Google+ Authentic Parenting: Can We Move Away from Controlling Our Children?

Wednesday, September 12, 2012

Can We Move Away from Controlling Our Children?

Parents often talk about wanting or needing to control and correct their child’s behavior. Yet, wanting to control another being is tricky if not impossible. Sure, it is important that our children not run into the parking lot, it would be easier if they didn’t spill paint onto the ground and certainly a lot less stressful if they didn’t fight with their siblings.

The thing is, often, what has happened…has happened. Let’s say your child already announced that they hated the gift from their auntie, or the paint is already all over the carpet, or the water is already flowing from the table onto the ground…it’s done! The opportunity to control every little moment is well and over. Controlling our children is just not truly possible, and even if we do manage to do so with demands, coercion and harsh correction it comes at a high cost to the parent-child relationship.

As parents, we cannot undo actions, we cannot un-spill the milk, un-hit the playgroup pal or take that bite away. We can however use moments that have gone badly as learning opportunities for ourselves and our children.  What’s more, we can prevent quite a lot by being present. We can encourage and help with the clean-up, model apologies and most of all, we can choose or learn to prevent many things.

Now, I’m not talking about hovering and preventing any and all mistakes, but rather, creating environments and situations as well as instilling habits that facilitate the prevention instead of focusing on the need for control and harsh correction after the fact.   

Moving away from the desire to control, the need for constant correction and instead focusing on encouragement and prevention can be challenging, but also incredibly rewarding.

My 4 year old son loves helping me wash the dishes.  The floor invariably becomes soaking wet. I could try to teach him how to keep the water in the sink, I could show him the puddle and admonish him for the giant mess… I could deny him access to the kitchen as it would keep the floor dry. Well, I love his company, and he can scrub pots and pans with so much enthusiasm! The wet floor is something I’ve decided is inevitable for now. One time when I noticed the wet floor, I handed him a towel, we stepped on it and mopped the water away in some sort of silly dance type move and now he has taken on the drying up of his own puddles as soon as he is done with the washing.

When faced with a situation that I wish I could control I think about instead: “How do I encourage?” and “What if anything do I need to do, to set my child up for success?”  "What is realistically acceptable for me and my child?"  Sometimes, it’s as easy as stepping back and watching things unfold. Other times it’s about putting certain things away. Often it’s just about facilitating the process or modeling so my child can ultimately make a good decision on their own – like having towels accessible so my son can mop up his own spills.  

The more prevention, connection and encouragement I can give my children, the more the need or illusion of control melts away. And correction if needed can be done gently, which I will talk more about soon!

What do you think, is moving away from the desire to control children possible? Tell me what you think - I would love to hear your thoughts on this!

Peace & Be Well, 

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  1. Great points in this post! For some parents, the need to control their child outweighs anything else in the relationship. And it can become a compulsion - a way to measure themselves up to the bar of "good parenting."

    I think this way of thinking might be a result of too many people seeing a child's behavior as a reflection of the parent. People look down on you when your child's not "doing what they should be doing" or "saying what they should be saying." So parents personalize the behavior of their child and feel the need to protect their self-image. If more people could move away from the idea that a child is an extension of parent - someone to control, posses, and keep in line at all costs - parents might feel more at ease using those tough situations as teaching moments. Judgement from others makes that harder than it should be.

    And after all, we're all works in progress.

  2. Elizabeth - you make such an important point. It's true, I've talked about it before as well how "good parenting" is often equated with quiet, obedient, preferably unseen and unheard children...sigh. And yet adults that are full of life and joyful, creative, ingenious are's really too bad that there is this contradiction of sorts.


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