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Coaching Help For Controlling Children

Dr. Steven Richfield


A father writes:   What advice do you have about children who often want to be in control? My wife and I engage in endless struggles with our son that lead nowhere except to get us all very frustrated. Sometimes it seems like he argues with us over issues that have little or no importance to him, except that they give him an excuse to argue!

Most children come into the world with some desire for control. The degree to which they express their preferences, objections and opinions, and adapt to the changing world tends to determine whether they are viewed as easy-going or inflexible. Temperament is a lot to do with it. Temperament can be likened to a rubber band that has definite form but also stretches to accommodate what is asked of it. Each child possesses a different degree of elasticity, prompting them to stretch enough to allow for outside control or snap back with acrimony when not getting their way.

Temperament is not etched in stone; it can be modified to some degree but parents should not expect transformations. Children who are passionate about controlling others will probably not become wallflowers but can be coached in the finer art of flexibility. Here's how:

When the time is right try to help them observe how much their struggles to control others get in the way of their happiness and that of others.  Parents can offer some of  the ways that " Mr. or Miss Control" pop out and make others feel pushed around. Gently explain how their trouble with losing, not being the leader, or trying to get away with not doing what they're supposed to do, backfires and stirs up social and family troubles. See if they accept how the battle to have things their way is harder on them than just giving in to others. If they are willing have a discussion about flexibility and the amount of "stretch" that they and others have in them.