As much as we think we're in control as parents, we aren't. That is the unfortunate premise behind "Raise Winning Kids Without a Fight: Your Child's Future -- What Parenting Is All About" by William H. Hughes, M.D.

While that might sound more than a tad depressing, Dr. Hughes, the director of family services at the Sutter Center for Psychiatry in Sacramento, Calif.,  says once we parents admit that the only people we really can control is ourselves, things will get better from there. It's the old "you can lead a horse to water but can't make him drink" perspective; we can coerce, threaten, yell, and punish, but we can't MAKE our kids do anything.

But we can change the way we interact with them, and that can make all the difference.

In this short, 150-page book, Dr. Hughes sets out strategies for motivating your children without creating conflict. His system relies on a three-step process to motivating your kids to take certain actions:

  1. Setting expectations: Let them know what you want them to do, specifically, including quality (how clean is clean?), attitude (no snottiness!), and timeliness (by when does the task need to be completed?).
  2. Monitor behavior: Keep an eye on what's happening (if the TV is supposed to be off until homework is complete, the parent needs to inspect the work before the TV goes on, rather than taking the child's word for it and then getting mad later when it's discovered that the homework was not completed to the expected level).
  3. Reward: Offer praise and positive attention, and sometimes a reward that's proportional to the task.

The rest of the book covers what to do if a child fails the inspection, the do's and don'ts of rewards, creating a daily schedule, handling homework, and troubleshooting. Along the way, Dr. Hughes provides many anecdotes and examples from families and children he's worked with in his practice.

Overall, I think the book hits many of the same high points most parenting books seem to: Consistency, working as a team with your spouse or co-parent, holding tough in the face of kids' anger. And though Dr. Hughes's tone and style are a bit academic for my taste, there is some great information included that can help parents systemize their disciplinary and motivational approach.

I'm not sure I buy into the title, namely that this system will allow parents to raise winning kids "without a fight." Fights, when parents hold tight to their line, are part and parcel of dealing with kids. But at least this book can help you feel justified in your behavior.