First of all, I need to apologize.
It is possible that I may have misled you a bit by the title of this post. I fear that you may have gotten the impression that controlling a controlling child is possible. I am sorry to disappoint you, but it is not. At least not in the way you are thinking. But before you hit the “back” button on your browser, hear me out. Just because we can’t exert control over our controlling children, it doesn’t mean that all hope is lost. It doesn’t mean that we throw in the towel and give up. There is hope.
And I have the answer. Are you ready for it? Here it is:
The key to controlling a controlling child is controlling yourself.
Yes. You. The key is you. I said I had the answer. I didn’t say you would like it.
But before we go further, the very first thing you need to do is to identify if what you are seeing is actually controlling behavior. A while back I did a series on the different motivators of misbehavior. There are controlling children, attention-seeking children, revenge-seeking children and those children who simply give up in the face of adversity. I suggest you follow one or more of those links to try to figure out what kind of behavior cluster you are dealing with. Identifying the underlying motivation is the first step. Only once you have done that, can you figure out what to do about it.
If, after reading those articles, you’ve determined that your child is in fact demonstrating controlling behavior, read the tips below. While you can’t control your controlling child, there are some things you can control:
Control your tongue. The easiest pitfall in parenting these types of kids is being sucked into a verbal argument. Let me let you in on a little secret. You will never win with words. There is no amount of logic or reason that will make your controlling child pause and say, “You know what? Now that you mention it, you are right. Thanks for pointing it out.” These arguments are almost never about the content anyway. It is about control. We can feel like if we stop arguing, they win. But it isn’t about winning or losing. We are on the same team.
Control the innuendos. You’ve heard it said that it’s not what you say but how you say it. A sarcastic tone, a roll of the eyes, a snicker or a sneer are all food for an adversarial parent-child relationship. These passive aggressive tactics may not be as obvious as a full-fledged argument, but they can be even more corrosive.
Control your temper. Controlling children are often devoid of self-control. Theirs is a world of instant gratification and self-focus where “me” reigns supreme. If you have a controlling child, you will never teach them self control if you do not have it yourself. The moment you lose your temper, you give them what they want and feed their desire for more. Think of it this way: every time you control your temper in the face of a provocative child, you are making a deposit into his or her self-control bank. Over time it will earn lots of interest and they will be able to make substantial withdrawals in the future.
Control your pride. There is nothing worse than feeling like you have been outwitted by your child. It pulls at every thread of pride we have. These feelings can bubble up and make that desire to “get the upper hand” even stronger. Swallow that pride. Humility is not the easiest path, but it is the better one.
Control the consequences. I put this last because the other elements are more important. We may want to jump to this step so we can exert our parental control and show them who is boss. Unless we can regularly and consistently control the other elements discussed above, controlling the consequences will not have the desired effect. So how do you effectively control the consequences? You deliver them in love (“I am sorry that you chose to not come home when you were told. Unfortunately, that means that you may not go to Jason’s tomorrow after school.”). You deliver them without feeling a sense of vindication. You deliver them with the knowledge that a calm and unemotional delivery will help maintain your relationship with your child.
It is unfortunate that the answers to tough problems often begin by looking in the mirror. But once we see a clear picture of ourselves, we can better help our kids.