The Facts about Changing Others

The third practice for parenting without stress and for raising responsible children is called Reflection. In order to understand the power and significance of reflection, you need a clear understanding of two basic facts of life:

  • The first is that any control of another person is temporary.
  • The second is that attempting to control another person is really an attempt to change that person.

As long as we believe that we can change another person, there is a natural tendency for a parent to employ force or coercion, especially when the young person doesn’t do what we want.

Just for a moment, think of one person with whom you have had a personal relationship—a child, spouse, significant other, parent, fellow worker, or friend. Now, answer the following two questions to yourself: (1) Have you ever changed that person? (2) And if the person did change, did you do the changing or did that person actually make the change?

A fact of life is that no one can change another person; we can only change ourselves.

Certainly, a parent can control a young child by using authority—as, for example, when a parent “grounds” a son or daughter or sends the child to a “timeout” area. But temporary compliance does not mean that we have changed the way the other person wants to behave or might behave in the future, especially when we are not present. People may be controlled by others, but they are not changed by others.

Please note that the point here is not whether a parent should exercise authority. There are times when using authority is not only appropriate but necessary. The point is that attempts to control and/or change someone else by using authority is temporary, prompts stress and poor relations, and is the least effective approach for actuating change in another person.