Reasoning with Children? Parents, Don’t Abdicate!

Reasoning with children to obtain compliance without confrontation is a parenting approach in epidemic proportions and prolifically promoted on the web. People propose that children have a basic “need for power.” They suggest empathizing with a child’s anger and resistance until the child is willing to listen to reason.

The reasoning method comes from humanism, not the Bible.

While it is certainly biblical to give a gentle answer and to speak persuasively and lovingly, this practice of reasoning with children over an obedience issue is not biblical. It is a worldly method traceable back to at least the 1950s. Clinical psychologist Thomas Gordon believed that use of coercive power damages relationships, so he opposed authoritarian parenting. Children inherently resent anyone having authority or power over them and want to decide for themselves what behaviors to limit. Therefore, adults must use non-power, non-authoritative methods of raising children. 

In 1962, Gordon introduced the program Parent Effectiveness Training (PET). It is designed to encourage collaborative, cooperative relationships between parent and child. It quickly gained popularity.

PET taught the use of three key methods: active listening, I-messages, and No-Lose Conflict Resolution. An “I-message” is an assertion of the feelings or values of the speaker. “I feel frustrated that this room is a mess” rather than “Son, please clean up this room.” “I need you to pick up your toys” rather than, “Son, pick up your toys.” One goal is to give the child the opportunity to solve the problem. Empower the child. Another goal is to avoid blame by not pointing out faults.

By no-lose conflict resolution is meant arriving at a solution to which both parties agree. So, a parent is no longer to command her son to pick up his toys; she is to persuade him to want to pick up his toys.

What this all amounts to is negotiation. Rather than assert the authority a parent rightfully and necessarily has, parents are to pursue a collaborative, cooperative agreement–with a mere child! No wonder so many children don’t respect their parents. No requirement to comply; no blame for defiance; adults answering to the child; negotiating on equal terms; empowerment––no wonder today’s younger generation is being labeled narcissistic!

What about I-messages? Regarding “I need you to…,” Parent, why would you think your child cares about what you need? Regarding “I feel…,” if you understand the sin nature of a child, why would you expect a child to care about how you feel?

Parents have no right to abdicate.

There are two primary reasons why parents must unapologetically act on authority. I don’t mean legalistically authoritarian parenting. There are profitable times for parents to answer and explain many “whys.” I mean authoritative parenting, using a right and kind application of legitimate authority in obedience to God and for the good of the child. The foundational reason is God’s command. The horizontal reason is for the blessing upon and relationship with the child.

The issue of authority is at the very core of life. The first words of the Bible establish that: “In the beginning God created…” God’s commands to Adam in Genesis 1 and 2 establish the principle of authority and presume God’s supreme authority. Satan’s “Has God said?” first thing in chapter 3 shows the centrality of the issue. Adam’s sin was essentially a rejection of God’s authority. Authority is a foundational principle.

God Himself authoritatively commands parents to instruct and discipline as authorities, not as collaborators (Eph. 6:4). He unapologetically commands children to obey parents as authorities, not collaborators (Eph. 6:1-3). By subverting parental authority, the PET philosophy subverts God’s. While there is no warrant for harshness or selfishness, and while direct confrontation may not be the wisest course in every situation, parents don’t have the right to avoid being authoritative.

Your child’s right understanding of authority is essential for his welfare.

Every person must grapple the issue of authority. Whose agenda takes priority? Who rules? Who must submit to whom? Practically speaking, throughout his life your child will be responsible to comply with many authorities whether or not he agrees with them, or face unpleasant, even coercive, consequences. Would we rather he learn this hard lesson from those who mix compassion with the lessons or from the cold, cruel world after he leaves home?

Ultimately, our craving for control clashes against the granite wall of the sovereignty of God. Therefore, your child’s eternal life hinges on what he does when he hits that wall. The safest place to hit it is under the care of lovingly authoritative parents who will help him see the issue clearly with his welfare in mind. Don’t let the world deceive you into avoiding the concept of authority with your children.

What about the claim that children have a “need for power” and so adults must avoid asserting power? What a lack of understanding! Of course your child inherently resents anyone having authority over him and wants to decide for himself what behaviors he gets to do. Of course he wants power. So do you. So do I. It’s called pride. It is the sin nature (Rom. 3:23; Prov. 22:15). The Bible has pointed that out for millennia. A child needs to see that his “need for power” is actually his dominating drive of selfishness (2 Tim. 3:2). His “need to decide for himself” is a sinful demand for control to get his way. When he demands power, reasoning is not what he needs. The experience of running into your loving but firm authority is intended to help open his eyes to the fact that he is a willful sinner in need of a Savior. Parents who wisely and lovingly enforce their God-given authority do not damage relationships. They please God, shape wise children, cultivate peace and order in the home, and therefore build rewarding relationships.


See also the previous post Answering Why and the subsequent post Because I Said So


About Linda

Wifing, Singing, Studying, Counseling M.A. in Biblical Counseling Certified by Association of Certified Biblical Counselors
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4 Responses to Reasoning with Children? Parents, Don’t Abdicate!

  1. Hi Linda,

    Just letting you know that when I go your site, a pop up add takes over. It is necessary to just close the window, as it disables the browser’s back arrow. Also the ads on your page are pretty distracting.

    Thanks for the encouragement.

    In Christ, Debbie Klein

    Sent from my iPhone


    • Linda says:

      I so appreciate the feedback. I have started looking into what I can do about it. If you have suggestions, I’m open. It was thoughtful of you to let me know. Thanks. Linda

  2. Sherri says:

    I completely agree with you!! LOVE your book!

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