Avoiding Coercion (Negative Interactions): Part 2

Written by Wayne Sager, M.A., BCBA

In Part 1 of this series, we learned about learn about what coercion is in parenting/care-giving, why we use it, how it can negatively impact our interactions, and how to avoid it.  In this blog, we will learn more about commonly used coercives and why it is best to use other strategies.

Coercion defined

Coercion is the act of a person trying to change another’s behavior using negative or aversive interactions (force, threats, etc.).  Coercion occurs immediately after the inappropriate behavior of your child.

Twelve Common Coercives, and Why We Should Avoid Them

·  Questioning: “What were you thinking?”  Rhetorical questions, questions that you already know the answer to, and rapid fire, interrogation style questioning should all be avoided here.  Immediately following the problem behavior is not a good time to get credible information.  Plus many times, kids don’t know why they do what they do anyway.

·  Arguing: We want to change their minds, but arguing rarely works.  If you want to change their minds, have the conversation at a cool time away from the time of the inappropriate behavior

·  Sarcasm:  “Nice shot, buddy!”  Saying one thing but meaning another.  Sarcasm often contains a bit of criticism of another’s behavior.  Many times kids just don’t get it, but even if they do, making our kids feel bad about their inappropriate behavior isn’t a great way to teach them how to handle the situation in the future.

·  Criticism:  “You’ve got to be pretty stupid if you think that crying is going to work on me.”  Here we are talking about criticizing your child’s inappropriate behavior.  Much like sarcasm, but much more direct.

·  Threats: “or else” Telling them that if they don’t stop they will receive some punishment.  Unfortunately, because we are reacting in the moment, we deliver these threats inconsistently and often we threaten things that we can’t really follow through on.  “If you don’t stop, Santa won’t come this year.”  If they don’t stop and we follow through, everybody’s Christmas is ruined.  If they don’t stop and we don’t follow through, our word becomes meaningless.  Either way we all lose and the child hasn’t really learned how to handle the situation in the future.

·  Force (verbal and physical):  Yelling, spanking, hitting, etc.  These traditional forms of punishment are much more difficult to use correctly than most people think.  To have a lasting effect on behavior the punishment has to be severe and consistent.  In most cases, this is not ethical and sometimes it is not legal either.  You may also run into recovery of the problem behavior, necessitating further punishment.  Many children will also learn that force is an acceptable solution when someone has upset you, and then may try to spank or hit their peers during conflict.  Once again, a better approach involves teaching the child what they should do in that situation.

·  Lecturing:  “If you throw the ball in the house, you could accidentally break something or hit someone and if you hit someone they could get seriously hurt and have to go to hospital.”  “You could poke their eye out and you could blind them or give them a concussion and cause them to get very bad headaches and you wouldn’t want to give me or your dad a really bad headache, would you?”  Lecturing involves telling them why they should do the behavior in more than 2 brief statements.  If they really don’t know why they shouldn’t do what they are doing, you may explain in 1 or 2 brief statements.  Anything more, and you have likely lost their focus anyway and they are getting a whole lot of attention for doing an inappropriate behavior.

·  Despair (pleading, helplessness):  “I asked you to stop throwing the ball”  “Please stop throwing it.”  “Mommy had a horrible day at work and I have such a pounding headache, so please just be good and listen to Mommy tonight.”  It may be true, but certainly isn’t a long term solution to any problem.  When you feel better, teach them a better way to get their needs met in that situation.

·  Sudden subtraction:  Taking away privileges, items, allowance.  If things are taken away in the moment, we are rarely consistent and most likely not predictable for our children.  Instead, set it up with your children that they have to do certain things in order to get their privileges.  If they don’t do it, they don’t earn the privilege and will be able to try again tomorrow.

·  Telling on them to others:  This is just talking about the child’s inappropriate behavior in front of the child.  This can be damaging to the relationship between the child and both adults.  It also provides a lot of attention for the child’s inappropriate behavior which can make that behavior more likely to happen in the future with many children.  Additionally, if you give a child the impression that they will really be in trouble when a certain person finds out, this can have the unwanted effect of diminishing your authority in comparison to the other person.

·  One-ups-manship: “If I would have done that when I was a kid, you should have just seen what would have happened to me.”  This is telling your child how you had it worse.  Just like lecturing, most children are just not going to listen and even if they do, probably won’t get it.

·  Silent treatment:  It’s often best to ignore problem behavior that is not harmful, but you should avoid prolonged ignoring that continues even after the child starts engaging in appropriate behavior.  If you are ignoring problem behavior, you should come back to the child with attention as soon as the child displays some appropriate behavior.

Just remember, we all use coercives with our children and other adults from time to time, even though they do not help us to solve problems in the long run.  In order to help build a positive environment filled with positive interactions with your children, notice when you use coercives or when your children act to avoid, get even, or escape.  If you see these reactions in your children, you will need to try a different way next time. 

For help developing a different way to address your child’s problem behavior feel free to contact us directly at info@bcotb.com.


Latham, G. (1994). Power of positive parenting: A wonderful way to raise children. North Logan, UT: P & T Ink.

Sidman, M. (1989). Coercion and its fallout. Boston: Authors Cooperative.

This post is contributed by a community member. The views expressed in this blog are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of Patch Media Corporation. Everyone is welcome to submit a post to Patch. If you'd like to post a blog, go here to get started.


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