentative when it comes to exercising discipline and, when they do, they tend to bring a pretty weak effort.

This has come about for a couple of reasons. Today, parents have to spend so much time outside of the home that we feel guilty about it. Also, some want to be our child’s friend first and foremost. In addition, it seems like the rules for being a parent have changed over the years;  sometimes it’s difficult to know if you are being too hard on the kids. The tendency now is to maybe err on the side of Yes, when in the past No was the default. The issue here is that a bad Yes is much, much worse than a bad No.

We need to look at this challenge not as one solely about discipline but about leadership, because if you just try to be the disciplinarian without building a foundation where your child trusts and respects you, it will end in failure. Now, leadership can be an imposing word. A dad once said to me, “I don’t want to save the world; I just want to keep my kid out of trouble!” I assume most parents agree with that statement, so let’s work with something that anyone who has ever held a job understands: Parents need to be the boss.

Actually, I need to be more specific here. Parents need to be the good boss, not that bad boss who screams — and everyone ignores. That bad boss only worries about being the tough guy and not a leader, so we need to focus on what we need to do to be a leader and good boss.  If we can model how we “manage” our children based upon our own experience with a boss we truly respected, we can become leaders in our family, instead of frazzled passengers.

What do you think? How do you approach child discipline in your home? And are you a “good boss” or a “bad boss?”


John McPherson is a leadership and management consultant in Salinas, CA. John and his wife Christina have two children, Fiona and Carson. Both John and Christina’s parents had a great influence in their upbringing, which helped them define how they would parent their children. Over the past ten years, John observed how many parenting practices have strayed from the principles he and Christina have found to be successful, and this led him to write a book on parenting, entitled "Ten Simple Rules for Being a Parent in a World Turned Upside Down".

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  1. Raene (Edit) Report

    “We need to look at this challenge not as one solely about discipline but
    about leadership, because if you just try to be the disciplinarian
    without building a foundation where your child trusts and respects you,
    it will end in failure.”

    What do you suggest for how to build trust and respect when you’ve been too lenient and suddenly you have a pre-teen with a strong sense of entitlement who says things like “you’re not the boss”?

  2. MommaC (Edit) Report

    One of the biggest challenges with our ODD son is that he inherently resists the idea that we are in charge. He is 8 now, and even at 3 we were told he had an “overdeveloped sense of entitlement.” So, the concept of being the good boss is great….but I’d love to know what to do with a kid who still wants to be self-employed. Seriously….we’ve had chats about the merit of parents, and why we need them. 🙂 Great article. Our other 2 kids seem ok with having parents (lol) that while we offer them many choices and freedoms, at the end of the day are the final decision makers, and the buck stops with us. They respond well to the leadership….our oldest…not so much. Thanks for this forum!!!

  3. Sue Atkins (Edit) Report

    I love this whole concept. Children need you to be their compassionate, kind, authoritative leader and boss – guiding, nurturing and encouraging, praising, rewarding and cheering kids on with firm, fair and consistent discipline that is flexible as children grow and mature.
    Sue Atkins
    Author of “Raising Happy Children for Dummies”

  4. John McPherson (Edit) Report

    Remember, there are many, many things that she wants from you, both now and in the near future, that you have control over. “If you want X, then do Y” is a very effective technique. You just have to find the right X.

  5. Jan (Edit) Report

    I agree that I’m a parent first and must remind my daughter(14)of that often. For some reason, she thinks that she must be the adult and when things get too much for her, she runs back to me and wants me to be the parent. I’m also finding that when I ask her to do something, totally disregarded. I never raise my voice and always ask calmly. My request are always met with, “Yeah, ok.” What can I do?

  6. Kathryn S. (Edit) Report

    I agree with importance of the parent(s) as the team leader or “boss as facilitator” (of skill development, decision-making and learning). However, I have such strong-willed boys (4 and 8) that I do need to repeatedly emphasize that the parents ultimately have the final decision, without requiring an explanation or justification. That is my job. I am decision-maker and leader.
    Sometimes they complain I am not being their friend or not being nice. I learned to see this as another manipulation, and I am pretty good about letting my boys not like me or my decisions. They come around very quickly, and are often reassured that I stood my ground.

    My boys are also entitled, have learned to feel “special” (everyone is special these days)and try to exert leadership before their time amd beyond their capability. I remind them that I do expect them to become good leaders some day, but leadership is something they get to “grow into” and earn, over time. I also remind them that if and when they want to be the leader about something they also get all the drudge work and responsibilities that go with the position. It seems to make them think more about it and decide they aren’t ready for that role!

    Thank you for letting me post my 2 cents worth.

  7. juststacy (Edit) Report

    I agree with the boss/employee/team leader aspect. However, it does need to be noted that as a team (family) there is still an heirarchy. Just becuase we are a team doesn’t make us equal. Parents are still the boss and the children are still the kid that needs to be taught right from wrong through leadership and consequences as well.

  8. Bob M (Edit) Report

    I agree with most of what you’ve written with a nod towards the team leader aspect. However, parents have a lot against the leadership position they should be taking. One is our society’s emphasis on self importance. This has blurred the lines of authority, and the structure of the family unit is one of the victims. As children grow into middle school age they are influenced more and more by what they see (such as the interaction of characters in movies, TV, video games, and COMMERCIALS!), what they read, and what they hear. This is where they are picking up what they perceive as proper interaction between people, most of it wrong. They are growing up under these influences that tell them they are “equals”; that they deserve the same things as any adult, including the right to make their own decisions and equal authority over their lives. They are not equals in the sense of their maturity, and this is where the struggle begins. There is a lack of a proper balance between self worth and the worth of others. As long as our society emphasizes selfishness rather then selflessness it is only going to get worse, not better. By the way, this selfish nature society teaches our kids is also the root cause of the increase in bulling.

  9. ellenlebowitz (Edit) Report

    By definition, parents are the boss.

    Being a parent means exactly that. Parents are not supposed to be their kids best friends…they are supposed to parent.

    Thank you,
    Ellen Lebowitz

  10. Amazing Kids (Kama Wilson) (Edit) Report

    I actually respectfully disagree, with the terminology at least. I think parents need to be the team leaders, not the boss.

    Team leader indicates more clearly that the family is a team with both the parents, and kids, learning and growing.

    I think one of the biggest problems in America is this “boss” “employee” attitude. If I’m the employee, I don’t care about the whys, whats, or hows. All I care about is my paycheck.

    If a kid thinks you are the “boss”, they might obey you just to get their “paycheck” (i.e. good rewards, parental approval, etc.). However, when they become adults, they haven’t learned to make life-changing decisions for themselves. Their “boss” always did that for them. As team leader however, you as the parent, can help your child learn to make decisions, learn to carry responsibilities, learn to make good choices.

    Kids should be raised in a way that they don’t want to “get a new boss” or “find a new job.” Instead, they should grow into being leaders.

    So yes, I respectfully disagree.

  11. Elisabeth Wilkins, EP Editor (Edit) Report

    John, great post from you on this topic! I especially like how you talk about being “the good boss” as opposed to the boss who yells — and everyone ignores. Great advice — thank you!



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