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Power Assertion Parenting & Effects of This Discipline Style

What is power assertion parenting

Power assertion parenting is the use of a parent’s power over their child to control their behavior. It is usually done by physical punishment, direct force, material or privilege deprivation, or threats of such measures. This disciplinary method draws on the parent’s physical control and power over material resources.

What is an example of power assertion

As an example of power assertion, a parent applies harsh discipline when a child refuses to finish homework.

Other examples:

  • A parent takes a teenager’s cellphone away for being disrespectful.
  • A parent removes a toy from a toddler when she refuses to share.
  • A parent threatens to spank if a child continues to misbehave.
  • A parent withholds an adolescent’s allowance for not obeying.
mother points finger at daughter

3 Types of discipline style

Disciplining children is the process of teaching them how to behave prosocially in different situations. There are many ways to teach. The three primary styles of discipline are​1​:

Withdrawal of love

Withdrawal of affection is a parent’s strong disapproval or disappointment. Aside from expressing disappointment, parents may also use other guilt-inducing tactics such as refusing to speak to children, threatening to leave them, or showing dislike. 

When children show inappropriate behavior, adults who practice this discipline style often give them the cold shoulder. Thus, children conform to expectations out of fear of abandonment or the loss of adults’ love and affection.


Inductive discipline teaches children to consider the effects of their actions on others.

As part of an induction, children are asked to consider how their behavior has affected others, to cultivate empathy and empathy-based guilt. 

Ultimately, empathy and intrinsic motivation drive appropriate future behavior.

Power assertion

In power assertion parenting, parents use punishment or material deprivation to obtain compliance with their demands. The parental discipline typically involves physical punishment, material deprivation, and withdrawal of privileges.

American psychologist Martin Hoffman believes that among the three types of discipline methods, parental power assertion to children is associated with the least development of empathy and morals in children.

Parents who use power assertion

A parent’s personality, age, family structure, and social classes can all influence whether power assertion is used in disciplining.

The assertion of power is often used by authoritarian parents to command blind obedience from their children​2​. They tend to be more neurotic, less empathic, and more extroverted. 

The characteristics of children also influence the qualities of parenting. Parenting difficult children is more likely to involve assertiveness​3​.

Researchers examined a sample of African American mothers from low-income families. Parents who were less educated, younger, and raising their child alone were more likely to use maternal power assertion on child behavior issues.

Effects of power assertion parenting

Raising kids with power assertion is associated with a plethora of detrimental effects on children.

Behavior issues

From a child’s perspective, power assertive parents demand the unconditional surrender of the child’s interests and autonomy. As a result of children’s resentful opposition, it tends to create hostility and antisocial behavior. A study of children attachment links power assertion with behavior problems​4​.

These kids often show more hostility towards other children and the teacher, indicators of child conduct issues in the future​5​.

Poor academic performance

There is also a link between children’s poor academic performance and power assertion. A child’s learning and thinking can be impaired by frequent experiences of fear, anxiety, and stress.

In contrast to authoritarian parenting, authoritative parenting tends to result in better school performance​6​.

Lack of empathy and self-regulation

Unlike inductive discipline that promotes empathy for others, power assertive discipline such as coercion or threats of punishment promotes self-centered concern with consequences. This self-focused mindset, in turn, reduces prosocial behavior​7​.

Additionally, the use of power-assertive controlling is associated with a lower level of self-regulation in children​8​.

Noncompliance in the absence of parents

Despite the appearance of immediate compliance with parents, children in situations where they will not be caught are more likely to engage in inappropriate behavior.

This disciplinary method also does not seem to be effective over the long run​9​.

Weak parent-child relationship

When parents assert their power over their children, they weaken the parent-child relationship.

Adolescents who feel their parents assert their power tend to orient toward their peers and stay away from their parents. Delinquency becomes more likely if they are associated with a deviant peer group​10​.

Hindered brain development

Language, IQ, and brain development may be affected by this parenting style. 

In part, this results from the fact that this approach does not allow children to learn how to solve problems. Instead, it directs children’s attention to the parent-child power differential rather than to the potential consequences of their behavior​11​

Weak moral development

Asserting power without explaining or justifying demands relies primarily on parental authority or coercive pressure rather than the child’s internalized standards and good judgment, since children are not taught to think about others. 

When caught in bad behavior, they may deny responsibility or blame others. Those who act responsibly only do so due to external motivation​1​.


The use of power to coerce others into compliance is bullying. In child-rearing, power assertion predisposes a child to become a bully. Kids from such families are more hostile towards other children. They are more likely to engage in bullying or become victims of bullying themselves​12​.

Risk of oppositional defiant disorder

A coercive parent-child ambiance can trigger aggressive behavioral interaction. Such parent-child interaction can escalate and result in a coercive family process. These aggressive children are at risk of developing oppositional defiant disorder (ODD disorder) and conduct disorder​13​.

What should power assertive parents do instead

Authoritative parents tend to raise competent children. They have high expectations and they are warm and responsive​14​.

Decades of studies have found that parental responsiveness contributes to successful outcomes for children. Help kids attain optimal child development by becoming responsive mothers and fathers​15​.

Final thoughts on power assertion parenting

Having to deal with one of the most negative aspects of parenting can be draining for parents. But how parents discipline children is a key dimension of family environment.

Power assertiveness can be quite useful depending on the context for discipline. As an example, when external danger to the child does not allow for explanation or physical restraint is necessary to prevent the child from being overwhelmed by their own impulses.

However, research tells us that if used regularly, power assertion parenting can cause many emotional and physical harms.

Parents have tremendous power over their children. Unless in extreme cases, the parental negative control and treatment of the child are subject to little, if any, legal restraint. In our society, no other relationship provides such complete control over another individual.

With great power comes great responsibility. Children’s health, well-being, and support lie in the hands of parents. Use discipline and reasonable consequences to teach, not to punish.


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    Hoffman ML, Saltzstein HD. Parent discipline and the child’s moral development. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology. Published online 1967:45-57. doi:10.1037/h0024189
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