How Much Control Should You Have Over Your Child?
In the Big Picture Parenting class today, we had a great conversation about control. The question goes something like this: “How do I make sure my child is doing or not doing Certain Important Things while still respecting their autonomy and independence?
It’s a darn good question, because at the end of the day, the only thing we really have full control over is ourselves.
Our children, when small, are within our control to some extent. But they still cry when THEY choose, pee when THEY choose, sleep when THEY choose, and eat what THEY choose. (Many power struggles develop, in the long term, around sleep, potty training, and food – so if you’re trying too hard to control in these areas, listen up!)
The more time we spend in a power struggle in the short run, the less influence we have over our child in the long run.
And in the long run, ALL we have is influence. So the sooner we figure out that working WITH our child, respecting our child’s autonomy, while still providing clear limits around the things we can control (ie ourselves, our actions and reactions), is possible, the better.
As a single mom, I had to figure this out early. My daughter would head off to her dad’s house and I had NO control. I no longer got to decide what she ate, or what she was exposed to on TV, among a myriad of other things. After a few years of trying to control HIM (you can guess how that went 🙂 ) I concluded that the key was to build my relationship with her, NOT so that I could control her, but in such a way that she would respect me enough to consider my ideas and opinions, in the short term and in the long term.
So, how do we stay out of the power struggle, and stay in the game?
First, remember that it’s only a power struggle if YOU make it a power struggle. Your child is just doing what children do, trying to figure out how things work in the world, and doing exactly what she needs to do to learn what she needs to learn to move through her current developmental process.
Second, do what you need to do without feeling guilty. If you must stop the behaviour, stop the behaviour, support your child as she moves through the disappointment, and move on. Don’t get all in a knot about your child’s autonomy when you need to do what you need to do. Self-doubt helps no one.
Third, accept that some things aren’t in your control, and let those things go. When you are not all charged up about something your child is doing, your child won’t be as interested in doing it anyway. I was visiting a wise mama at dinnertime once, and her daughter wouldn’t come to the dinner table. She eventually chose to let it go, saying with a sigh, but obviously, no attachment and no intention to make her child feel guilty, “Well, I’m disappointed.” When you can’t control it, support yourself through the disappointment, and move on.
Fourth, give your child information so that he can make good decisions about the things that he has control over, and then let go of your attachment to which choice your child makes, whether it’s the colour of the sippy cup he chooses or whether to pay attention in class. Over years, your child will practice exercising that decision-making muscle, and will make better and better decisions about bigger and bigger things. (This is a key area of building influence – when you give your child the information she needs to understand her world and feel good about her choices, she will come back to you for more information.)
Fifth, decide what you believe is “basic respect”, and start young with creating clarity. Children raised with age-appropriate autonomy and your focus on building influence will figure out basic respect/social etiquette eventually, but you can decide what behaviour you’re comfortable with at what age in a restaurant, for example. This is up to you – an area you have control over. If you are not comfortable with your child’s behaviour in the restaurant, either don’t take them out to the restaurant, or remove them if things get out of hand.
So, how much control should you have over your child? Enough to keep them and others safe. After that, it’s all about having control over yourself, building connection, and developing respect-based influence. And here’s what’s amazing. When we lovingly focus on what WE have control over – our child’s behaviour will change, too.
Any insights? Questions? Post them below!
And consider joining me for the Discipline Without Guilt class coming up in April/May 2015. I’d love to help you find ways to manage your triggers, build influence, set your child up for success, and build connection with your child at the times when it’s hardest to do. <3 Register HERE.