Three Approaches to Authority Relationships

Two Win-Lose approaches that can compromise the emotional safety of the environment:

Powering: Adult Wins, Child Loses



    • Humiliation, loss of dignity, violation of self-esteem; criticism, shaming, verbal or emotional violence
    • Threat to physical safety, physical violence
    • Conditional approval or love; threat of emotional abandonment
    • Deprivation of meaningful privilege or activity (ex: recess, eligibility, graduation; allowance, inclusion in family activity, dinner, playtime, grounding, etc.)


    • Depends on adult’s reaction, power, anger and the child’s fear of the adult’s reaction
    • May generate superficial compliance. Reinforces people-pleasing, dependence on approval, or at least minimal cooperation to avoid being hurt in some way. Passive learning, passive-aggressive response.
    • Can inspire rebelliousness, particularly in children who aren’t motivated by the need for adult approval or those who need to “save face.”
    • Provides necessary structure and limit, but at the cost of children’s freedom or autonomy

Boundary Issues: Does not respect children’s boundaries or need for power; violates children’s boundaries.

Effectiveness: Can be effective in getting short-term cooperation from compliant children. Cost to emotional environment and quality of relationship between adult and child is HIGH. Can also generate stress to other children in classroom or family.

Permissiveness: Adult Loses, Child Win (sort of…)



    • Allowing children to behave in ways that can create problems for you or others
    • Letting kids have their way to avoid other anticipated conflicts or negative reactions (from them or others)
    • Letting kids do something they want in order to obligate them to cooperate; attempt to motivate cooperation through guilt, by being “nice”
    • Giving up; perception of having less influence or control than is true


    • Chaos, manipulation, lack of child’s self-management
    • Tremendous insecurity when children’s needs for limits are not met
    • Teacher frustration, often ending up in reactive “blow-up” when you reach the end of your rope; encourages kids to really push the limits.
    • Accommodates children’s needs for autonomy and freedom, but at the cost of their need for structure and limits

Boundary Issues: General lack of boundaries, unclear boundaries based on differences between the adult’s understanding and children’s understanding (“Be good.” “Clean this area.” “Get home at a reasonable hour.”), ambiguous boundaries, or boundaries with built in loop-holes (using warnings, asking for excuses, etc.).

Effectiveness: Minimal; usually kids know that they don’t have to listen until you start screaming, for example. Lack of limits and predictability makes cost to emotional environment and quality of adult-child relationship HIGH. Can create a great deal of stress in the environment.

Win-Win approach that does not compromise the emotional safety of the classroom:

Win-Win/Cooperation: Adult Wins, Child Win



    • May include privileges like getting the car, extending curfew, being allowed out, earned allowance; access to games, TV, or computer time; time with family or friends. In the classroom, examples might include meaningful activities such as going to a center, self-selection, use of certain equipment, games, extra free time, time with adult, working with a friend, drawing, running an errand, a chance to help in another classroom; good grades (motivating for students who find grades meaningful) or a “good” note home; a “night off” from homework; etc. What’s worked for you?
    • May offer children a chance to choose between two or more activities, the sequence in which they do activities or assignments, or choices about where, when, how, or with whom to do particular activities.


    • NOT based on the adult’s reaction, fear of the adult’s power, or need for the adult’s conditional approval
    • Proactive approach that considers and attempts to accommodate the child’s needs for limits as well as power within those limits
    • Clearly-communicated contingencies, boundaries, guidelines, limits before the child has a chance to mess up (accidentally or intentionally).
    • The child’s needs for limits and control are accommodated as much as possible in an environment in which the adult is still the authority.
    • Reward-oriented; focuses on positive outcomes to child (not externally based or approval-oriented)
    • Predictable (so long as boundaries are maintained); mutually respectful

Boundary Issues: None. Boundaries are respected, clearly communicated, and upheld.

Effectiveness: Best possibility for success of all configurations of authority relationships. Actually builds and supports positive family and classroom relationships.

Excerpted and adapted from The Win-Win Classroom, by Dr. Jane Bluestein,Corwin Publishing, Thousand Oaks, CA, © 2008. Similar material is presented in The Parent’s Little Book of Lists: Do’s and Don’ts of Effective Parenting
and Parents, Teens and Boundaries: How to Draw the Line.

© 1989, 1995, 1997, 2008, 2012, Dr. Jane Bluestein

This handout is also available in French.

Related links:

Guidelines for Offering Students Choices
Guidelines for Offering Choices to your Children
Guidelines for Reinforcing Positive Behavior
Guidelines for Reinforcing Your Children’s Cooperation
Teacher Self-Assessment
A Report Card for my Teacher
Dealing Successfully with your Students’ Parents
Getting Away with Success
Handling Negative Student Behavior
Handling Your Children’s Negative Behavior

© 2012, Dr. Jane Bluestein

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