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Ethical Parenting: Parent-Child Conflict

images“I was a wonderful parent before I had children.” ~ Adele Faber.

I remember when I became a parent. Within the first two years of parenting my child I became aware of this enormous sense of gratitude. My parents had come to visit and on one occasion and I pulled my mother aside. I said, “Thank you.”

She responded, “For What?”

I said, “For not killing any of us children when we were growing up.”

There was never any doubt about my well-being or that of my siblings when growing up. Becoming a parent put me in touch with the incomprehensible responsibility and patience required of this commitment. I often reflect on the wisdom shown by my parents in regards to problem-solving. My father would never tell any of us children what to do, even when we asked for his guidance. My mother adopted the same approach. It was often frustrating. I wanted my parents to take a stand, to tell me the right thing to do, and to declare their view. It almost never happened.

My parents did use discipline when rules were broken. However, conflicts were another matter. My parents taught conflict resolution by way of sitting in the stew long enough for a resolution to occur. They didn’t believe in an easy way out. An easy way is when someone tells you what to do. I figure they were the best instructors for my eventual life path of working as a mental health professional.

There are many models for resolving conflict. I like one of them for its ease of use and applicability to many contexts, such as home, school, work, and among colleagues.

The Eight-Step Model for Resolving Ethical Dilemmas has been written about by many authors. I am not sure who to credit with the original design or premise, but it was used in Celia Fisher’s text titled, Decoding the Ethics Code: A Practical Guide for Psychologists. I will list Dr. Fisher’s steps toward ethical decision-making. We will then look at how they can be applied to parenting.

Step 1: Develop and sustain a professional commitment to doing what is right.

Step 2: Acquire sufficient familiarity wit the APA Ethics Code General Principles and Ethical Standards to be able to anticipate stations that require ethical planning and to identify unanticipated situations that require ethical decision- making.

Step 3: Gather additional facts relevant to the specific ethical situation from professional guidelines, state and federal laws, and organizational policies.

Step 4: Make efforts to understand the perspective of different stakeholders who will be affected by the decision and consult with colleagues.

Step 5: Apply Steps 1 to 4 to generate ethical alternatives and evaluate each alternative in terms of moral theories, General Principle and Ethical Standards, relevant laws and policies, and consequences to stakeholders.

Step 6: Select and implement an ethical course of action.

Step 7: Monitor and evaluate the effectiveness of the course of action.

Step 8: Modify and continue to evaluate the ethical plan if  feasible and necessary.

If we then take Dr. Fisher’s steps and apply them to the parenting profession they can be restated in the following manner:

Step 1: As  parents we sustain and make a commitment to do what is right in our family and in relation to our children.

Step 2: Parents familiarize themselves with the Parenting Principles for Ethical Parenting. They make a commitment to understand the principles of Beneficence and Nonmaleficence, Fidelity and Responsibility, Integrity, Justice, and Respect for People’s Rights and Dignity. Parents develop a design for standards that are enforceable. Parents learn the difference between guiding principles and enforceable standards. Punishment is to be avoided in favor of discipline that teaches a desired behavior connected to ethical responsiveness.

Step 3:If a parent child conflict concerns a school problem with a teacher the ethical parent gathers information before marching into accusations or position-taking. If the conflict concerns another child the ethical parent gathers facts.

If the conflict is between you and your child seek to understand what else you need to know.

For example, let’s assume the problem is homework. You want your child to do it before dinner and your child wants to rest after school and do the homework closer to bedtime. There are merits both ways with this potential conflict.

By gathering information you may come to find that children need at least ten hours of sleep to be fully rested most of the time. What is the family orientation to after school-dinner-bedtime? How much time do your have available and how much time is involved in the homework assignment? Consult the board of education on homework. Many states indicate that a teacher cannot give more than twenty minutes of homework per subject per night. Find out what your board of education says on this and if necessary be prepared to advocate on your child’s behalf with the teacher if homework falls outside the recommended parameters.

Once you have facts in hand you can discuss with your child the merits of doing homework any number of ways. I know parents whose children get up an hour earlier in the morning to do their homework for the next day.

Step 4: Seek to understand your child’s view. Using the above example make sure you know why your child wants to wait on the homework. Is she tired? Is it too hard? Does your child need some reward of free time before going back to work? Does your child need your help? Seek to understand what influences your child’s preference. Both parents need to seek to be on the same page. Understand the teacher’s expectations. Take into consideration the entire family and allow that knowledge to help guide you in your formulation of how to proceed with conflict resolution.

Step 5: Generate alternative options. What are all the choices that appear available for resolving the conflict? Avoid authoritarian conflict resolution styles, such as, “Do it because I said to do it.” This sends the wrong message to children most of the time.

Make a list of all the possible choices and present this to your child for consideration either verbally, in writing, or both.

Step 6: Choose a plan of action for your parent-child conflict resolution.

Step 7: Monitor the effectiveness of your choice. Seek feedback from your child and other family members.

Step 8: Modify your decision if necessary and continue to reflect and re-evaluate the effectiveness of your choice.

How do you feel this would work in your family?

Thank you and Be Well.

Nanette Burton Mongelluzzo, PhD

Fisher, C. Decoding the Ethics Code: A Practical Guide for Psychologists. Thousand Oaks, CA., Sage Publishing, 2013.


Ethical Parenting: Parent-Child Conflict

Nanette Burton Mongelluzzo, Ph.D.

Nanette Burton Mongelluzzo, Ph.D. works in private practice as a psychotherapist. Nanette works with children, adults, adolescents, couples, and families. She also works as a consultant with public and private schools on issues ranging from suicide and violence prevention to topics on mental health issues affecting youth. She is the author of Entering Adulthood: Understanding Depression and Suicide, 1990,The Everything Self-Esteem Book with CD, 2011, and A Comparative Case Study of the Elderly Women Beggars of Central Mexico, 2006. She frequently appears on radio and television covering community mental health topics such as the Arizona wild fires in the summer of 2011 and the Gabrielle Gifford shooting in Tucson, Arizona.

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APA Reference
Burton Mongelluzzo, N. (2014). Ethical Parenting: Parent-Child Conflict. Psych Central. Retrieved on June 6, 2020, from


Last updated: 1 Dec 2014
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