The Only Winning Move is not to Play: 8 Steps to Disengage


Even on a good day, it can be difficult not to take the bait when your teen is pushing your buttons.  How do you disengage to keep it from escalating into a battle?  The last line in the movie "War Games" describes it perfectly -- "The only winning move is not to play."

Sometimes, in order to stay calm when things are heating up with your kids, not engaging is the way to go.  It's been expressed as "You don't have to show up for every argument" and "The only winning move is not to play."

When tempers and emotions are high, you want to be heard and may feel that you have to defend yourself, as does your child.  An effective move is to disengage and not play the game.  You want to be able to discuss it calmly and keep it from turning into a power struggle. That won't happen with raised voices and each side needing to be right and in control.  You certainly can't hear each other when you're screaming. How do you step back so you can come to a more peaceful resolution?

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1)  Remember that you always have a choice: fight to win, or step away and think of a better, more loving way to interact.

2)  Stop talking.  More angry, defensive, controlling words will only make it worse.

3)  Take five. (You've heard this one before.) Take five minutes or five hours to breathe, calm down, and think about what you want to say.

4)  Ask yourself, "Do I need to be right, or do I want to resolve the conflict?"

5)  Take advantage of the magical do-over.  Revisit the issue with your child in a calm and reasonable way.

6)  Script it.  It can be helpful to take notes, a cheat sheet, if you will.  This will help you say what you mean without the emotion that stirred things up the first time around.

7)  Be willing to hear what your child is feeling.  Underneath it all, it's usually about feelings.

8)  Congratulate yourself!  You are a wonderful teacher and role model for your child on how people resolve their differences in a loving and productive way.

This is do-able.  It all begins with being aware that you're heading into the conflict zone, and choosing not to go there.  Life and relationships are so much easier when you do.


Fern Weis is a parent coach, specializing in supporting parents of teens and young adults who are going through difficult situations (including underachieving, disrespectful behavior, addiction recovery and more). With parent-centered coaching, Fern helps parents release guilt, end enabling, and confidently prepare their children to thrive through life’s challenges. Learn more about coaching and workshops at or

The opinions expressed herein are the writer's alone, and do not reflect the opinions of or anyone who works for is not responsible for the accuracy of any of the information supplied by the writer.

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