Main content

    News & Events - "Raise Winning Kids Without a Fight: The Power of Personal Choice"
    Sutter Center for Psychiatry Sutter psychologist's book helps parents encourage good behavior
    By Niesha Lofing

    Published: Tuesday, Feb. 23, 2010 - Parenting and the Winter Olympics have more in common than just the tear-jerking Procter & Gamble commercial.

    Both are once-in-a-lifetime opportunities and tests of physical and emotional fortitude.

    They are trials of skill, of adaptability.

    In Vancouver, a stumble often means defeat. In parenting, a fumbled conversation or a fight with a child feels like defeat.

    One Sacramento doctor is working to change that.

    Dr. William Hughes, director of family services at the Sutter Center for Psychiatry in Sacramento, recently published a book offering parents simple skills to encourage good behavior in children, thereby reducing stress for both parent and child.

    The step-by-step approach in "Raise Winning Kids Without a Fight: The Power of Personal Choice" (Johns Hopkins University Press, $15.95, 184 pages) and its accompanying Web site,, encourages parents to set expectations, monitor behavior and reward children for their efforts.

    The struggle between parent and child often starts as early as the "terrible twos," when children begin to assert their independence, he said.

    It can also mark the start of years of parent-child battles. A task as simple as toothbrushing can start a war between parent and toddler.

    "When they say 'No, I'm not going to do it,' I say 'OK, see you later, let's go to bed. I'm not going to fight with you,' " he said. "The response is often 'OK, I'll open my mouth.' "

    Books and parenting classes often focus on trying to get children to do something, but the problem with that approach is that parents need to acknowledge that people, including kids, have free will, Hughes said.

    "The problem is with the word 'make,' " he said. "If you make someone do something against their will, it doesn't produce a habit, it produces resentment.

    Repetition has to be paired with the ability to make a decision over and over. Then it becomes a habit."

    Another no-no parents often make is rewards.

    Hughes isn't against rewards. He's for them, just so long as they are given, or not given, appropriately.

    Put simply: Don't offer a child a reward as motivation to do something, and then if the child says no, make them do it anyway.

    "It undermines the reward," Hughes said.

    Instead, offer a reward if the task is accomplished, but be prepared to withhold the reward if the child doesn't earn it.

    "Acknowledging that they have a choice doesn't mean you're being a wimpy parent," he said. "It doesn't mean you're happy with their bad choice, but willing to let them make it. … The courage, the strength, the toughness of parenting is being able to say 'No, you didn't earn it.' "

    Like Olympic athletes know all too well, without a few losses, victory isn't as sweet.