Always Mean What You Say: The HOW of Parenting With Authority

by | Mar 7, 2013 | Parenting, Parenting Advice | 22 comments

For Tuesday’s post on WHY we practice Parenting With Authority, see here.

I started out to make a list of rules for Parenting with Authority. But it turned out that all the rules I wrote out just ended up coming back to one single concept: ALWAYS MEAN WHAT YOU SAY.   


That’s the whole method. But it wouldn’t make for a very long blog post. 

I want you to get your money’s worth. So let me flesh it out a bit for you.

First off, it works for every type of parent. Do you really, really want your kids to clear their dishes, or perhaps not run full speed into the parking lot because you’re too pregnant to catch them? Great. This will work for you. Just always mean what you say, especially about dishes and parking lots. Don’t mind if your kids eat pudding off their mittens?  


You don’t have to say any things about that.

It’s just that easy. But in case you have become accustomed to my super-duper long posts, here come a lot more words . . .  

1. ALWAYS MEAN WHAT YOU SAY: So when you say it’s time to leave the park, it IS actually time to leave the park.

If I say it’s time to leave the park, but then I don’t leave because the kids throw a fit or they “don’t hear me,” then my kids learn that I DO NOT always mean what I say. If they learn that they will ignore me and argue with me. I do not care for being ignored or argued with.

2. ALWAYS MEAN WHAT YOU SAY: And never lie to them. So I don’t say, “Nope, sorry, the crackers are all gone,” as I stash the rest of the crackers under the stroller. When what I mean is, “No sweetie, you may not have any more crackers. It’s okay to feel a little hungry, we’ll have dinner when we get home.” Or, “No, I brought those crackers for the baby. You’ll have to be a big girl and wait until we get to the car.” And that’s it. Mean what you say.    

3. ALWAYS MEAN WHAT YOU SAY: And get up when necessary. If I told him not to, and he still is, I’m going to have to get
up.  I get the concept well-ingrained in a toddler before the next baby comes along. It’s better not to start the process
when you’re nursing a newborn. Because a toddler will surely call your bluff.  

4. ALWAYS MEAN WHAT YOU SAY: Even if they are sad or mad or loud.  

Here’s a little play, by way of illustration.  

You: (taking your sunglasses back from baby) No, no, those belong to Mommy.


You: (giving your sunglasses back to baby) Okay, okay, sshhh, you can have them.

Baby: (addresses audience) Really, that’s all I have to do? That will not be a problem. THE WORLD IS MINE! <evil baby laugh>  

Don’t let this happen to you.  

5. ALWAYS MEAN WHAT YOU SAY: But obstinance is not a virtue.  

The answer should be “O-K Mama” 90% of the time. I say 90% of the time, because probably 10% of the time, they do have relevant information to share, and it will change my mind. That’s not the same as not meaning what you say. When I say something to my children, more often than not, they say something back. I begin by listening carefully, but if it’s just a bunch of nonsense that’s only going to waste everyone’s time, I don’t feel bad about cutting them off with an “O-K Mama” to remind them of the preferred response.

If they DO have new information, I can change my mind. I am always sure to be clear about why I am changing my mind, and to point out that it was only possible because the child presented his case calmly and without crying. I have a personal policy against changing my mind if my kids are whiny, even if they are also right.

6. ALWAYS MEAN WHAT YOU SAY: And have rules and keep them.
Established rules create comfort and clarity in a home. Without them, everything is up for discussion. And by “discussion” I mean whining, pestering, and finagling. For instance, in our house kids are allowed to play Wii under the following conditions (for more on this topic see here):

  1. Done with schoolwork, chores, and practices.
  2. Someone has agreed to play with you.
  3. It is dark, or raining, or over 100 degrees, or a Sunday.

So, when they ask me if they can play Wii, I can turn it around and ask them if they can. If they haven’t met the conditions, they can’t play. There’s no confusion so there’s no incentive to whine or pester or finagle.

I try to have set rules that explain how we’ll accomplish all of our routine activities. But they only work if I only very rarely bend or break them.    

7. ALWAYS MEAN WHAT YOU SAY: But you don’t have to be a bully about it.  

Hey, I married a Marine, so my kids get the concept of following orders, immediately and without question. But in practice they respond much better to, “Let’s gather up all the library books and get going, the library closes early today,” than they do to, “Stop reading that and put it in this bag.” Being consistent doesn’t mean being unpleasant. And yelling isn’t going to be effective if you don’t actually mean it, and if you DO mean it, you probably don’t have to yell (much). 

8. ALWAYS MEAN WHAT YOU SAY: Give clear consequences and then follow through with them. So I don’t say, “If you leave your clothes in the bathroom again I will make a big pile of all your clothes and light them on fire.”  Since I probably won’t do that. I DO say, “If you kick the counter again, you will stand for the rest of lunch.” Then I follow through if necessary. Be calm but firm. Don’t get mad. Just mean what you say.  

For excellent advice on particularly effective punishments, I like Discipline That Lasts a Lifetime by Dr. Ray Guarendi. Dr. Ray really focuses on the concept of consequences for kids, and the book is funny and charming.  

9. ALWAYS MEAN WHAT YOU SAY: And as far as I know you don’t have a crystal ball. I don’t ever get pressured into promising something that I can’t necessarily deliver. I won’t make promises about anything in the future: be it what they will have for snack when they wake up or whether they can do a particular craft after their school work is done. Because I don’t know the future. Say I tell my kids we can do a craft as soon as we’ve all finished our math lessons. What if IT TAKES THEM SOOOO LONG TO FINISH that Jesus comes back before we’re done? I would hate for my kids’ last earthly thought to be, “Hey, she said we could make play dough.”

I will take a quick moment here to say that always meaning what you say doesn’t mean that life doesn’t sometimes get in the way. Plans do change. Kids need to be able to learn to handle disappointment and control their emotions.

I never promise to “make it up” to them, or say they can go next time for sure, because I don’t know what’s going to be happening next time. In fact I never say “I promise” to them at all. It’s right there in the sermon on the mount: “But I say to you, Do not swear at all, either by heaven, for it is the throne of God, or by the earth, for it is his footstool, or by Jerusalem, for it is the city of the great King. And do not swear by your head, for you cannot make one hair white or black. Let your word be ‘Yes, Yes’ or ‘No, No’; anything more than this comes from the evil one.” (Matthew 5:34-37)

I happen to think “We’ll see, We’ll see” is okay too.

10. ALWAYS MEAN WHAT YOU SAY: And convince them that resistance is futile. I have no idea if this is true, and Google wasn’t particularly helpful when I tried to figure it out, but let’s just pretend it’s true, for argument’s sake. I heard once that if you have two aggressive fish in a tank, you can put a clear divider in there and the fish will throw themselves at it and try to attack each other for a while. But eventually, they will decide it’s not possible to get through. Then you can remove the divider and they’ll just each stay happily on their own side, because they are convinced that they won’t be able to get through.

That’s the goal of Parenting With Authority. If your kids are utterly convinced that you ALWAYS MEAN WHAT YOU SAY, then why in the world would they bother to not listen to you? They know it won’t work. And they know they’ll just get in trouble.

But if sometimes you mean what you say, but mostly you give in, (especially if you give in because your child is sad or mad or loud) all you do is teach them that being sad or mad or loud is the way to accomplish things. You force them to be unhappy so that they can get what they think they want. BUT, if being sad is NEVER an effective way to get what they think they want, children quickly realize that they might as well be happy.

I wouldn’t want to be a person whose kids listen to their teachers and coaches and tutors, but don’t listen to me, because I do NOT always mean what I say.

My kids are still often lazy, or selfish, or forgetful, or even argumentative, but they are almost never willfully disobedient. Because they are at least as smart as fish.


  1. Jeannie

    Love it, Kendra. Thanks for the reminder about pleasantness.
    The kids aren't the problem when leaving the park, it's me. I have a great time and get caught up in talking with everyone and sometimes I don't want to leave but I have to. 🙂

  2. Monica McConkey

    great post again, Kendra! Wow, I wonder if that really works with fish! I think I'll start using the "we'll see, we'll see"…thought I think if it turns into alot of pestering, I might just blurt out "NO" (and not all that graciously!) It seems as though pestering isn't allowed in your home…I'd like to get there too. =)
    Hmmm….second time I've heard you use "eating pudding with mittens"…I think I'm with you on that one too. =)

  3. Nanacamille

    Betty's dislocated elbow at 2 yrs old is a result of Mom saying saying it's time to leave the park and Nana pulling on a reluctant 2 yrs old. I'm doing better now when it's time to leave the park and still meaning it.
    The worst example of discipline I have ever experienced is when I lived out at the beach on Long Island, NY with a bunch of flight attendants. With windows open in the summer the mom next door (and you have to imagine the accent for yourself) yelled at her kids all day long saying "Boy are you going to get it when your father gets home". When the father got home he yelled at the mother for not taking care of the problem before he got home. As you can imagine it was not a happy home life and the kids ran wild. They are all probably incarcerated by now.

  4. Janet Dubac

    Wonderful post! Indeed, one of the most important principles of parenting is consistency. By saying what we mean and meaning everything that we say, we are helping our children to become responsible adults.

  5. Amanda

    Thanks for this post. That is how I was raised, and how I parent too. I will admit to bending a bit since I'm 30 weeks pregnant and having a hard time getting around, but mostly, my kids know that my no is no and my yes is yes.

  6. Jenny

    I might have to print this out and nail it to a wall in every room in the house.

  7. Christine

    I try to do this, but some of your tips helped me realize new ways to do so. I copied-and-pasted parts of this, and e-mailed them to my husband so we can discuss them tomorrow. Thanks for this post!

  8. Cynthia

    Hi Kendra! I am a new follower of your blog and have to tell you how much I loved this post. So helpful with where I'm at as a mother of three little ones. Thank you for the great advice!

  9. Steph

    This is actually exactly what I've been trying to do with my toddler. The problem I'm having is coming up with appropriate consequences for disobedience. Sometimes it's easy ("you rip that book again and I'll take it away"), but for something like getting into a cupboard that he's not supposed to be in I don't know what to do. He still seems a bit young for time out, and I don't like the idea of corporal punishment at this age. Any suggestions?

    • Kendra Tierney

      Well, I've got a 21 month old, so I'm guessing we're in the same boat here. For my son, I do a combination of time outs and corporal punishment. Sometime between 12 and 18 months, my kids seem to be able to understand the concept of a time out. More often than not, they require constant supervision to remember to STAY in the time out, but still it can be effective.

      You can also have a pack and play set up in the living area if you don't want to worry about him staying in a sitting position. I don't use pack and plays for playing, but they make great baby jails.

      I understand that many people have a very natural reluctance to use corporal punishment, and I think that toddlers can be effectively disciplined without it. BUT it is going to take MORE time and effort on your part.

      Toddlers need immediate consequences. So if my son pulls away from me in a parking lot and runs off, he needs to be punished right then. So my choices are, go back to the car and sit there having a time out, or give him a spanking on the hand. Both are effective. One is a huge inconvenience for my family, the other is not.

      I have never experienced ANY emotional or behavioral issues in my children related to hand (for small infractions) or bottom (for large ones) spankings. I spank only when my own emotions are under control, and I have found that it's often a much LESS stressful punishment for all involved. Especially if you have a child who will escalate the situation by refusing to sit in a time out. A hand spanking is quick and done and the child doesn't have the option to make things worse.

      When my son gets a hand spanking, he immediately turns right back to me (the person who gave it to him!) for comfort. So I hug him and he feels better and off he goes.

      It's often a much bigger ordeal if I have to stand watch over him in a time out.

      But again, it's personal preference, and I think either can work well. Good luck!

    • Steph

      Thank you. Yes, there's definitely a lot to think about. I think my little guy would probably catch on to the concept of a time-out pretty quickly. I guess what's been holding me back is that I'm almost certain that he would need constant supervision, which just sounds tiring. Anyway, I will think about it because it's pretty clearly time to do something. I've noticed that the behaviors that I do have effective consequences for are much less of a problem than the ones that I don't. My son is 21 months as well 🙂

  10. Suzette

    I want to say that I have been looking for a blog to help me in making choices and raising my kiddos. Auntie Leila of LMLD is so wonderful and I really put you up on level with her. Thank you so much for blogging. You are helping this naive young momma make more sense of life with babies and toddlers.

  11. Jennifer S.

    So glad I have discovered your blog. This was a good reminder for me, plus hearing how these concepts actually work in the real world for someone else is really helpful for me.

  12. Catie

    Great reminders for me, Kendra. My problem, I think, is that I say too much. I need to learn to pick my battles. I feel like I am constantly giving orders.

  13. Jessica

    This is wonderful! Thank you. It gives me confidence. What do you do when (not if) they inevitably disobey? My three year old is sweet, not intentionally naughty, but very independent-minded (much like her mama). If she is busy, she ignores me when I say things like "go get in your seat for lunch please." We use a lot of natural consequences (don't want to put your pjs on? Oh well, guess we won't have time to read a story, darn), but I can't figure out what the natural consequence is when she disobeys and doesn't care that she's missing out on a meal/a story/a craft. We use time out sparingly but effectively – just keep at it? She likes to negotiate (again, my genes) and I want to tread carefully as I certainly still want her to be independent-minded later in life. I don't want to browbeat it out of her. I would so appreciate your advice! Thank you!

    • Kendra

      Yes! I love natural consequences, and prefer to use those whenever possible. When it's NOT possible we use time outs and spankings (usually hand, sometimes bottom). I go into more detail in a couple other posts: How to be the Boss of a One Year Old, and Cryin' Babies go to Bed.

      I agree about encouraging independence and confidence, but we do that by encouraging the kids to try new things, and do things on their own, and by gracefully accepting things they make for us (food, art, etc.) but we see obedience as a different skill to teach. It's not contrary to independence and confidence, it's just a different skill that you need to have so you can use it when it's necessary.

  14. Mia Jude

    My son asks for things over and over even when we've already told him "no." He is 3 and a half. Recently we've been letting him play with the iPad more than usual because 1. My husband was gone for an entire week and in nursing a newborn while caring for an 18 month old and 3 year old 2. Then after that stomach bugs and colds entered our house which limited us from going outside. So now that things are getting back to normal I'm limiting the iPad time again. My son asks for it ALL day long I calmly say "no not today. You played with the iPad a lot yesterday so today we are going to play with other toys." He continues to ask and ask and ask even when I say no. He asks until he cries. I might explain one more time why I'm not letting him play with the iPad but then eventually I just ignore his requests until he gives up. Sometimes when I forget to put the iPad way he takes it upon himself to get it and start playing with it himself without asking. That's when we punish him with a timeout. If he is defiant and argumentative we spank. Right now I'm in the process of doing an iPad "detox." I've done this before after he threw tantrums over it. I take the iPad way for a few days until he stops asking for it and stops throwing tantrums for it. Eventually I give it back and let him okay with it on my time schedule. How would you go about this? Is ignoring a nagging child a bad tactic? Even after I explained myself multiple times? I know that a lot of this is my fault for letting him play with the iPad more than usual during times of stress for me. He repeatedly asks for the iPad like this and certain food items. He's not as defiant when we say "no" to certain foods he is asking for (cookies and cereal all the time)… But the iPad.. Man he just doesn't stop asking for it some days. I even try to distract him or divert his attention to another activity. Sometimes that doesn't even work.

    • Kendra

      This is hard. I have a bunch of kids who enjoy using the iPad and a couple of kids for whom the iPad is like crack. I think a detox is a great solution when he's out if control like this, but, for us, the key has been having really clear expectations. For a kid who really REALLY loves screens, the feeling that it's a possibility is enough to drive them insane. So we have really clear and consistent rules about circumstances under which we can use screens. When extraordinary circumstances like you guys had happen, I'm really clear about why we are going against our normal rules and really clear that this does NOT mean that the normal rules have changed. I still plan to have to remind them that we are back to normal rules, but I find that there is less freaking out if they really understand and believe the rules. If the rules are haphazard then they're constantly jonesing for it. If they understand that it's really not going to happen, they seem to be able to move on with their little lives.

      With all my kids, but ESPECIALLY with my kids who have an unhealthy attachment to screens, I really do feel an obligation to teach them how to properly enjoy screens and how to put them in the right order in their lives. So, it's always my hope not to have to cut them off entirely in the long term.

    • Mia Jude

      Thanks! We are on day 3 with no iPad and he has not asked about it yet today. He has been happily reading books and playing with other toys. And I'm glad we see finally getting back to our normal routine around here. We are definitely going to start hammering down some specific rules when it comes to screens. I can tell my 18 month old daughter is already loving screens by watching her brother!

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Hi! I’m Kendra.

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