4 Ways to Make Sure Kids Know You’re On Their Side

Kids have a different way of thinking about life and their experiences than we adults do. They have a tendency to blame themselves for other people’s behavior. And they often make up wildly inaccurate reasons for why things happen the way they do. That’s all perfectly normal and experience will eventually show them that they’re not responsible for their brother’s broken arm or for a huge snowstorm.

But sometimes it can be difficult for a child to distinguish between friend and foe from moment to moment, even in their own home. One minute we’re their hero because we let them have a special treat, then next, we’re the enemy who won’t allow them to go to the party, or draw on the walls, or run naked through the house.

And when a child thinks her parent is the enemy, the connection suffers and the child is less likely to cooperate in the future. That’s a huge reason why research has shown that punishment is actually counterproductive. Sure, it lessens the incidents of the offense when kids are in our presence, but overall, punishments teach kids to hide their actions, figure out ways not to get caught, and live a more secretive life.

If you want your kids to adhere to certain rules because they see the value of those rules, connection is the key and punishment is a losing strategy. So how can we be sure our children know that we’re on their side, even if we won’t let them do everything they want to do?

Here are four ways to be sure your kids know that you’re a team:

1)   Sit side by side

When we’re across from each other, we have a tendency to be more antagonistic, we often feel defensive, protective and fearful in this position, especially if the other person is larger, has more power, and is upset about something. Instead, try sitting side by side, which encourages teamwork and helps us feel like we’re working together to solve a problem.

2)   Help them win their argument

Help them win their argument—When a child is arguing his position it’s easy to produce a stronger argument or to simply say no. Instead, try helping your child to strengthen his argument. Give him insider tips to how to convince you to change your mind. And if it’s something you can wiggle on, allow your child to win the argument and convince you to change your mind. This gives kids a sense of power and accomplishment and it teaches them that you’re willing to work WITH them, rather than against them.

3)   Offer empathy

When your child is upset about something, don’t try to convince her out of her feelings, instead, reflect those feelings back to her so that she knows you understand. “Wow, you’re really upset about that. It sounds like you’re feeling sad right now, is that right?” When your child is having big feelings, avoid explaining your position, convincing her to feel differently, minimizing her feelings, or changing the subject. And make sure your child knows that it’s OK to feel the way she feels and that emotions are a normal and natural part of life.

4)   Explain the reason for the rules

If your child questions the rules, explain them to him. Do this only if your child is reasonably relaxed but is curious. “The reason we always hold hands when crossing the street is because there’s safety in numbers. If you fell down, I could help you up. And since I’m taller than you, people driving cars can see me more easily and they’re less likely to accidentally hit you. I want you to be safe, so that’s why we always hold hands when crossing the street.” Avoid pat phrases like, “because I said so” as they don’t give a child any additional information and they imply that you can arbitrarily set rules for no logical reason. From a child’s perspective this can seem much more like a dictatorship than a team.

By using these four strategies, you can help your child learn to trust that you’re on their side and that even when you’re enforcing rules that they don’t like, you’re doing it for the good of the family, and not just because you wan them to suffer.

I’m curious, have you used these strategies before? Do you think they’ve helped you maintain a closer connection to your child? Or are you struggling to resist the urge to punish your kids? I would love to hear about your experience. Please share your thoughts below.

And have a wonderful week!

Warmly, Shelly


I have a son that just recently turned 17 so I can now "speak with experience" to developing a good relationship when your children are young.  I chose to talk to my son, set appropriate boundaries, give him choices but not to use physical punishment.  This was challenging b/c I had to learn new ways of doing things since my parents had used physical punishment and that was what I knew.  I read many books and talked with parents that used the methods I wanted to mimic.  My son is responsible, able to make logical choices and has control over his behavior.  We have a good relationship with him and enjoy being together.  I definately think our choice of discipline has made all the difference in traits he has now cultivated and the relationship we have with him.  This site is a great resource and I wish more parents would make use of it as they think through what to do in raising their children.  You can never have too many good ideas! 

AwakeShelly moderator

 @Contemplate Thank you so much for your kind words about my website! And thanks too for sharing your experience. I am so glad to know that you were able to parent in a new way that gives you a great connection with your son. And I'm sure your son is incredibly grateful that you chose to say no to physical punishment. Hooray!


 @AwakeShelly I think when you are parenting you don't always know if you are "getting it right" until later on down the road.  So many times you just have to follow your gut and that does require that you are open to the child and their needs, personality and heart, etc.  Parenting is not easy.  Sometimes it is trial and error.  But I think that is what builds relationship with your child because you keep working at it until you get it right - at least for that moment!  

AwakeShelly moderator

 @Contemplate I agree! And I think it's never too late to connect with your child, or with anyone really. We're all just doing our best with what we've got and hopefully we're learning along the way.