All Articles Behavior Challenges and Solutions

Controlling Behavior in Children

Laura Kuehn, LCSW

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


About the author

Laura Kuehn, LCSW

Laura Kuehn, LCSW

Laura Kuehn, LCSW is a licensed clinical social worker specializing in children and families. CfP is the place she combines some of her very favorite things: writing, parenting and God's word. She loves encouraging parents to build their families upon Jesus, the one true Cornerstone. She is happily married to a wonderfully supportive husband and is the mother of two delightfully inspiring children.


  • This was helpful, thank you so much. How do I/we problem-solve where our child needs to be with another child at school all the time? Lunchtime has become a nightmare for another child because ours must always sit by her. Although the girls have been friends since kindergarten, our families friends as well, our child has been unable to disconnect and give this child space – creating a real problem between the families. Just an FYI, this comment box does not allow you to go back and correct something or erase something, it only allows you to backspace 🙁

    • Marie,
      Thank you so much for stopping by. Finding out the underlying cause is always a good place to start. Does your daughter tend to take charge in a group? If so, this article might help. Or could she simply be missing some social cues? Some kids are later to develop this ability than others. She may not be able to tell that her friend needs some space. Helping your daughter see the situation through the eyes of her friend might help. I just wrote an article on empathy that addresses this very issue. Here are some additional ideas:
      1. You could try having a “mock cafeteria” at your kitchen table to help your daughter see different outcomes from various scenarios (ie: asking to sit instead of assuming, sitting at the same table, but not right next to her, etc.). Having her play the role of the friend would provide valuable insights.
      2. It might also be helpful to make a list together of “ways to keep friends”. Helping her brainstorm in this way might shed new light on the situation.
      3. To address the broader family issue, you could contact the parents and say that you realize this has become an issue and that you are working on it with her – it might help smooth the waters as you address it.

      I hope this helps!

      Blessings to you and yours,

      (And thanks also for the info on edits not working in the comment box. It was only happening in some browsers – I think it is fixed now :))

  • This is very interesting information. I run an at home daycare and I have one girl who is very controlling. She has decided that she is not going to eat sandwiches (no more than 2 days a week) for lunch anymore, but Subway is her favorite place to go for lunch. She will eat 3 or 4 helpings of hotdish (3-4 days a week) so I KNOW it’s not a hunger issue. The kids all know this is not a restaurant and they “get what they get and don’t throw a fit” The expectation is that as long as they eat their main meal and 1/2 of their veggies they get dessert (their fruit). What do you suggest I do when she refuses to eat her sandwich? She obviously doesn’t get her fruit but that seems to mean nothing to her and I hate wasting the food when I know it’s this control thing with her (she’s even said so). What will happen if I save it for lunch the next day? Thoughts and suggestions please!!! EVERY other kiddo here will follow the rules and try things even when it’s not his or her favorite. I am asking nothing different for this particular girl.

    • Hi Angie – I think the first step is to talk to the parents and get their feedback. Does she do this at home? What do they do about it? Does it work? Next you can think of how you can address it that doesn’t add to the power struggle. Do the kids get any say in the type of sandwiches that are served each week? Can you incorporate some elements of choice? Can you ask her before you make the sandwich if she plans on eating it? Can she opt for a half of a sandwich? A quarter? Just bread? If real fruit is the dessert (not a fruit roll up or syrupy fruit cup) – attaching it to what is eaten just adds to the power struggles. Anyone who shows up to the table can have it. You may want to check out this site which has a lot of resources for parents and caregivers struggling with food issues. I hope this helps get you headed in the right direction!

      God bless,

      • Thanks for responding….that is awesome. I do let them make choices regarding type of sandwich or bread type if there are options…nothing seems to be effective. Do you have any additional resources for dealing with control seeking children in daycare or classroom settings? Thanks so much!

        • It sounds like you are providing lots of choice, staying out of power struggles and being flexible when appropriate. I would suggest talking with her parents on a daily basis regarding this issue and how you plan to handle it. Maybe you could ask them permission to send the un-eaten sandwich home for dinner (if she choses to have one but then doesn’t eat it, for example). Just remember, the less you care about the sandwich, the more she will. Making sure her parents are on board and informed is key. Here is a great site with helpful tips on how child care providers and parents can create an effective partnership for discipline. Keep up the good work!


          • I think that sometimes we get to hung up on making the child do as we say and not giving them the option to dislike something and therefore take away their right to be heard and not allow them to learn to think for themselves. Perhaps this little person truly does not like sandwiches and it is not so much a power struggle for what to eat but a struggle for her to have some control over her own being. If this is the only real struggle with her, maybe explain that you are not prepared to make something different on these days and then ask her what the solution could be. Get her involved in solving the problem. you may be surprised at what she comes up with. I understand that you may not want to set a tone of her getting what she wants and you making something different just for her so perhaps her parents could provide something for sandwich days that she will eat. I work in a kindergarten classroom and there are some children that do things differently then others and, for the most part, the other kids don’t complain or say, ‘well how come they get to do such and such’. they have accepted that everyone is different and learns differently. Hope this helps and is understandable.

          • Hi Ailleen,
            Thank you for your comments. I think it is very wise to offer children who struggle with control (and those who don’t) every reasonable opportunity to have choice. I always tell parents to offer two choices – both options that are equally acceptable to them. I agree with your comment on allowing different interventions for different children. The current emphasis on “fairness at all costs” is really a disservice to children who need to learn that everyone has different needs and we have to learn to be adaptive and accepting of others.

            Thanks for stopping by,

  • My son is controlling, and he has to have his way. At school he refuses to do his work when asked by his teachers to do so. They have even provided accommodations to help him in his areas of need. The more the school helps out the more he rejects the help. He has got to the point he does not even attempt to do the work. He stated that he gets tired of the teacher coming around asking him for help all the time. At the same time he is not even completing the work. I tried to explain to him that if he produces work the teacher would not attempt to check on him all the time. I am exhausted trying manage his behavior. I am a single mother of two children and my youngest son has taken most of my time and patience, running back and forth to the schools and dealing with the politics of Special Education. He is the sweetest boy at times, and I know that he is capable of doing the work. HELP….

    • Hi Latasha – I don’t doubt that the school has the best intentions for your son, but, for whatever reason, it seems like eveyone is “stuck.” The only way to get un-stuck is to make a change. May I suggest you look into getting an outside educational consultant for your son? This website has a directory (listed by state) of the organizations that can partner with parents to help their children who are recieving special education services. It sounds like both you and your son could benefit from the support of an advocate. An objective set of eyes can often provide a solution to a problem that no one else saw. In the meantime, here is a collection of helpful articles (specifically this one) on the topic of discipline within the school setting and positive solutions.

      Best wishes,

  • My daughter is almost 4 years old and has a controlling issue. At daycare she has one very good friend and has become controlling of her. She gets upset with other children for attempting to play with them. She also takes toys from them because she feels as if they are the only ones who can play with them. She tries to be controlling at home but i quickly stop her and she becomes upset. Any suggestions on how to explain this to her. She is very intelligent and understands right from wrong, however she will purposely not listen at times.

    • Hi Angie – I think the best way to address this with her is with a “crash course” in sharing. First, you can get some books from the library (here’s a site with a large list of titles on the topic) and read them together – a few a day. Second, focus on what you want to see more of. Together you can decorate a glass jar or plastic cup. Call it her “sharing jar.” Every time you see her acting in a sharing or submissive way with others, add a popsicle stick to the jar (or some other token). See if you can get the daycare on board with this. Keep track on how many she earns a day and encourage her to “beat her record” with each subsequent day. At the end of a successful week/ or a mostly full jar, you can celebrate her sharing heart by holding a playdate with one or two friends – maybe at a favorite indoor play place or a park – where she can show off her new sharing skills. I hope this helps!

      Best wishes,

  • Hello,
    I have a 4 year old daughter who is very intelligent and also very controlling. Every part of our day is a power struggles, and I know most of this is my fault as I should not or join in to a power struggle and be able to hold my own self control. I am working on it. But my daughters tantrums are OVER the TOP! Just today she said she had to go to the bathroom. I took her up the stairs and she threw the biggest tantrum threw her pants and underwear off in to the tub screamed at the top of her lungs that she was not going to pee. I told her to go in a bit louder of a voice than I like to use, but it is so difficult to do this on a day to day basis yelling from your 4 year olds mouth about everything. I just shut the bathroom door and walked away. She sat in there for 5 minutes and then sweetly called my name. I went up and she was fine. I told her that when she has to go to the bathroom to go its nothing to be mad about. As we got downstairs she stole a toy straight from her sisters hands so I put her in a time out in her room where she threw toys for the 4 minutes…geez! What are some things parents can do in these situations when they don’t have help from another parent to keep their cool. I try to model the calm behavior so she knows the appropriate way to act but she really pushes you to get mad…if she sees you are still calm and collected she pushes you for a reaction.

    • Hi Stacie – I understand your struggle. Controlling children can push us to our limits. I would suggest a “tantrum” chart. This chart or this one would work well for this situation (you can ignore the text at the bottom). Remove one privilege she enjoys every day (a toy, activity, show, etc). At three points during the day (lunch, dinner and bedtime) sit down with her and review her behavior. If she has been tantrum free for that time period, she gets a sticker for the chart. When the chart (tree or balloons) are full, she gets the privilege back for one day. Don’t take it away if she has a tantrum on that day – she has earned it. Start the chart all over again as needed.

      That’s the corrective part. You also need a training component. Try some book-based training. You can check out these resources (or your local library) for children’s books that teach children how to manage anger.

      I hope that helps! Thanks for stopping by,

    • Yes! So true and I think they are so clever switched on, yet this I cannot put my socks on, ok well don’t!!! ???????????? terrible I’m a single mum and every morning is a battle but I think as he’s 4 I’ve probably half excepted it, but reading over these comments is reassuring x

  • I have an almost 4yr old who tests my limits daily in his quest for control but I think we are handling it well, with the consequences and calmness (mostly!). My question is around dealing with him outside the home where his control is threatened e.g. getting an xray done and visiting the doctor, visiting friends. Despite discussing at length what is going to happen and getting him to describe to me what’s going to happen he still loses it in the most embarrassing and aggressive tantrum that takes an hour or more for him to come down from. I can’t give him the consequence of removing him as we NEED to get the appointment done. We’ve removed privileges after the fact but it makes no difference to the NEXT appointment/visit. Any suggestions? And will he get easier or grow out of it?

    • Hi Carmel – The situation you described can be very trying. Here are some suggestions: 1) Keep a diary. Try to find out if there is a common thread. 2) Look for warning signs. Even the most abrupt tantrum usually has some precursor that you can watch for (clentched jaw, tight fists, heavy breathing, etc.) 3) Diffuse with empathetic listening. Try to put words to what he is feeling – as he likely can’t do that himself just yet. 4) Read this article on dealing with temper tantrums for more ideas. 5) Build skills. You are right in saying that he will outgrow it. But in the meantime you can use these life opportunites to teach him skills and strategies that he can use in the future. Exploring feelings management with the tips from this article might be helpful as well.

      You may have to wade through a few more of these temper tantrums as you work through this process, but don’t give up. It will get better.

      God bless,

  • Hi,
    I know this article is dated, however, I just came across it through research. I have a controlling daughter who not only has to be in control of adults but also peers. She thinks everyone should complete tasks in the manner in which she feels is best and if it isn’t done the way she thinks it should be done she loses all control with yelling, demanding, and when control can still not be obtained it will then turn into uncontrollable crying and her thoughts/feelings turn to that of everyone is against her, no one ever wants to do what she wants to do..etc. Another example is, she is now almost 12, since the age of 2 she has had it in her head that green is her favorite color anything and everything has to be green. If one of her siblings gets a green cup or green article of clothing or anything green, she gets upset. Would these habits be part of a controlling behavior or could there be something else underlying? Also, I was wondering what tips could I give her siblings to help in managing the controlling behavior with my daughter as it also affects them ?
    Thank you for your time!

    • Hi Amy – Thanks for stopping by. Without knowing more about your daughter, it is hard to say for sure if there is anything “more” going on. The very fact that you ask it, however, makes me think that you must at least have some fleeting suspicions. While I am not a proponent of labels, you may want to do some searching on the relationship between controlling behavior and asperger’s syndrome (which, by the way, is no longer a diagnosis from a clinician’s perspective). What you are seeing could be ridgity rather than controlling behavior. Here is a highly informative article you can read and see if it fits your daughter. Here is one more. This article will provide the information and direction you will need if this description fits. I hope that helps.

      Best wishes,

  • Hello Laura, I have a 7 yr old who is having trouble keeping friends at school. She likes to dictate what games are played and does not like to compromise, and then she doesn’t understand why she has no one to play with. When we have suggested ideas eg: To give their games a try, she has been resistant. She has a stubborn streak and my husband and I often have to ask her 5 times to go to her room etc. Academically she is great and she can make friends easily its just she cant keep those friends. Do you have any strategies that you could suggest? Do you think this is an indicator of an obsessive compulsive disorder?
    Thanks Den.

  • Hi Laura, my son has controlling behaviour. Having read your article, he fits everything you’ve said. Won’t obey commands until he wants to, pretends not to hear things when he obviously can. But the worst thing is that he withholds his poos. He recently went nearly a week without doing one. I have a good relationship with him generally. I make time for him and he knows he’s loved. I’ve tried being relaxed about it, tried medicine, charts. Any suggestions?

    • Hi Selina – You don’t say how old your son is, but the bowel troubles may be the result of a negative association between going to the bathroom and pain. You can read about encopresis diagnosis and treatment here. As you will read, after a certain point, the child no longer is voluntarily holding it in -they simply have lost the urge to go. I am sure that you have addressed this with your pediatrician, but if not, now would be the time to do so.

      If your pediatricain has eliminated all medical causes, you might be able to address the controling behavior with one simple, but significant change: choice. This article goes into detail on the importance of choice in child development. This article gives some helpful examples. When controlling children have choice, they feel less of a need to control others.

      I hope that helps!

  • Hi Laura, your article really hit home with me tonight. My daughter (10) has some OCD tendencies and definite control issues. She’s struggling to keep friends and has power struggles with her teachers and other adults. She had a traumatic experience/relationship with her father that has certainly contributed to her behaviors. It will be a lifelong healing process to say the least. This article really helped shine the light on her behavior and hopefully help us work through some of the immediate problems. If you have any further suggestions, I would appreciate it. Thank you.

    • Hi Myra,

      Thanks for stopping by and commenting. I am glad that you found some of the information here helpful. Often times, children who have been traumatized are controlling to counterbalance the lack of control the experienced because of the trauma. I am sure that you have gotten counseling for your daugther to work through some of these issues. She may not always need to see a counselor, but having that person there will be a great safety net. Trauma has a way of rearing it’s head at each developmental transition: puberty, adolescent separation, attending college, etc, so it can be very helpful to have support in place. This article in particular is a great resource. You can explore other articles from here.

      I hope that helps. God bless you,

      • Yes, she’s in counseling, that’s were she actually disclosed. Thank you for the resources. I’ll check them out 🙂

  • Hello please please can you help me my son is 8 years old and very controlling with his best friend at school he won’t let him play with anyone else,talk to anyone else or sit next to anyone else.we have tryed talking to him and role play to explain that he can’t continue this.we are friends with the other Childs parents who are very understanding and very good but I don’t know what to do anymore .we went to a child party yesterday which ended in tears and stress .thank you melanie

    • Hi Melanie,

      I would start by having a meeting with his teacher. I am sure that this behavior is impacting the social dymanic of the class. Maybe the teacher has some suggestions. Then, think about if there are other children in his class or in the neighborhood that you could schedule play dates with. Are there any hobbies that he is interested that he could pursue without this child (little league, karate, etc)? I would also try to figure out what is fueling the behavior. Has he alienated other children? How does this controlling behavior “work” for him? (remember, all behavior exists because it is being reinforced some way – either behaviorally or cognitively). The role play is a good idea, but maybe a more matter-of-fact discussion with questions like: how is this behavior working for you? how is it not? what would happen if Johnny moved away? etc.

      I hope that helps. God bless,

  • hello , i really need help to understand why my 4 years old daughter who is acting like a control freak. couple of days ago i asked my neighbor if she can send her 3 years old to play with my daughter who is also my first child so she has no siblings to play with , the first day they played but i noticed that my daughter is trying to let the other kid play whatever she wants. on the next day the girl came as well , they played for few minutes and then i heard my daughter screaming and laying on the floor sobbing and shouting , when i asked her why she said that the girl is not playing with her properly!! my daughter wanted to play as the teacher but the other child got bored so she was playing with other things which made my daughter really angry. she kept screaming and crying even after the girl went home. i took her to bed while she was still crying. how can i tell her that she should play with the girl not control her?

    • Hi Zahra,

      Your daughter may be going through a time of transition. Toddlers often participate in parallel play – seeing two children play side by side without much interaction in the toddler years is not uncommon. As children grow and begin engaging in cooperative play, tensions can emerge. Dealing with the frustrations that come with the give and take of early childhood play takes time and practice. This article has some good tips. It is especially important for parents to model what they want to see more of. Take time to play with your daughter but don’t let her call the shots all the time. Tell her you want a turn to choose the game. This way you can deal with any reactions or melt downs without an audience. When your daughter struggles, empathize with her. Let her know that you understand it is hard for her but you want to help her. Try some role play before the next play date.

      I hope that helps,

  • Hi, I hope this is still a viable thread. I’ve just come across it while looking for online help. I have a 3.5 year old son who is very sweet, a little shy and loves his mama…almost to much. He is very controlling of me. He wants to have a say in what I’m doing, where I sit, who I talk to, when I eat ECT ECT. When we get in the car he says “sit mama” over and over before I’m even done buckling his car seat. The longer it takes the louder he gets. He constantly asks me to kiss him and says he “just has to hug me” he is affectionate with his father and a few other people but is mainly focused on me. We have issues about his room also and had to remove the door because he would tell us to get out and push the door closed. He asks to go back to “mommys house” soon after leaving, regardless of the destination. He is a very happy little guy besides all this and enjoys making freinds, playing with his 5yo sister and father as long as I am relitivly close. He also guess my things with his life, he will through a fit if someone touches my phone, the shopping cart I’m pushing, my purse ECT and hit them if they try to touch me when he’s close. What do I do? I don’t want to break his heart but he needs to go to preschool in the fall.

    • Hi Kay – For starters, insecure attachment, controlling behavior, etc can emerge around this age. Developmentally they are going through some significant changes. But it does sound like your son is having some difficulty navigating it all. To help you, I would ask a close friend or relative to study you and your son for an afternoon. Sometimes we can inadvertantly reinforce a behavior without even knowing it. A close friend might be able to see dynamics in your relationship that you do not. You might want to read this article on family dynamics and this one on different styles of parenting. You want to make sure that you are establishing firm boundaries and making the family heirarchy clear for him.

      In addition, I thought this was a helpful post on “normal” three and a half year behavior. Maybe you will find some tips there as well.

      I hope that helps,

      • Dear Laura
        My daughter, now twelve, has exhibited very strong controlling behaviours for six or seven years now. It has resulted in her being put out of schools, amongst other things. The difficulty I have is that when we adopt these strategies, she knows she can defeat them. She will routinely respond to our dispassionate responses and calm simple consequences by becoming increasingly disruptive, destructive and ultimately violent. She knows that if she keeps taking it up a level, we can’t really manage that it a family home. The result is frequent restraining and damage to the house and very frayed emotions all round. She will sometimes express deep remorse following this behaviour and cry uncontrollably, breaking down and expressing self loathing, fear and regret.
        We don’t know what to do for her. Managing her behaviour in a clinical setting would allow the strategies you outline to be put into affect safely but the damage to her self esteem may prove more harmful than the controlling behaviour – I couldn’t do that to her. We are at an end of ourselves and concerned for her (and our) welfare.

        • Hi Emily – It sounds like you are facing an important decision. I don’t know where you live, but I would consider looking into intensive outpatient treatment or partial hospitalization programs. I know that you are concerned about her self esteem being impacted by her placement in such a clinical setting, but I think that the severity of her behaviors warrant it. Her lack of ability to manage her emotions is already having a significant negative effect on her self-concept. A safe, caring program environment that can give her skills, insights and adaptive behaviors would, in fact, be a boost to her self-esteem, not a hinderance.

          Best wishes,

        • I have the same problem with my 12 year old son. Its manipulation. I have to just lay down the law with him or he continues escalating. If you say stop talking, don’t repeat yourself if the child refuses, just issue a consequence they can’t control by refusal or whatever. We use spanking, but something like that if you choose not to. It just has to be that your home is a dictatorship, and you are the dictator. It doesn’t change them, but it makes your life easier without the constant arguing and it puts you firmly in control. You are doing right by remaining dispassionate, you can’t let them know what buttons to push. Keep them guessing when it comes to you. Be an enigma. It doesn’t last forever. 6 years and you won’t be responsible for her choices anymore, and you won’t have to deal with the consequences either. It sounds terrible, but you can’t make them be good people, all you can do is teach them and hope they listen.

          • Tali,

            I am sorry to hear this. I firmly believe that parenting is not something we should aim to “get through” but something we should be able to thoroughly enjoy. There are a lot of challenges with parenting, to be sure, and controlling children bring their own set of challenges. My prayer is that you will be able to find joy in your relationship with your son. It is that relationship that will give him the foundation he needs to navigate the rough waters of adolescence. If you are in need of additional resources, please let me know. I can try to point you in the right direction.

            God bless,


          • Oh, no. Parenting is not something I will think about just getting through. I have four other wonderful sons, its only the one who constantly challenges authority, and I only have to put up with him for 5 more years and everyone in my house can breathe easier and have a normal life. I have prayed every day he would finally see the light, but he hasn’t. He gets away with so much at school, walking off campus, staff can’t control him, etc, and this school specializes in troublesome children, but he now just leaves my house when in trouble for something, using the behavior he learned from school to control the situation. God has his plan, and part of that plan is that children are borrowed, and when grown, they leave. Yes, he is teaching me and likely has some purpose for my son, but he never intended the suffering of me and my family to continue forever.

  • This was very helpful to a point . I have serious concerns with my 4 year old step daughter. She is very bright and the same time off the wall. Example takes chap stick a draws all over her face. Took a pen yesterday and wrote on her 4 month old brother. And then blames it on her doll baby. She can’t stand the word no and is never happy.. Please help me!!!

    • Hi Katie – Two main questions come to mind: 1) Is she bored? (bright kids require a different kinds – both in quantity and quality – of stimulation) and 2) Is she seeking attention? (a 4 month old can be very demanding and she could be struggling with the adjustment). Try to figure out what is stimulating and engaging for her (but not passive entertainment like tv or videos). Scheudule time for her to pursue her interests everyday so she has something to look forward to. Also, could you engage her as your helper? Are there age appropriate things she could do to help with the baby and housework? And finally re-evaluate how you discipline. This article might help.

      I hope that helps,

  • hi,
    I’m a nanny to a 6yr old (I worked with him from age of ten months to 3.5 y rs and recently began working with him, following his family to a new state at their request after finishing my MEd).
    I’ve identified some major controlling behaviors: responding to my instructions with demands, inflexibility in play with peers, constant attempts to negotiate rather than do as asked. Everything is a power struggle. dissengaging as suggested above seems to be working a bit BUT the problem is his parents are uninterested in supporting this course, thus reinforcing power/control as the end game. I worry that without consistency we will not be able to help him.
    do you know of any resources to help parents understand these issues?
    Thank you!

    • Hi Meg, I commend you for your diligence in working on this issues with this young boy. He is lucky to have you. It can be very challenging when the parents don’t support your efforts. I would try to figure out why they are uninterested. Do they not have the time or energy? Do they not see the need? Once you know this information, you might be able to intervene better. Do you have the type of relationship where you could model how it is done? Have a New Kid by Friday might be the right sort of start for these parents. Audio books are available on Amazon here so they could even listen in the car. You can read my review of this book here. It is a no-nonsense, straight forward approach that get quick results. It may be something they could commit to.

      I hope that helps you get headed in the right direction.

      God bless,

  • Hi,
    I am having some issues with my son who turned 4 in August. He has been going to the same daycare since he was 3 and he is still having a hard time adjusting. We are currently potty training him for the last month and he will only go to the toilet with either me, my husband or my daughter who is nine. He will not use the bathroom at school or with my parents. He has been wetting himself every day at school and refuses to even use their bathrooms. I am not sure how to treat this situation. He won’t talk about it with me or my husband.

    • Hi Lucia,

      Given your son’s age, I would first start by talking to the pediatrician. They may have some insights for you. Provided that all checks out, I would investigate some possible underlying reasons. Is he comfortable at daycare in general? Is there sufficient privacy for him when he uses the bathroom? Are kids walking in on him? Does he feel rushed by the staff? Try working with the daycare staff to create a schedule and rewards system if he uses the schedule (here are some reward charts) Also, here is a great article with some helpful tips.

      The very best solution is to not be upset with him and not not lecture. This issue will resolve itself in time. In the meantime you want to support him and help him to be heard. I would also suggest that you talk to the staff about his adjustment in general. What can be done to make him more comfortable at daycare? Are there other alternatives that you could investigate?

      I hope that helps you get headed in the right direction. Thanks for stopping by.

      Best wishes,

  • What about the child 3.5 that refuses to do anything without making you do something first. “I need a hug and a kiss first” or “hold my hand while I do it” I usually tell her after she finishes what she is supposed to do or I am not the one who threw that on the floor so I dont have to help you pick it up.which results in her freaking out and repeating that she needs me to hold her hand or give her a hug and a kiss. Am I supposed to give in to her simple request and there for she has taken control of me and the situation. I am lost she always has to have control of everything and she is beyond persistent. She has always been very hard and difficult since birth. Its her temperament.

    • Hi Dianna,

      You are right to say that temperament has a lot to do with our children’s behaviors. There are some qualities that are innate, but we can still work with them! Sometimes the verbal engagement is enough to perpetuate power struggles when a child is attempting to be controlling. Have you tried walking away? You could say, “Well, let me know when it is cleaned up. I’ll be in the kitchen. After it’s cleaned up we can read a story.” This matter-of-fact approach takes the emotions out of it and walking away shows her that you mean what you say. Trying to rationalize or negotiate with her will not work. You need to speak with actions. She may have a meltdown. You can go in and check on her if you feel it is for safety reasons and say, “I wanted to see if you were being safe. Let me know when it is cleaned up. I look forward to reading the book with you.” Then walk away again. You may need to be more strict/firm initially in this process until she learns that bargaining won’t work. You don’t have to be that firm indefinitely. If she pulls at your heart strings, remind yourself that discipline is a form of love.

      I hope that helps.
      God bless,

  • I have Asperger Syndrome (milder Autism, no notable delay or deficit in speech or cognitive abilities), and I’m also an oldest child (my parents only had my brother and me, so I’m technically an older child). When I was in school, I used to feel like I needed to reprimand or correct my peers and teachers for even the slightest deviance from rules and codes of behavior. This is pretty common for people on the Autism Spectrum because they have a more rigid understanding of rules and codes of behavior.

    I’d imagine it’s even worse for people on the Autism who grew up like oldest or only children, since a lot of oldest and only children (even those without Autism) are a little fussier about other people’s behavior, grammar, or manners than people (even those without Autism) who grew up with older siblings. With the oldest or only child, a lot of parents will correct their child for even the slightest sign or poor grammar, manners, or behavior. For example, if the oldest child says, “I WANT SOME MORE MILK,” a parent or guardian might correct the child and say, “can I have some more milk please?” If the oldest child says, “Me and Jordan are going to the park later,” a parent/guardian might correct the child and say, “you mean ‘Jordan and I are going to the park later.'” This might teach the oldest child(ren) or only child to correct or reprimand other people for small stuff.

    With every child after that, however, the parents/guardians think more like, “well, as long as nobody is doing anything dangerous, or making anybody too uncomfortable, anything goes.” This is also the attitude these kids probably show when interacting with other people.

    It’s no wonder that when someone says, “me and Alex are going camping this weekend,” an oldest or only child, or a person on the Autism Spectrum might correct them and say, “you mean ‘Alex and I are going camping this weekend,” while someone who grew up with older siblings might say, “awesome! Where are you going camping?”

    I think a lot of children’s actions toward other people tend to mirror their parents’/guardians’ or teachers’ actions toward them. If parents/guardians or teachers reprimand or correct kids for even even the slightest deviation from good grammar, good manners, good behavior, it is more likely that the kids learn to reprimand or correct other people for even the slightest deviation from these things. If parents/guardians or teachers are more laid back about behavior and other stuff I mentioned (as in, “as long as nobody is doing anything dangerous or destroying anything, anything goes), it is more likely that that the children will show this kind of attitude toward other people. However, even children whose parents/guardians and teachers are more laid back about behavior might still be controlling, because they’re used to getting their own way.

    I think if your kid seems a bit fussy about other people’s behavior or grammar, you should think about whether you’re too fussy with your kids, or whether you let them have their own way too often, and so they expect other people to follow every one of their demands.

  • Hello-

    After reading your article I believe I have a controlling 4 almost 5 year old. He generally gets along well with others and in preschool. However when at home mostly around bedtime or with bedtime routine he is VERY controlling, especially with me. Plays games, has to have things go his way, etc……..which makes for a long bedtime routine. There have been times when I just explain that mommy is leaving the room and will not stay to cuddle if he doesn’t listen….and I have and he normally comes back and cooperates.

    However, if something does not go his way or it’s not his idea his go to is to start crying and whining. I will tell him I cannot help him unless he talks like a big boy. He tries tone it down but it’s still a whine. Or I simply have to take him to his room because he will not go and tell him once he is down crying he can rejoin downstairs.

    I have to go through this routine for what seems like most of the evening. He has dropped naps which I think he still struggles with but in general he has always been stubborn/controlling.

    Any advice would be appreciated to help our nights go more smooth. FYI he does have an older brother (8 almost 9) that he wants to do everything he does.

    • Hi Amie,

      I can appreciate your evening struggles. It can add to the stress of an already long day. I would try to provide him with choice when appropriate. You could try making up cards with pictures of all the different tasks that he needs to complete before bed. Let him decide what order he would like to do them in. As he completes each one, he can hand them in to you. Each card can be worth a certain number of minutes (you decide). You can tell him that you will cuddle/read with him for the number of minutes he has earned. You could see if such an incentive plan that gives him some control would work.

      I hope that helps,

  • Hi,
    I have an 8 year old son who is having a lot of problems. The school contacted me a few months ago to tell me they were concerned about how he was mixing with his peers. They told me he is likes to be in the centre of attention, like to be in control and takes everything as a personal attack. They were so concerned that his education has taken the back seat. I have changed my parenting from authoritarian to gentle. I have seen a big improvement in how open he is but I have also seen emotions spilling everywhere. My son is struggling with regulation but is nothing like he was, his heart is huge and I can’t believe how much progress he has made but he is now out of control when I am not around. When he is at karate or anchor boys or school and he has no one to calm him and help him stay regulated he’s shutting down, getting controlling or he’s losing it.
    What can I do to help him stop trying to contol people and lose it when he does not get his own way when I am not around?

    • Hi Louise,

      Congratulations on finding a parenting style that works for you son. He is lucky to have you.

      I don’t know if it is possible with your schedule, but maybe you can observe him in different settings and see if you can identify any triggers. You seem to know him so well, it is possible that the other adults in his life need to learn what you know about him. I would ask if you can partner with the school, karate and his boys program to help them find a more successful way to handle him.

      You could also start to equip him with methods of self-control and emotional regulation. Here is a good study designed for a Sunday School class but you could easily adapt it for you and your son to do together: You could also do a search for self-control exercises for kids. Here’s a good printable. It would be good to role play the exercises together so he knows how to use them in “real time.”

      I hope that helps. God bless,


  • Hi Louise
    I’m in need of help with my 6 nearly 7 year old second son. We have been aware that since starting kindy that our son can be quite controlling with his peers mainly at lunch and recess, whilst in class his teacher says he is well behaved he is however behind but trying hard!
    —— Is now in year 1
    He controls the groups and the games and dismisses people from his groups. His best friend came to me recently and said that —- doesn’t like me any more ! After chatting with the boys mum she said it’s been going on since kindy and it is beginning to be quite an issue for her son. All the kids are keen to play with him even if he treats them unkindly.
    At home he refuses to do most things like eat dinner and even asking him to get dressed is a struggle, he has quite a fierce temper if he does not get his own way. He slams doors,kick the back of my chair in the car if I say something that annoys him…. But so far no hitting.
    We are now considering a child counsellor….. We would appreciate any help you could give us
    Many thanks Nicole

    • Hi Nicole,

      I think you are wise to consider a child counselor. Your son may need a safe and private place to share his emotions and feelings. Counseling would also provide you and your son an opportunity to learn new communication skills so that you can both feel heard and respected.

      The key is to find out why he is acting so controlling. Are there things in his life he cannot control that frustrate him? Could his academic struggles lead to a feeling of inferiority that he needs to compensate for on the playground and at home? What about role playing? Could you act out some of his interactions with his peers so he could get a sense for how he is making others feel? His awareness of how he is being perceived may need to be increased. Can you talk about the long term outcome from acting in this way? He may not be aware of how lonely he will be if this behavior continues. For some children this age it can be helpful to use movies and books as a way to heighten social awareness. You can pause the book/movie and ask questions such as “Why did he act that way?” or “How do you think that made his friends feel?” This may give you a window into his thinking but also increase his awareness of how others may feel because of his behaviors. You may want to spend some time helping him develop a deeper sense of empathy. This article may help.

      I hope that helps.

      God bless,

  • Thank you for your article on controlling children, it has been a helpful read. At present we are struggling with our eldest child who whats to control ever asspect of life and it particular his younger brothers, which in turn is causing the middle child to act in the same way.

    Although no#1 wants to control no#2 (& no#3) at the same time gets extremely cross when he copies him, I explain that this is a compliment really but tbat only seems to satisfy him for a short time. I am really concerned for his behaviour especially if he is reacting the same at school (he has a real dislike for school). I do get cross with them and voices raise, which then causes no#3 to shout & scream! No#1 has asked Jesus into his heart and remind him of that, which helps for a little while. I do realise that I am (& hubby) probably most part of the causes of his behaviour but I am struggling to adjust the way I deal with him (& his brothers) I pray for strength each day to deal with them in a Christ like way but I know that I am failing in that really.

    My husband suggested we speak with our pastor but I am not sure I want to do that. I love my children & I know how much God has blessed me with them & when their good their really good & are praised for that.

    Thank you for listening, feel better just putting in to words how I feel.

    God bless x

    • Hi Joanne,

      Thanks for your comment. I am sorry to hear of your struggles, but I rejoice with you over your son’s recent commitment to the Lord. The great thing about becoming a follower of Jesus, is our access to the Holy Spirit. Your son now has that, but some times we fight back and our flesh wins out. We are all a work in progress.

      I would take some time and really disciple your son. I don’t know how old he is, but maybe you could start a character study together. I would recommend finding some resources on the life of David. Studying this man of God who didn’t always get it right could be a great way to not only instill godly character but to show your son that doing good all the time is not a requirement to be called a “man after God’s own heart.” It is possible that your pastor or your children’s ministry director could help you find such a study.

      I would continue to pray daily that God would give you wisdom and direction on how to address your sons’ behaviors. And if you fall short, model repentance and seeking forgiveness. Our children need to see the humility in us that we want them to develop. It isn’t easy, I know.

      I have said a prayer for your family and that this current struggle will bring you into closer relationship with God and each other.

      God bless,


  • Hello,
    I share similar stories as those above, but would like more clarification and advice.

    My 3.5 year old daughter is a wonderful child…smart, funny, loving, friendly. She does have (and always has) dominance issues over me and her dad. She has never (and we’ve admittedly empowered it over the years) allowed my husband to instruct, punish or sooth her in my presence. She will howl if he comes to her at night rather than me and the screaming will go on for hours. She demands my presence and wants to cuddle with her or sleep with me. She will also stand her ground on small power struggles…Like “I want mommy to get me out of the car” and she will not relent if my husband tries to do so. This only happens when I am around…he has no issues in my absence.

    She also is obsessed with touching a small mole on my neck. Seems silly, but it is an obsession, much like a child who reaches for a doll or a pacifier, she reaches for me and fights me when I won’t let her touch it. The simple answer is that I have to walk away when she does so, but then the screaming fit follows for what seems like an eternity. She has never taken to a lovey or toy, so I can’t seem to get her to transfer that energy.

    In response, we talk about the touching, and she acknowledges my request and knows that it makes me uncomfortable, but in the heat of the moment or when she has the urge to touch it, she will not peacefully give in.

    We are also initiating change to our nighttime routine to include a burst of active play after dinner, massage with essential oils after bath, etc. That seems to help calm her to the point of falling asleep easier, but she will not stay asleep.

    Any further advice to get control back? My 7 year old, husband and I are seeking all solutions.
    Many thanks, S

    • Hi Shelly,

      First of all, I want to apologize for the delayed response. I have had some trouble with notifications from my site. Anyway, I can hear your frustrations. But you do sound like you have a lot of skills already to deal with this troublesome behavior – the changes you have instituted are great ideas. I would also add some discussions (and observations on your husband’s part) about self-soothing in ways that do not include another person. Since she seems fine with your husband, he has probably had to deal with her when she is upset and you are not around. What does he see that works? You could talk to her about it and say that everyone needs ways to feel better when they are upset. You can share some of the things that help calm you down. You could come up with a list of ideas together, make a picture list and try them out. Some ideas include listening to a favorite song, hearing a favorite (short) story, using a stress ball or some “thinking putty.” You have every right to ask that she respect your personal space. And by doing so, you are modeling for her that her body is her own -something every child needs to learn. In the moment, you can say, “I know you feel that you need to touch me there to calm down, but it is my body and I don’t like it. Let’s try one of the other ideas we came up with.” There may be a meltdown in response, but if you provide her with alternatives you are not rejecting her, just redirecting her.

      You are doing a great job and I want to encourage you to continue to love her through this phase. It will not last forever, but if you can give her some coping skills in the process you would be addressing it at the root and hopefully preventing it from re-surfacing in some other form in the future.

      God bless,

  • We have an 8-year old grand-daughter who is excellent at controlling her parents (who are divorced but on good terms with each other) and grandparents. If the child says no to whatever is suggested, then both parents leave it at that. The grandparents just have to sit back and bite their tongues! The child refuses hugs, kisses etc. but at sensitive moments when adults are in a distressed state, she is the perfect child, and only wishes to “make things better”. She is good at school and the teachers look on her as a model student. The child likes to spend time on her own, and tells stories to herself in front of mirrors. We would dearly love to be able to take her out and enjoy things she likes, but unless she is in the mood, refuses even to “try” and just sulks. Any suggestions as to how we can enjoy and help this child who clearly has issues but is sorely loved by all.

    • Hi Jill,

      It can be very frustrating as a caring grandparent to know how to handle these situations. It is hard because you may have ideas on how to handle it, but don’t want to interfere or over step your bounds. It is obvious you love her, so why not give her a gift that could re-direct these issues that she is displaying? I am thinking of some drama classes to channel her need to be center of attention. These types of lessons (or being part of a production) would have the added benefit of instilling instilling discipline and respect for authority. You can search online in your area for youth drama productions. They typically take children of all ages. You never know, you could uncover a hidden talent!

      Best wishes,

  • This was a good read. My soon to be 5 year old son is starting to do this and honestly this is how I was starting to feel. My question/issue is his father and I are not together and does not work with me on parenting.

    • Hi Nicole,

      It can be very hard when you are not on the same page with the other parent. It may be helpful to have clearly written/pictured rules for your son when he is at your house – so he knows exactly what to expect when he is with you. You can say something like, “That may be okay when you were at Dad’s but here, we do ______.” You don’t want to be negative about his father, just state the facts without commentary or opinion. Refer to your rules and expectations often and the consistency within the walls of your home will become comforting to your son.

      God bless,

  • Hello,

    Really interesting read and obviously relevant years on! Our son (4) is in a controlling friendship with a family friend’s son. The have spent time out of preschool together so its solidified their connection (which I feel guilty about!) This friend is a bit of a bully and throws his weight around at school (pushing, dominating etc.) He is also quite bright and has a large vocab so can feel authoritative. Our boy says when he plays with other children this friend follows him and sabotages it. He still likes and plays with him out of choice but there is obviously something controlling going on. I fear it will shape my sons friendships in school which starts next year. There are so many lovely kids in the school but this boy is preventing him forming those friendships. Should I stop out of school meetings (awkward with family) or let them ride it out?

    • You could certainly reduce them if you were concerned that they get-togethers were not in your son’s best interest. He will meet all kinds of kids as he goes through school. It is best to try to equip him with the ability to tell a good friend from a not so go one. Do you remember the Frog and Toad stories? Those might be a good tool to use to help him understand the true meaning of friendship. Reading books together that help you highlight what a good friend is (or is not) can be very helpful.

      I hope that helps,

  • Hi Laura,
    Thank you for your wonderful articles. I have always struggled with my 10 year old for him to comply with what he is told to do when he is in trouble. He is an active child and youngest of 3 boys. He loves to interact and play, but many times he picks the wrong time or approach which leads to him getting into trouble. When he’s told to go to his room, his answer is always NO. I feel SO disrespected by him and have told him this. Many times he desires to “modify” what he’s told to do, but it eats me up that he doesn’t just listen and do what he’s told. I’m the parent, he’s the child. I have finally come to the conclusion that he desires control. Perhaps I should stop sending him to his room. Maybe there’s another option, but my gut says he’ll just have a comeback for that too. I’m emotionally drained and fear what is to come next as he gets older. Your thoughts?

    • Hi Edda,
      It can be exhausting dealing with a “strong willed child.” Keep in mind, with proper guidance and discipline, these qualities will likely translate into strong leadership skills in the future. For children who struggle for control, getting “on top” with harsher and harsher discipline tactics often lead to more conflict and eventually a breakdown in the parent-child relationship. You want to avoid that. I would suggest that you make your family rules and expectations very clear for all. Write them down so there is no debate. Make it public and applicable to all family members. You can come up with the rules together as a family. Make sure that you are ready to enforce them when they are broken. You can send you son to his room or have him sit on the stairs (or other consequence you deem fitting). If he refuses, you simply “freeze” his day. You can say, “Your day will not continue until you obey.” This means that you do not engage with him or give him things (like a ride to a friends house, etc) until he is willing to obey. You are giving him the control of when he complies, but not IF he complies. This approach needs commitment but it can be very effective for some children. It will take a while for him to realize that you mean business, but consistency is the key. It is also very important for you to have follow up after he complies, discussing what he did wrong, why it was wrong and what he was feeling when he disobeyed or broke a rule. Getting to the why of it will be much more effective in the long run.

      I hope that helps,

      • Hi Laura,
        Thank you for taking the time to reply and for your insightful thoughts. Some of what you suggest, I have done, however I have never thought to “freeze” his day and think that could be a great next approach.
        God bless,

  • Hi do you have any advice how to deal with this when you have triplets (age 5), without the other two always having to suffer the consequences as well? This all describes my son to a tee. I am home with them and need tactics for when it’s just me with all 3. While the example of cleaning the room worksbecause it affects just him, we have more issues with extreme delay tactics as a power play. However (recent example) I can’t tell him he won’t get to see the cheetah run at the zoo if he doesn’t stop delaying because then the other two would unfairly miss out. Any thoughts? Again I just need advice for the times I’m alone and I can’t divide and conquer. Thanks so much.

    • Hi Anna – First of all, let me express my deepest appreciation for what you (and other parents of multiples) go through every day. Your situation does present its challenges, but I think it might help to have a shift in mindset. Instead of seeing discipline as removal of privileges, try to focus more on adding what you want to see more of. For example, if your son is delaying the others, you can let them all see the cheetahs, but when you come home and the others are doing something fun, he gets to “practice” getting ready instead of doing the activity with the others. You can have him run through the routine involved in leaving the house because he has shown you that he needs some practice. You can have him do it a few times until he shows mastery of the process. This technique can be helpful for some controlling children and can be applied to a lot of different situations.

      I hope that helps!

  • I can relate to many of the comments above. My 6 year old boy has always been extremely strong willed. Lately he’s turned to sabotaging activities when it’s something he decided he doesn’t want to do anymore or if we are somewhere he doesn’t want to be. For example, we all went biking with my younger son who’s 3. My younger son loves to ride his bike and we went on a path near our house. My 6 year old decided he was done after about 5 minutes and started yelling, crying that he wanted to go home. He also started blocking the way for my youngest. Everybody became miserable so we left. I feel like I caved into his wishes and my younger son didn’t get to ride his bike very long. I feel like my oldest is controlling our family. What do I do in a situation like this one? This is just one example and I’m at my wits end.

    • Hi Julie,
      Sorry for the late reply. My first question is, what did you do when you got home from the bike ride? There needs to be consequences for this type of behavior. If you went on your day as planned then he isn’t getting the message that this behavior is not acceptable. If you anticipate a difficult situation, you can sit down with him before the event and tell him what you expect: to listen to mom and dad, be kind and gentle to his sibling and to be a good family member. What is a good family member? Someone who does his part to make sure that every family member has fun and works together. With your example, maybe he doesn’t like bike riding but maybe he can find something to do along the way that he likes (such as looking for a certain model of car, or counting birds, etc). If he cannot do what is expected, there will be consequences when you return home. And if you have to return home early, the consequences will be greater. Consequences can include extra chores (to give him practice as a “good family member.”), staying home in his room -with a baby sitter- while you take your youngest bike riding another time, or missing out on a family activity (ie, trip to the ice cream shop).

      I hope those suggestions help. Your son needs to know that you value him as a part of your family but when one member requires extra attention or isn’t doing his or her part, it’s like a car trying to operate on three wheels. It doesn’t run right.

      God bless,

Leave a Comment

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.