In our last article, we addressed attention-seeking as one of the possible four motivating factors behind your child’s misbehavior. Hopefully, you are now equipped to spot and address any attention-addicts in your house. This article will explore those children whose misbehavior is motivated by a desire for power and control. Again, we would like to credit this typology to Don Dinkmeyer and Gary D. McKay in their book entitled, STEP Parenting (Systematic Training for Effective Parenting).
What controlling behavior looks like. Children who struggle with power and control issues manifest this struggle in a variety of ways. Here are just a few:
- Ignoring a direct instruction or command
- Completing tasks half-way
- Using the “silent treatment”
- Pushing a limit (for example: child is told to stop throwing the ball in the house, throws it one more time and then stops)
- Refusing to eat what is placed before him
- Lashing out with anger when reprimanded
- Refusing to apologize
What controlling behavior feels like to you. Parents of these children tend to feel anger. Sometimes the anger can become very intense as you secretly concoct ways to assert your control. Children with power and control issues intimately know their parents’ hot buttons as well as how and when to push them.
What his behavior tells you. A child with power and control issues only feels worthwhile when he is dominating those around him. He achieves this domination by getting adults to do what he wants or by only doing what he wants to do. He is likely experiencing deep-seated insecurities which are masked by these power plays.
How to correct controlling behavior. Attempting to dominate a controlling child may provide short-term results for parents. You may be able to force him to do what you want. However, if parents choose this path, they will be modeling an erroneous fact that their child already believed: that power and control is my ultimate goal. Instead, parents of these controlling children need to disengage from the power struggles. Power struggles, by definition, require two parties to be fighting for control. If one party disengages, the struggle ends. Parents often fear that this means they will “lose” and their controlling child will “win.” You can, however, disengage without admitting defeat.
In his book, Have a New Kid by Friday, Dr. Kevin Leman outlines a parenting plan that works well with these children: say it once and walk away. If your child disobeys, ignores or refuses your instruction, a matter of fact consequence will follow. Let’s say a dad asks his son to clean up his room (with clear instructions regarding when and how) and then walks away. If the son is controlling, he will either refuse to do it, do it half-way or simply say he didn’t hear you. The next time this child makes a request (and there will be a next time), the dad, without looking up from his afternoon coffee, can say, “No.” The son will then ask “why” to which the dad can simply say, “You did not clean your room as instructed.” End of conversation. The next question will be met with the same response until the room is clean. No struggle for control; no reinforcement of his negative behavior. The child will likely escalate as this is unchartered territory. The parent will have to employ our next technique: dispassionate parenting.
Dispassionate parenting is a fancy way of saying that you don’t let him push your buttons. While this is much easier said than done, and will require a great deal of your own self-control, it can be done. The two keys to being successful in this area are being prepared and having support. First, identify the different triggers for your child’s control issues; write them down if you need to. Then, be on the lookout for his triggers. Expecting that “this time will be different” can undermine all of your preparedness. Anticipating when things can “get ugly” will help mentally prepare you for the task ahead. Employ your spouse or support person to give you pep talks before and praise and encouragement after a successful dispassionate parenting episode.
Finally, you will need to disarm. Once you know his triggers for power issues, you can better address them. This does not mean you are being controlled by your child, you simply are avoiding adding fuel to the fire. For example, if your child historically has power and control issues that emerge around bed time, change the order of his evening. Have him brush his teeth, bathe and do all of his pre-bed rituals right after dinner but before a family game. He will be motivated to move quickly through his routine and you will simply have only one transition to address come bedtime.
Controlling children require parents with great amounts of self-control. As a result, these parents will need frequent opportunities to refresh and refuel. If you happen to be a parent of a controlling child, it is important that you make it a priority to do so.
If you are looking for more tips on what you can do to control a controlling child, click here.
Next article: Revenge-Seeking Behavior in Children