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How to Handle Controlling Behavior in Children

Anxiety workbook for kids
Written by Laura Kuehn, LCSW

Do you have a child with control issues? Learn what is behind controlling behavior and what you can do about it.

In our last article, we addressed attention-seeking as one of the possible four motivating factors behind your child’s difficult behaviors. This article will explore how you can help a child who is displaying controlling behavior. 

Examples of controlling behavior

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 redirected
  • Withdrawal from group play if they cannot get their way

NOTE: Not all of these behaviors are indicative of a control issues. Children who do not complete tasks may be struggling with attentional issues. Children who are refusing to eat may have an underlying medical condition or an allergy. Children who ignore an instruction may have an auditory processing disorder. It is always important to rule out any medical, mental health or trauma issues before assuming a child is “just controlling.”

What controlling behavior feels like to you

Not surprisingly, parents can start to feel how their kids are acting. If you have a child with controlling behaviors, you might notice that you feel some or all of these:

  • Anger (sometimes very intense anger)
  • A strong desire to dominate or control the child (in an effort to squash the rebellion)
  • Out of control

What controlling behavior tells you

A child who displays controlling behavior may be telling you something about who he or she is or what he needs.

Often, innate personality factors play a role in control-driven behavior. Some controlling and demanding children grow up to be amazing business leaders. They simply lack the maturity or training to harness that trait for good. It is our job as parents to help these kids use their wiring and gifts appropriately. (If you have a “bossy” child, you may want to check out this article)

Alternatively, controlling behavior may be telling you that your child is in desperate need for more consistent limits and structure.

And finally, a child who acts controlling may be telling you that he or she needs more autonomy and freedom appropriate for their age and development. Children change and grow and our parental goals and expectations need to grow and change with them. It’s our job to figure out what they need and how to know the difference.

How to correct controlling behavior

Attempting to dominate a child with controlling behaviors may provide short-term results for parents. You may be able to force him to do what you want. However, if you choose this path, you will be modeling the erroneous fact that your child already believed: that power and control is the ultimate goal in relationships.

Here are some things you can do instead:

1) Disengage from the power struggles with choice

Power struggles, by definition, require two parties to fight for control. If one party disengages, the struggle ends. Parents often fear that this means they will “lose” and their child will “win.” It’s this mindset that perpetuates the allure (and illusion) of control. The parent-child relationship is not one of dominance and submission.

If your child’s behavior is dysregulating for you, walk away and engage in some activities that will help you calm down. If you do lose your temper, this article might help.

Another way to disengage in power struggles with your child is to offer them choices. Giving children choices among things that are all acceptable to you will give them a sense of control without the need to wrestle you for it.

Parents often say at this point, “Yeah, but my child never wants either of the choices I offer.” If this is a pattern for your child you can give them three choices. You can say something like: “You have three choices. You can put that away now, you can put it away in 5 minutes, or I can put it away for you in 5 minutes. You pick.” Then walk away calmly and return in 5 minutes to see what they have decided to do.

2) Let natural and logical consequences be their teacher

Sometimes giving choices as outlined above does not fit the situation. This is when natural consequences come into play.

You don’t have to hover and nag your child into obedience. You can create clear instructions and expectations with tagged consequences. This way the child still has a choice to make: complete the task or earn a consequence.

Here’s an example. Let’s say a dad asks his son to clean up his room (with clear instructions regarding when, how and what will happen if he does not). He makes good eye contact and gets acknowledgement that he has been heard by asking the child to repeat it back. The dad then walks away. He does not stand over the child to see if it gets done. He does not return every 5 minutes to see how he is coming. He lets the child choose.

When the dad returns at the expected completed time he will likely find one of three outcomes: his son did it, he refused, or he did it half-way. If it was done half-way, the father can find out what caused the delay and address that (there may have been a good reason, don’t assume non-compliance). But if the son outright refused, the father doesn’t need to lecture, scold or belittle. He can simply say, “Okay. I see you chose _______________ (the consequence) and follow through with whatever was announced before. No conversation. No negotiating. The consequence does the teaching. You can learn more about natural and logical consequences here.

3) Remain calm

I know – easier said than done. Here are a few things that can help you remain calm in the face of controlling behaviors.

First, try to figure out what is triggering the controlling behavior on your child. Write them down if you need to. Then, be on the lookout. What is the context? Does he try to control others when he is overwhelmed? Does he refuse to obey when he is tired? Does he ignore instructions mostly during transitions? This information can give you perspective and context that can help you, in those tough moments, to view your child’s behavior with curiosity rather than confrontation.

You can also employ the use of planned “anchor statements” in the midst of an emotionally charged event. You may say to yourself, “This is hard, but I can handle it.” Or you may choose to use imagery. Close your eyes and imagine that you are in the eye of a hurricane. Everything is swirling about you but you are calm and at peace. Take a deep breath. You can do it.

4) Be proactive

The best way to avoid a power struggle with a child who is seeking control is to not set yourself up for an incident. Once you know his triggers, you can prepare. 

For example, if your young 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 desired family activity. He will be motivated to move quickly through his routine and you will simply have only one transition to address come bedtime. If that last transition proves difficult, let the child choose between two bedtimes (both acceptable to you) and be sure to have in place a positive engaging experience after the child is in bed (a story, a song, a cuddle, etc).

5) Give him things to control

If you suspect your child has innate leadership skills that are being inappropriately expressed, give him him a place to use them for good. Is there a club or a group he could start at school or in the community for an issue he is passionate about? For younger children, playing “house” where he gets to be the parent would give him an appropriate taste of leadership in the context of play. Can he map out a route for your next road trip? Any ideas where you would happily hand over the reigns while simultaneously tapping into his leadership skills would be a welcomed change. A child who has a sense of control in some areas will not have a need to steal it in every area.

6) Take care of yourself

Controlling behavior in children require parents with great amounts of self-control. As a result, these parents will need frequent opportunities to refresh and refuel. Make appointments for daily self-care, and keep them as if they were doctor’s appointments. It’s that important. Here is a list of self-care activities.

If you are looking for more tips on what you can do to manage controlling behavior, click here.

Next article: Revenge-Seeking Behavior in Children

For how to create discipleship opportunities when face with controlling behavior, click here.

Follow on Facebook This article is for informational purposes only and is not intended as a substitute for treatment from a qualified mental health professional. Cornerstones for Parents is not liable for any advice, tips, techniques, and recommendations the reader chooses to implement.

About Laura

Laura Kuehn, LCSW

Laura is a licensed clinical social worker who offers individual therapy to women and parents. Cornerstones for Parents is the place she combines some of her favorite things: writing, parenting and God's word. She is happily married with a young adult son and a teenage daughter.


  • 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,

  • 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.

  • 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,

  • 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,

  • 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,

  • 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 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.

  • 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,

  • 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,

  • 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 🙂

  • 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!

  • 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 Den – I don’t have enough information to give you feedback about OCD. If you are concerned about that, this article might help. Or check out this website.

      As far as the controlling behavior is concerned, you may find this article helpful. If you are a family of faith, I addressed this issue in a previous article that give specific tips on how to encourage an other-orientation in children.

      I hope that helps!


  • 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,

  • 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,

  • 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

  • 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,

  • 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,

  • 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,

  • 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 :))

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