Every parent wants influence, and while a parent is the greatest influence in a child’s life, that influence can wax and wane with the seasons.  In fact, a lot of parents I know feel like they’re losing influence.

Influence is something to pay attention to no matter what stage of parenting you’re at, because ultimately every parent is on a journey from control to influence.  We start out with almost complete control of a child’s life, but by the time our sons and daughters are 18 and ready to face life on their own, all we have left is influence.

This raises an important question: How exactly does influence work?  It works like this:

We listen most to the people we love the most.

Our kids inevitably do what you and I do: they listen most to the people they love the most. This means that as a parent, you need to establish an authentic, healthy relationship with your son or daughter if you hope be an influence in their lives.

Influence is easy to lose, but it takes time to build up.

Here are five easy ways to lose influence as a parent:

1. Threaten consequences, but never carry them out. Then your kids will know to never take you seriously.

2. Shame, guilt, and frustrate your children. Eventually they’ll want to get as far away from you as they can.

3. Try to be their best friend. Your kids need a parent more than they need another buddy. (As my friend Jeff Brodie says,  he’s never met a 15 year old looking for a 45 year old best friend.)

4. Treat your spouse poorly. Your kids will lose respect for you rapidly.

5. Be inconsistent.  If your kids never know where you stand, they’ll lose trust in you.

Influence can be lost quickly.  But how do you gain it?  How do you cultivate influence?  How do you create a healthy relationship that lasts?

Here are five ways to increase the influence you have with kids:

1. Do what you said you were going to do when you said you were going to do it. It cultivates trust, confidence and even respect.

2. Enforce limits. Don’t think you’re helping your kids by letting them off the hook with commitments, boundaries and responsibilities.  One day, they’ll thank you for it.

3. Treat one another with kindness.  Treat the people closest to you with more kindness than anyone else (it’s natural, by the way, to do the opposite).

4. Don’t overindulge your kids. Let rewards be rewards. As a rule, you shouldn’t give your kids rewards for nothing, or for simply doing what’s expected of them.

5. Work on your own character.  When your kids see you developing your faith and character, you will have a greater impact on their lives.

If you think about it, the people who are gaining influence with, you are probably exhibiting some of the characteristics just listed. You love and respect them because they are responsible, kind, considerate people who stand for something and have a deep integrity. The people who are losing influence in your life are people who are inconsistent and emotionally unhealthy.

While it takes discipline to develop your character and stick to sensible limits as a parent, over time, it will help you gain and keep influence with your kids.  And eventually, influence is all we have left with our kids in any event.

What other things have you seen that help parents lose or gain influence?

(Originally published June 18, 2012)