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.
Today’s 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
Not surprisingly, parents can start to feel how their kids are acting. If you have a controlling child, you might feel any one 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 his behavior is telling 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. Here are 4 things you can do instead:
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.
Say it once and walk away
In his book, Have a New Kid by Friday, Dr. Kevin Leman outlines this plan. If your child disobeys, ignores or refuses your instruction, a matter of fact consequence will follow.
Here’s an example. 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.
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: be prepared and have 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 a support person to give you pep talks before and praise and encouragement after a success in this area.
The best way to avoid a power struggle with a controlling child is to not set yourself up for an incident. Once you know his triggers for power issues, you can prepare. 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.
Take care of yourself
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