Kids & Company Blog

Why Your Need for Control is Backfiring with Your Child

This blog is guest-written by Jenn Abbatiello, Certified Master Parent Coach & Founder of Your Transformed Family. Visit their website for more information and to get in touch with any questions. Or connect with Jenn on Instagram @yourtransformedfamily or Tiktok @jennabba.

Before having children, did you feel you were calm, cool, and collected?  I certainly did.  I was rarely reactive and was even described as stoic - always in control of my emotions.  What I hadn’t realized was that I was actually completely dysregulated.

Do you:

  • Avoid difficult conversations, especially in your personal life?
  • Deny that there are any issues. Use phrases such as, “I’m fine!” or “Everything is ok.”?
  • Label others as too sensitive?

My sense of control unraveled when I witnessed emotions in my children that were suppressed within me.  It made me so uncomfortable I would either resort to controlling the situation (ie. my child) by yelling, sending him to his room until he calmed down, or I would invalidate his feelings by saying he was making a big deal out of nothing.  Some days, I just wanted to run away from it all.  I felt powerless and out of control.

Our children are like mirrors; showing us parts of ourselves that were never seen, heard, or understood.

Understanding our urge to control

As parents, we often resort to control as a disciplinary strategy for several reasons:

  1. Fear and Anxiety: The fear of our child getting hurt, making poor decisions, or wanting to protect them from negative consequences can drive parents to exert controlling behaviors. Our efforts to protect our children may have us resorting to threats, punishments or even bribes.
  2. Social Pressure: Society often places unrealistic expectations on parents, leading us to believe that our child's behavior is a reflection of our worth as parents. This pressure can lead us to micromanage and control our children's actions.  Do you notice that you have a harder time parenting when you feel that all eyes are on you?  Whether we are at the park, grocery store, restaurant - you name it - we may resort to control because we think others may be judging or shaming us for our child’s behaviour.
  3. Lack of Knowledge: Some parents/caregivers may not have access to resources or education on alternative disciplinary methods, making us feel that control tactics are the only option.  Join us on Wednesday, November 15th for our Kidco Talk “How to Get Your Kids to Cooperate Without Nagging, Threats or Bribes” and feel more confident in your parenting.  Register here.  
  4. Generational Parenting Patterns: We often rely on the methods that were used by our own parents. If we were raised in a controlling environment, we may unconsciously repeat those patterns. Approximately 80% of our actions are subconscious, so if we don’t become aware of why we are reacting the way that we are, then it is nearly impossible to change these patterns.  Change is possible with awareness and support.

I am not suggesting that we don’t discipline our children. That would actually be really scary for them to have no boundaries or structure.  But I wonder if you would be willing to reflect on what the intent of discipline actually is: to teach.  Control, though perhaps well-intentioned, doesn’t teach the skills we likely want our children to learn: responsibility, respect, independence, confidence and so much more.

The Failings of Control-Based Discipline

  1. Stifling Independence: Control-based discipline does not allow children the freedom to explore and learn from their own experiences. Instead, it stifles their independence and limits their ability to make decisions.  It inadvertently sends the message that they are not capable.
  2. Fostering Resentment: Constant monitoring and enforcement of rules can lead to resentment and rebellion in children. Control doesn’t develop intrinsic motivation so what happens when you are not around to control their behavior?
  3. Ineffective Communication: Control often replaces open and effective communication between parents/caregivers and children. Instead of understanding the reasons behind their actions, children may focus on avoiding punishment.  You may find your child lying or exhibit other behaviors to feel ‘good enough’ in your eyes.  Control doesn’t teach our children how to deal with conflict or problem-solving skills, so as adults they may become people-pleasers, avoiding confrontation.
  4. Emotional Consequences: Children subjected to strict control may experience anxiety, low self-esteem, and feelings of inadequacy.  We develop emotional intelligence through co-regulating within the safety of an adult who loves us unconditionally.  If we do not support our children to express the full range of emotions, they get suppressed and can manifest as challenges into adulthood.

What the research says

Mona Delahooke, a clinical psychologist and author of "Beyond Behaviors," emphasizes the importance of understanding children's underlying emotional needs. She argues that behavior is often a form of communication, and controlling it without addressing these needs is counterproductive. Delahooke encourages parents to adopt a more empathetic and compassionate approach, focusing on emotional connection and co-regulation.

Gabor Mate, a renowned physician and author of "Hold On to Your Kids," highlights the significance of attachment in discipline. He suggests that children's attachment to their parents is essential for their emotional well-being. Instead of controlling through punishment, Mate advocates for building strong, supportive relationships with children. He emphasizes that children are more likely to follow the guidance of parents they are emotionally connected to.

What can we do instead?

  1. Emotional Connection: Building a strong emotional connection with your child is crucial. Show empathy, understanding, and love, and encourage open communication.
  2. Positive Reinforcement: Focus on reinforcing positive behaviors rather than solely punishing negative behaviors.  
  3. Set Clear Boundaries: It's important to set clear and age-appropriate boundaries. Children need guidelines, but they also need to understand the reasons behind them.  Boundaries should be set based on your family values, co-created and revisited on a regular basis.
  4. Encourage Independence: Allow your child to make age-appropriate choices and decisions. Encouraging their independence fosters responsibility and decision-making skills.  This is part of our role in raising capable, responsible adults.  Learning from their mistakes is far more valuable than us sheltering them from making mistakes.  Resilience is learning you can fall down and get back up again.

Our urge to control makes sense but it doesn’t lead to a connected relationship with our child and doesn’t solve the challenging behaviors either. Control is a band-aid solution that is more about us than guiding and teaching our child.  Be willing to be curious and shift the lens from the behavior to the relationship and ask ourselves what is my child trying to communicate?  When we start to understand the underlying message of their behaviors, we can truly ‘see’ our child and help instead of punish.  By understanding the underlying emotional needs of our child, building strong attachments, and encouraging positive behavior, we can help our children grow into emotionally healthy and responsible individuals.

Join us for a Kidco Talk on Wednesday, November 15th to learn a 4 step proven process to cooperation that will leave you feeling confident and connected to your child. Register for the webinar here.

This blog is guest-written by Jenn Abbatiello, Certified Master Parent Coach & Founder of Your Transformed Family.  


About Your Transformed Family:

Your Transformed Family guides and supports families around the world to end frustration, guilt, and chaos while finding more peace, calm, and connection to parent with confidence. Its parent coaching services have earned a reputation as a compassionate, non-judgmental, and collaborative approach to empowering parents to achieve the family of their dreams

To learn more about the services they offer, check out their website.

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