Some children struggle with personal agency. One of the worst ways your child can respond to this insecurity is by wanting to control everything. While the reason behind this is understandable, your child’s behavior remains in urgent need of being addressed.
What would be the best way to go about stopping this?
For starters, don’t try to take away their control – even if they’re being stubborn and cooperative. Your child wants independence and acknowledgment, so focus on giving them opportunities to feel heard and valued.
Don’t entertain your child’s tantrums. It’s especially important not to get angry at them during these episodes – you might inadvertently reinforce their controlling behavior.
You aren’t just stopping their controlling behavior here – you’re giving them reasons to believe such measures aren’t needed. Work patiently to convince them of that truth.
Why Is My Child Suddenly Acting Controlling?
Your child may be acting controlling because they don’t believe they’re in control. Their behavior now is an attempt to mitigate that discomfort and uncertainty.
They could also want to reaffirm their role in the family, and control just happened to be their tool of choice to accomplish that goal.
While the means they’re using aren’t very constructive, their motivations remain valid. Who doesn’t want to think that they’re capable? Or that they have purpose and belong?
As their parent, your job is to provide them with the assurance that they’re all that and more.
Step 1: Avoid Using Authority To Control Them
It might be tempting to overrule your child’s petty behavior with your authority as their parent. It’s definitely the most expedient method, but far from the best choice for a lot of reasons.
If your child has reached a certain level of boldness, they probably won’t be cowed by one or two scoldings. They might even escalate their behavior to get what they want from you.
Even if it does work, it’ll be short-term at best. Your child won’t understand what they did wrong. They won’t learn how to process these upsetting feelings, making maladaptive behavior more likely to develop from this.
Worst of all, you’d reinforce their belief that control and power work as a means to an end.
Using authority simply cements this exchange as a power struggle, putting both you and your child at greater risk of making irrational choices and developing unhealthy relationships.
“Winning” or “Losing” won’t settle the underlying issue. Your child will either continue lashing out against your attempts to discipline them or they’ll end up fully submitting to your authority without bothering to think critically for themselves.
Your child may not even understand their own actions. All they’d understand would be results devoid of context, which would set a very bad precedent.
Your child needs to be comprehended, not controlled.
Step 2: Give Them More Choices
Children are inexperienced. They lack knowledge, but not competence. As a parent, you’re likely in charge of what they eat, what they wear, and even what they do in a day. Fortunately, there are a few ways to return some of that agency to them.
Say your child is having breakfast, and you have either oatmeal or cereal available. Rather than preparing what you decide on and plopping it in front of them come morning, why not ask them which of those two they’d like as early as dinnertime?
You’ll not only make them feel that you want their opinion, but also that their opinion is relevant and being taken into account for your own decisions. This type of engagement is critical to help your child reclaim their sense of agency.
What choices do you think they can safely make? Give them a small pool of options to work with. This lets you prepare yourself for every possible outcome while allowing them to make independent decisions in a safe, consequence-free environment.
As much as possible, phrase these as offers rather than expectations. “Do you want to do your homework now?” feels far more loaded and concerning than “When do you want to do your homework?” Keep your questions open-ended and respect the choices they make.
Step 3: Let Them Explain, Discuss, and Negotiate With You
Disagreement is not inherently disrespectful. It actually shows that your child is not only capable of critical thinking but trusts you enough to articulate their sentiments openly.
Being able to contribute to discussions without being rebuffed helps them build the security and confidence they need to act on their own.
If they try to explain themselves while you chastise them, please hear them out. They deserve a chance to defend themselves, alongside the opportunity to understand the mistakes they may have made. On occasion, they could very well be in the right!
Allow your child to voice out their concerns and misgivings. This will foster more trust and respect in your relationship, while also opening both of your minds towards a constructive family dynamic that cares little for power struggles or personal pride.
If your child makes a mistake, let them explain why they did so. Prompt them to share the reasons behind their actions in a safe, welcoming manner. Ask open-ended questions to facilitate your understanding of their interpretation of events – steer clear of judging them for it.
Next, talk about how what happened now. Discuss what made their actions problematic. Clarify that even if their reasons were sensible, their behavior may not be acceptable. Talk to them as equals rather than parents, and make sure they get that you’re doing this for their sake.
Lastly, grant them a say on whatever consequences they’ll be experiencing. Don’t just punish them – let them understand why that specific punishment is warranted, and keep an open mind if they have reason to disagree with your judgment.
Allow them to contest your perspective without the looming threat of being punished. You want their critical thinking capabilities engaged here. Validate their thoughts and feelings – especially if you think they’re wrong.
It’s important that your children learn how to advocate for themselves. Provide them with just that opportunity, and your child may be more willing to stop trying to monopolize control. At the very least, it’ll be a huge step forward in getting to a point of mutual respect.
Step 4: Don’t Engage During Their Tantrums
As mentioned early, power struggles are the last thing you want to encourage. Your child could be trying to control events by making a scene or leveraging other disruptive means.
Giving them what they want shows that control works. But telling them to quiet down bluntly also shows them that authoritative control works.
The only way to win here is by not playing. Establish clear consequences for these types of mistakes (i.e., “No television if you make a scene after I already said no.”) and stick to them.
It’s important to stay reserved when you handle a child who’s acting out. Make sure they aren’t doing anything that may put themselves in danger, but don’t validate their petty behavior by giving in to their demands. In fact, don’t even pay any attention to your child until they calm down.
They need to understand that acting this way will not get them what they want, but they also need to know you’ll be there for them. Be patient until they’re ready to talk, but don’t engage when they’re still acting out of line.
Step 5: Give Them Opportunities To Exercise Responsibility
While choices and verbal validation are great additions to your relationship, they won’t always give your child a sense of genuine accomplishment. Even young children can do simple chores like setting the table or folding clothes.
Sheltering your child from responsibility could hinder both their skill development and self-confidence. Contributing to the household can make them feel both competent and secure, so try gradually introducing tasks and responsibilities for your child to handle over time.
Once they do accomplish those tasks, be sure to show gratitude. Thank them for doing a great job. Let them know they made your life much easier, and you couldn’t have done it without them.
Assurance is everything for children. Make them feel respected, capable, and needed.
There may come a phase where your child wants to control everything, but when that time comes you want to meet it with understanding and kindness rather than indignation.
Let them think critically, even if they disagree with you on occasion. Your priority is helping your child reclaim their sense of personal agency, so give them ample opportunities to do so.