June 14, 2020
  • Opinion

Strengthening relationships key to good parenting

By Richard O’Keef

What behavior issues do you struggle with most? Kids fighting? Tantrums? Lying? Teasing? Ignoring? Saying “No?” Being defiant? The most effective way to reduce these infuriating behaviors is to follow these three steps: (1) Build a strong relationship with your children, (2) teach them life skills, good values and desirable behavior, (3) skillfully correct your children when their behavior is displeasing.

The power of these three steps lies in the way they relate to each other. Notice the image of the pyramid. The three levels of this pyramid correspond to the three steps I just mentioned.


“Correcting” is at the top. It means skillfully correcting your children when their behavior is displeasing. Children have a tendency to test limits and boundaries you set for them. Correcting helps them understand they are expected to stay within those limits and boundaries. It is how you enforce rules and expectations.

Because “Correcting” is at the top, and is the smallest part of the pyramid, it demands the least amount of effort. As strange as that sounds, more effort should be given to teaching, and the majority of your attention should be given to strengthening relationships. The important thing to remember about correcting is: ITALICS The key to effective correcting is effective teaching.

If you find that your children don’t respond well when you try to correct their misbehavior, rather than intensifying your effort by screaming, threatening, punishing and lecturing, focus on the level below correcting: Teaching.


Teaching is the foundation of correcting. That means before you can correct behavior, you must teach the kind of behavior you expect. It is how you set rules and expectations. The important thing to remember about teaching is: Effective teaching depends on a strong relationship with your child.

If you are finding that your teaching is falling on deaf ears, or that your child doesn’t seem to care about the expectations or rules you set, rather than spending more time and effort trying to get your child to listen and learn, focus on the level below teaching: Relationship.


Relationships are the foundation of teaching. It is the biggest level of the pyramid to remind us that strengthening relationships should be given the most attention. If you have a good relationship, your child will be more RECEPTIVE to your teaching and RESPONSIVE to your correcting.

A mother in one of my workshops once asked, “My son doesn’t listen to me. I tell him to do something and he just ignores me. I’ve imposed consequences and taken away about everything he plays with, including banning him from playing video games. What can I do to ‘motivate’ him to do what I ask?”

pyramid-cropped.gifAdapted from Arbinger Institute.I addressed the class and said, “That’s a common problem among parents these days, isn’t it? I see it all the time, don’t you?”

I pointed to the pyramid and said, “When we try to correct our children’s behavior and it’s just not working, should we intensify our correcting? No. We should focus our attention on the level below Correcting, which is Teaching. What if our children don’t seem to care about the rules we set or the behavior we expect? Do we teach harder? Longer? Louder? No. We should focus our attention on the level below Teaching, which is Relationship.

Are we intentionally working on strengthening the relationship we have with our children? Without a strong relationship, teaching falls on deaf ears and correcting misbehavior is exhausting and ineffective – even futile.

But when there’s a strong relationship between children and parents, children develop a desire to please their parents. They even feel bad when they let their parent’s down. When we have a good relationship, we enjoy being around our kids. We laugh together. When they get home, they tell us about their day. They confide in us. We experience the deep satisfaction we always hoped raising children would bring.”

Remember, the key to effective correcting is effective teaching, and the key to effective teaching is to always be working on building a strong relationship.

richardokeef.jpgRichard O’Keef is a long-time resident of the Westpointe community, father of six, and grandfather of 18. He is the author of 3-Step Parenting (available on Amazon), and teaches parenting workshops in Salt Lake City. He can be reached at .