The Circle Line


What does it mean for a child to be "naughty"?
And how do you deal with it?


There is an automatic power imbalance in a family; you are big and powerful and your child is small and helpless. The oppressive or submissive behaviour you show as a parent will set a blueprint for your child into adulthood. As a parent, how do you exercise your power?

What's "Naughty"?

When a child “acts out” they are expressing a need or an emotion.

What is Discipline?

Imagine that your child is running up and down the supermarket aisle and you want them to stop. If you can make them stop and hold your hand quietly like a good little boy/girl, you will have manifested your power.

They are small and you are big. You can grab their hand, or pull them to you or lift them up if you want. This is an example of crude physical power.

If you can get them to “behave” without using physical force you are using your psychological power. This depends on your capacity to ignite their energy to cause them to do what they don’t want to do.

All psychological power plays depend on obedience. You can intimidate them or persuade them with treats. You can cause them to feel guilty and give up their running. You can bully or threaten them with punishment, or use the sheer volume of your voice. You can trick them or lie to them (“Everyone is looking at you”). You can entice them with a smile, or with a promise, or you can convince them that being quiet and holding your hand is necessary for Santa to come.

Whatever your method, if you overcome their resistance without using physical force, you have used your power, which relies on obedience on their part. This is often through the creation of anxiety.

Identifying Uses of Parental Power

Discipline in response to a child’s behaviour can be expressed in both subtle ways and in obvious ways. All aim to control a child’s behaviour and how they are in the world.

We can identify all misuses of power in four ways:

When is it ok to use the above types of crude power on children? Is it ever? The answer, we believe, is no.

Most of the oppression children experience is psychological. But physical oppression is all around and under the surface, backing up our psychological power.

We must all be alive to how we use personal power to control children.

You are big. They are small and helpless. We usually need less power than we think.


There is always help available to learn effective parenting behaviours. If you are impacted by this article speak with one of our therapists today.


Written with thanks and acknowledgment to Claude Steiner: quoted from The Heart of the Matter, 2009

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