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Control

The last section in this chapter has to do with unrealistic control expectations. Many people have been raised with some false concepts, which they are not even aware they possess, which sabotage their ability to be effective parents.

The first myth is that Control is a dirty word. That it is wrong to “control” your child.

It isn't. There is appropriate control, and inappropriate control.

Holding the hand of a young child in the parking lot is a good example of appropriate control. It teaches the child to be careful in the parking lot, it does not hurt them in any way, and it still allows them the maximum freedom to safely do for themselves what they can. The parent takes control because the child is not yet capable, and because it is important to do so.

Forcing a child to eat their peas is an example of unreasonable control. First of all, it is a battle you cannot win, and second, it is all about you winning, not about what is truly important. It really isn't going to hurt the child if they don't eat the peas. It won't hurt anyone if the child does not eat the peas. It will only make you feel like you won. BAD GOAL!!!

Getting into a control battle with a child, which never needed to be there in the first place, is not a good idea. Before you even enter that battle you need to decide whether it is important long term. If it is, then stick it out. If, like peas, it really isn't, then don't start it in the first place, because you, as the parent, can decide not to make it a battle if you choose.

But appropriate control is not a bad thing. You place limits on a child that are there for their own safety, or to teach them valuable coping skills in life. If they are important limits, then they must be reinforced with consequences. And at times that means, if the child cannot make appropriate choices, that they lose the privilege of being able to make those choices for a time.

An effective parent gives the child the greatest possible freedom to exercise choices appropriately. Choosing their own clothes when they are very young, even if the clothes are not the best match, choosing foods from a selection that you provide, even if they go all with one thing, choosing their own haircut style, even if you'd rather they left it long or kept it short, etc. Individuality and obedience are two separate areas, and if you decide carefully what you need to limit and what you don't, your child will have full freedom to become their own unique self, without having to disobey to do it (they'll disobey anyway, just because they have to test their world, but you'll avoid a lot of unnecessary control battles).

A parent should teach correct principles to their children, but never try to decide for the child how they should feel, what they like, or whom they feel comfortable around. Teach understanding, but allow individuality.

The second myth is that if you were a good enough parent, your child would not disobey. IT'S A LIE!

This one isn't anything anyone has ever even told you. But it is implied in our society in many ways, and if your parents had control issues of that type, then you got a full dose of it in all kinds of subtle ways when you were growing up, and possibly still do now that you are a parent yourself. People who send you this message are not aware they are sending it. They don't even know they think that way themselves!

This myth is possibly responsible for more abuse than anything else other than alcohol or drugs. Because it sets you up for failure, and it sets you up to abuse. It places an impossible, and incorrect standard on you, that you can never measure up to, and which would be wrong if you did.

Your children come to earth as individuals. They have the ability to choose right and wrong. Teaching them correctly will increase the likelihood that they will choose right, and decrease the amount that they choose wrong, but they will STILL disobey!

If you feel deep inside that your kids would obey if you were a better parent, then their misbehavior is going to set you up for feelings of frustration and failure. After a while, it will feel like they do it because they don't love you, or each time they do something wrong it will feel like someone is accusing you of fault. Either way, it will make you feel angry and helpless, and like a failure as a parent. And like you have to do something more drastic to make it work next time. This is a terrible burden to bear, and a completely unnecessary one. Borne long, it will destroy the loving strength in your family relationships, and replace it with fear, frustration, anger, and hurt.

A woman I know told a story of her two year old son. He stood in front of the wood stove one day, looking at it. She told him not to touch it, it was hot and would hurt him. He looked at the stove, looked at her, and then reached out and placed the flat of his hand directly on the front of it.

Amidst wails of pain she took him to the emergency room, where he was bandaged up and sent home. Gradually the burns healed, and after about two weeks the doctor removed the bandaging and sent him back home, his hand still pink with new skin.

On their arrival home, he walked into the house, and approached the stove. He looked at it, looked at his mom, and then stuck out his hand and did the same thing he had done before! Another trip to the emergency room, and another lengthy healing process.

After coming home after the bandages were removed, he did not touch the stove. But when a neighbor came to visit, he took her by the hand, lead her to the stove, and gravely told her, “Hot!”.

He had to learn that not only was it hot just like his mother said, but that it was hot EVERY TIME, and that hot hurt every time.

Kids have to test their world. When you tell them that something will happen if they do something wrong, they have to learn that you mean it. As they get older, they won't have to test everything the same as they did before, but they'll find new areas to test. They must learn for themselves what the rules of the world are (and remember, each lesson takes many repetitions).

A newborn learns its parents. They learn that when they cry, there is a response. They learn to depend on mom and dad.

A two year old tests their limits in their world with their parents. They are still learning the limits of their parents, but now they are testing how their parents react to their interaction with a world they can now explore.

A five year old tests reality against fantasy, and does so largely through their parent's reactions to their actions.

An 8 year old tests philosophical concepts of right and wrong. They struggle to define what right and wrong are, and how they apply to daily choices.

A 13 year old tests their parent's beliefs against themselves. They want to know what part of themselves is THEM, and what part is their parents or family. They will test to see if something bad really does happen if they do things so bad that it shocks their parents.

A 17-18 year old tests themselves against the world. They try to remove the influence of their parents from the decisions, to test their independence. They want to know whether or not what they were taught really holds against the whole world. For an intrepid child, it can look like they have gone into self-destruct mode.

The knowledge they gain has to be gained, and while theoretically they COULD get without disobeying, the reality is that they don't. The degree to which each child has to suffer some hard knocks varies with the personality, but every child is going to embarrass their parents, disobey in public, shock their parents by doing something they thought they never would, and go off on a tangent that is acutely painful for parent and child both.

It WILL happen. Your job as a parent is not to control it. It is to place appropriate limits as long as it takes to teach the lesson or to safeguard the life of a child who is too young to make the choice themselves, and then to allow them the courtesy of taking the natural consequences when they make poor choices later that they knew not to make.

They didn't do it because you were a bad parent. They did it because it really was their choice, not yours.

Control is only bad if used wrong. A loving parent places limits and exercises control on behalf of a child who is too young to control their own actions. But a wise parent never tries to control anything that is not realistic to control, or which is no longer appropriate for them to control.