Parent Counseling: Parent-Child Conflict: Win-Win

By Nadia Khan

Updated December 20, 2018

Reviewer Ema Jones, LCSW

Parents and their children will experience conflict. This is inevitable and this conflict rarely occurs because the child is incorrigible, or bad. More often than not, parent and child conflicts occur due to parenting styles that clash with the reality of child development. Parenting styles evolve from a number of factors including: culture, how one was raised, adopted and adapted styles shared by parents, as well as re-marriage, blended families, and co-parenting.


Most parents recognize that their child has a will of his or her own around the time the child begins to learn verbal and non-verbal communication skills. What the parents may not realize is that the source of conflict does not necessarily arise when a child first communicates opposition to a parental command or a rule (Jutengren & Palmèrus, 2007), but may arise out of how the parent feels about and addresses the child's opposition.

When parents are authoritarian in their parenting style, they typically feel they are the final say, that no is no, and there is no discussion. Authoritarian style parents have difficulty adjusting their compass simply because a child is having a bad day, or that the child is circumventing a developmental milestone that also includes defiance.

Conversely, the parent who adopts the authoritative style of parenting is more democratic in his or her approach to behavioral expectations and discipline (García & Gracia, 2009). They recognize the value of balancing their relationship with their child, viewing their child with (borrowing the Rogerian term) unconditional positive regard. in other words demonstrating empathy, acceptance and understanding. Generally, these parents help children know what is and is not acceptable and generally the children abide by it. Does this mean that conflict does not arise? No. It merely means the parent is going to deal with the source of the conflict in a different manner, which in turn re-writes the script for conflicts arising over behaviors.


There are self-help books published by the thousands each year on parenting. So, it is not exactly accurate to say that children do not come with a manual. Even though the majority of children progress according to the Piagetian model for child-hood development ,they do also come with different temperaments which are heritable traits, but also fluid depending upon environment and parenting styles.

Children from non-Western cultures do follow the typical developmental milestones; however, their parents have different expectations and disciplinary styles. A great deal of conflict between parents and children from non-Western cultures arise when the child is adapting or assimilating into American culture (Zhai, 2017). American children typically are granted a great deal more latitude regarding the ability to express themselves when conflicts arise.


When conflicts between parent and child arise, this does not mean the child is bad, and it does not mean the parent or parents are bad. It just means they are different. That is what conflict is, two opposing forces colliding. When these collisions occur they often leave both child and parent feeling embattled, and sad (Gerard, Krishnakumar, & Buehler, 2006). This is what happens when there is a rift between two people who love one another. Parents tend to carry the burden of guilt following conflicts, and may in turn feel they are horrible parents. Feeling guilt is nonproductive and may further harm the relationship between parent and child.


Often parents, especially single parents, will feel incredibly isolated when they are at odds with a child. This is normal; however, also very painful to the parent. Understanding the source of conflict is the first step to resolving the guilt. Parent counseling or therapy can be very helpful to parents who need help in understanding or dealing with parent-child conflict.

Conflicts of any kind are often resolved when one side defeats the other. However, no caring parent truly wants their child to be utterly defeated. Parents may want the child to behave a certain way. They might want their child to obey them easily. However, what they can learn through therapy is that both parent and child can win once the conflict is managed or resolved in a positive way.

When a parent-child relationship has gotten to the point that neither parent nor child can be a winner, the best solution is usually to take a step back and reassess goals.What does the parent expect from the child? Is it a reasonable expectation? What can they do if the child has other ideas or feelings? A therapist can help the parent reevaluate their expectations. They can help them learn a more advantageous parenting style as well as techniques to deal with specific behaviors.

Parents sometimes resist going to counseling for parent-child conflicts because they fear they will be harshly judged. However, the role of the counselor is to work with the parent, not against them. Therapists are aware that the parent is the one who has the most power to bring positive change. They see the parent's wellbeing as a crucial part of a peaceful home environment.

There was a time when counseling for parent-child conflict began with the child. The child might go to a therapist for play therapy or even individual counseling. While some children still need to go to counseling in certain instances, therapy for parent-child conflicts is now typically focused on the parentbecause the parent has the greater capacity to make changes that are reasoned and beneficial.

Parents are often so worry-worn and overstressed that they need a few sessions to learn how to be gentle with themselves as they deal with the tense conflicts at home. As the guilt begins to ease, they often start seeing hope where they once saw despair. The conflict may diminish somewhat at this point, because the parent is more relaxed and positive already.

The parent learns about herself or himself as well as their child. The counselor can help them identify problems that the child may not yet be able to understand their own emotions or behaviors. Since the parent is presumably more mature and has more life experience, it is usually easier for the parent to look at the conflict objectively when guided by a knowledgeable therapist than it would be for the child.

In this way, parent counseling can provide a type of education for the parent that they may not get any other way. Rather than learning just about how the typical parent might deal with the typical child, they learn about themselves and their child specifically. This knowledge then provides the basis for better understanding.

Yet, a more complete resolution requires the parent to dig deeper to identify the part they are playing in continuing the conflict. They may at first think that the child is the sole source of their problem. However, when they look closer at their own behavior, they can begin to see how their responses to the child's behavior make all the difference.

When a parent finds out they are contributing to the conflict, they may indeed feel incredible guilt. The good news for them is that they can change the way they behave in response to their child's behavior. What is in their power to do is also in their power to do differently.

Often, sessions will end with an assignment for the parent. The counselor might request the parent to identify a certain type of situation with their child in the days following the therapy session. At first, the assignments might be more about observing what happens rather than doing anything to make changes. Later, the assignments might be geared toward resolving the conflicts as soon as the problem behavior is identified.

During subsequent sessions, the parent can describe the situation and get feedback about their assessment of it. The counselor can often give them greater insight into the child's perspective. If the parent responded to the child in suggested ways but the conflict continued, the therapist can shed light on what might have gone wrong. A reevaluation of the techniques the parent used might yield a new plan for dealing with that conflicted situation in the future.

When parents have the wisdom to begin therapy to resolve parent-child conflicts, they also need to be aware that therapy usually takes some time. No counselor can wave a magic wand at a child and make her or him a perfect child. They can't create a perfect parent in an instant, either. The parent needs to go into therapy with the mindset that there will likely be some trial and error as they and the counselor explore their unique family situation and the relationship between the parent and their child.

As the counselor teaches parenting techniques to the parent, the parent becomes a better-equipped teacher for the child. This is essential to the parent-child relationship. With it, the parent can lovingly teach the child what they need to know to thrive not only in the family but also in the larger world.

Learning parenting skills from the counselor or therapist also allows the parent to move on from therapy as they gain the skills and proper mindset for resolving parent-child conflicts. Once the parent develops the skills to create a win-win situation where both child and parent benefit from the resolution, their home will be more peaceful, their child will be better-adjusted, and the parent will be able to relax into their role in a way they never dreamed they could.

If you need consultation about your parenting skills, BetterHelp can provide you all the help you need. They have licensed therapists who can greatly contribute to your concerns on parenthood.

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