If you find yourself constantly thinking, “My child wants to control everything!”, you’re not alone!
Parenting a strong-willed child can be exhausting, and it’s not uncommon for parents to feel like they are fighting a losing battle. The key is to learn how to avoid the daily power struggle with peaceful, collaborative problem-solving.
This blog post will cover what to do when your child tries to take control and five essential positive parenting tips for raising a strong-willed child.
What are the signs of a controlling child?
It’s not uncommon for a child to want to be in charge. What many parents worry about being symptoms of manipulative behavior in early childhood, is healthy social and emotional development.
At the same time, some children have a natural desire to take the driver’s seat more than others. Kids with a strong-willed temperament may:
- Throw tantrums or whine when they don’t get what they want
- Have a tough time sharing with others
- Frequently interrupt conversations or other people’s activities
- Engage in “attention-seeking” behavior
- Struggle to apologize or make amends
What causes a child to be controlling?
You may be wondering, “Why is my child so bossy and controlling?” Controlling behavior in children may stem from a variety of factors, including:
- Innate temperament or dominant child personality
- Developmental stage and age
- A child’s perceived control over their day-to-day
As caregivers, we may be quick to blame ourselves or take things personally. However, we must recognize what is within our control as parents.
Factors such as temperament or developmental stage are out of our control. We can control how we respond. We can also model and teach our children how to channel their strong-willed personalities in a positive way.
5 ways to avoid power struggles when your child wants to control everything
As a certified positive parent educator, I will share five essential tips for avoiding daily battles with your strong-willed child.
#1: Offer ample opportunities for voice and choice
Providing ample opportunities for your child to feel in control and have a voice can reduce daily power struggles. When children already feel in control, they are less likely to engage in controlling behavior.
Research shows kids who don’t feel “in control” of their lives are more likely to face mental health issues and “helpless” behavior into adulthood.
Within safe and reasonable boundaries, allow your child to choose what they wear, eat, play with, or even where they want to go. This will help them feel like they have a say in their life.
According to Jane Nelson, founder of Positive Discipline, positive parents are both “kind and firm.” Providing voice and choice does not mean waiving all boundaries.
You may need to provide controlled choices, particularly for young children. Offer your child two options, and then allow them to decide what they want to do. For example, “What should we do after breakfast, go to the playground, or ride bikes?”
#2: Settle big issues through family meetings
Regularly scheduled family meetings can help parents and their kids talk through challenging topics in a calm environment. By setting aside time for these conversations, you can avoid parenting in the heat of the moment. This is when tempers often flare and power struggles unfold.
When you and your child disagree, let them know you will both revisit the topic at the next family meeting. If they are old enough, you can give them control of writing down the issue on a family meeting agenda.
Be sure to begin each family meeting with a fun, connection-building activity. Also, give each member a chance to voice their opinion before discussing and collaborating on potential solutions.
#3: Let the little things go
When power struggles unfold, nobody wins.
If you find yourself in constant battles with your strong-willed child, try letting the little things go. If you feel your blood boiling because your child is not “listening right this second,” retreat and take a minute to reflect.
In positive parenting, our goal should not be immediate, blind obedience. To achieve this, parents often need to elicit fear. As a result, children do not learn to think critically for themselves.
Strive to see your child’s pushback as an asset. They have many leadership and problem-solving skills! Teach them respectful ways to voice their opinion by modeling through your actions.
#4: Validate their opinions (even when you say no)
Even when you say no to your child, validate their perspective. If they want to wear a silly outfit or eat an odd combination of food, listen and try to understand why they want it. Even if you can’t say yes, make sure they know that you heard them and that their opinion is valuable.
Always listen first. Then, affirm your child’s opinion and emotions. Doing so can decrease the chances of challenging behavior and power struggles.
For example, “You really wanted another scoop of ice cream. Your sister’s scoop was bigger and it didn’t feel fair. That’s understandable.”
Note: Validating feelings does not mean validating any unkind or unsafe behavior that may accompany it. In the words of Daniel Tiger, “It’s okay to feel angry… it’s not okay to hurt someone.”
#5: Allow safe, natural consequences to unfold after their decisions
Some parents believe that if they punish their child for “doing something bad,” then they will not do it again. For example, taking away screen time for backtalking.
Unfortunately, punishments do little to teach kids the skills necessary to change their future behavior. This is especially true when the punishment has nothing to do with the behavior. Kids have trouble connecting the dots.
Strong-willed children are more likely to feel resentful about punishments. Research also shows kids raised with punitive parenting methods are more likely to show disruptive behaviors.
Instead of punishing, allow natural consequences to unfold. Natural consequences occur on their own (as long as we get out of the way) and have a clear link between cause and effect.
For example, if a child refuses to follow the rules of a playground game, other children may quit or not want to play with them. Rather than directly intervening, ask an open-ended reflection question such as, “What might you do differently next time to have more fun with your friends?”
The last thing you need to know about diffusing daily battles with a control-seeking child
Reducing power struggles with strong-willed children isn’t about changing who they are. Rather, it’s often about becoming more conscious in our parenting.
If controlling behavior triggers big feelings in you, take a moment to reflect:
- How much control were you given in your day-to-day as a child?
- How do you respond to feeling out of control as an adult?
- What are some healthy ways to cope with the stress of parenting a strong-willed child?
By becoming more self-aware, we’re less likely to take things personally with our kids. As a result, we can calmly and confidently choose effective parenting tools without our emotions getting in the way.
If you’re interested in learning more about a conscious, positive approach to discipline, I invite you to join me in Such a Little While’s free positive parenting challenge email course.
Join thousands of your fellow parents striving to do things differently for the next generation!
You’ve got this!