A child who would strongly lash out in his home and cause
damage told me in a conversation that he had done so because
he had asked for a specific toy and not received it.
As the conversation progressed, it became clear that the
child certainly understood that he wasn't behaving properly,
but he claimed, "I can't control myself."
I told him that I had the feeling that he never received
anything from his parents. "Of course I have," he said. "My
cupboard is full of toys, I have a state-of-the-art bicycle,
"åthat you blackmailed from your parents through aggression
and outbursts, but do you have the feeling that you ever r-e-
c-e-i-v-e-d something from them willingly?"
We began doing a mental inventory of the child's toys and how
he had gotten them and it turned out that each and every one
had been gained from cajoling, imploring, threats and
I told him that I would help him start receiving things for
the first time in his life only when he deserved them, but
before that, I would have to do a few things that would
ensure that from now on, no one would imagine giving in to
his threats and bad behavior and certainly not his outbursts.
I asked him if he agreed that I do this and he answered
The parents, as is always the case, were surprised to hear
the statement that they have not given their child anything,
but later they understood that they didn't give but were
extorted. At one point, the father remembered that he had
bought a book for his child without being asked. I apologized
for my premature assumption and asked him to explain why he
had decided to give his son the book. He answered: "I bought
a book for his younger brother's birthday and then I
remembered that if I didn't bring him one too, he would
overturn the house."
There are children who are born with a tendency towards
stubbornness and power struggles. Many of the parents are
certain that they are at fault. There are even those who
encourage the child's impression that if they are not happy,
they, the parent, are no doubt the reason. But that isn't the
case. The habit to give in to the demands of the child
because he has a fit doesn't satisfy him. On the contrary, it
starves him and increases his demands. Surrendering to him
also unsettles him, because he knows that receiving something
is dependent on his demands and the means he takes to acquire
them. When he doesn't demand, he doesn't annoy enough to get,
he feels something's missing and unsettled because he knows
that if he just makes a small effort, he'll get.
In contrast, a child who knows that his demands and requests
depend completely on his parents' wishes, and any attempt at
threats or outbursts will only distance him from the object
of his desire, is a more relaxed child because he knows that
his role ends at asking and it is his parents who will decide
whether or not to fulfill his request. He has no role other
than to request and when he's given a negative response, he
may be disappointed but not frustrated and restless. It's
clear to him that he won't get it, while his counterpart,
who's having a tantrum, is constantly occupied with trying to
break through the limits, conquering and gaining more
In general, the parents who give in prefer to buy peace by
giving in to the demands, and discover that each surrender
results in additional noise and leaves the child more control
in its wake. If they expected to see a happier and more
grateful child, they discover a bitter child with complaints,
mainly against them, the very ones who fulfill his
At one stage, and it always comes, the power struggles begin.
It happens when the child demands something that the parents
aren't able to give the child or are very much against and
then a situation is created where the parents vent all the
anger and pain that they are feeling on the child. Sometimes
they do supply the thing or the request, accompanied by anger
and accusations, until the next demand, the next power
struggle, the next surrender, the next venting.
How do you stop this?
Very simple. With one word. A magic word that if you use it
and only it, the whole crazy dance will end at once.
The word is "No!"
The word "no", when spoken gently, forcefully but not
provokingly, is a limit. A limit is not something damaging or
insulting. It is only a barrier keeping a person from
reaching places where he is liable to hurt or be hurt. The
moment that parents decide that a certain request is not
acceptable to them, they simply have to say no. They can
refuse one time, that's all. After that, they have to be
consistent in their refusal without expanding on it beyond
the word "no". Not to vent at the child, saying how bad he is
and lacking in good middos, not to hurt him but also
not to try to convince him or implore him to give up his
request. Just no.
In this way they gain a number of things:
a. His (unreasonable) demands are not met and he won't
proceed to the next one.
b. He suddenly discovers that he has parents who are
authoritative, who until now have hidden from him and given
in to his demands. This discovery makes him a calmer and less
c. When the word "no" is alone, unaccompanied by
explanations, the child is spared verbal or other abuse,
because the parents feel in control and don't feel the need
to vent at him in a way that's liable to hurt him. They just
say `"no" and that's it. d. The minute that the parents
discover that they have power and authority, they are free to
discover when the child really does deserve a reward, even
without his asking and then the parents experience giving and
the child, receiving.
After the stage of no more surrender comes the stage of
requiring the child to fulfill what is expected of him and
making sure that he does; to reward good and punish bad, in
contrast to the previous way, where the more he had a fit and
behaved badly, the more he received what he didn't
This advice is suitable for whoever is dealing with a child
who lacks limits and self-control. But there are sometimes
cases where advice isn't sufficient, when the parents are
worn out or don't have faith in their own power.
Today there are centers (for example, The Center for the
Child and the Family) that can help parents deal with
children who don't have limits and receive tools to
strengthen their parental authority.
At Schneider's Children's Hospital, there is a special center
that teaches Professor Chaim Omer's method of "Non-violent
Resistance." An article about it appeared two weeks ago in
There are very difficult cases where parents feel helpless
and have no idea how to cope with their children who have a
tendency towards stubbornness and power conflicts.
However, the most important thing is the parents' awareness
of the problem and their readiness to do everything in order
to provide their child with the most important things for his
development - educating and authoritative parents.