Monday, March 11, 2013

Control Battles

I hinted at some two-year old type control battles that are starting to cause little hurricanes of dismay around here.  As I try really hard not to laugh.  Or cry.

A little light dawned on me today as I recognized one of my problems during my discipline month as well as the month following.  Being a good disciplinarian does not mean one will have their kids perfectly under control at all times, it means having oneself in control (most of the time).   After all, we cannot control our children, or any other human being for that matter, we can only control ourselves, and to an extent, the environment.  So it would be unfair to expect everything to run smoothly just because I have set some reasonable rules, reasonable consequences, and even enforced them with reasonable consistency.  And even if I could control my children, would I really want to?  While my answer may feel a bit tentatively to outright blatantly "yes" on some days, it is really no.  I don't.  The ultimate goal of discipline is to help them learn self discipline.  Are they going to learn to think for themselves if they are constantly told what to do?  Will they learn self discipline if they are never allowed to make mistakes and learn from them?

So, it stands to reason, that no matter how good we are at consistently and patiently reinforcing reasonable rules, that there will still be moments of chaos, imperfect times when we will have to clean up messes or interrupt dinner or leave something undone (in fact, I'm realizing that to be effective I have to plan on such things).  My kids will make mistakes, as will I.  But if they feel free to make them, and they still feel loved, then they are free to learn from the consequences in ways that will help them mature into responsible adults.  This also includes feeling free to voice concerns and express emotions that are sometimes unpleasant to parents, but are equally important in helping a child feel validated and "safe" and unconditionally loved.

Here is another little revelation about control: controlling parents invite more control battles from their kids.  Because one of kids' most urgent innate desires is to have some sense of autonomy and control over his/her life, if they aren't given enough legitimate control, they will find other ways to show us we can't control them.  Think bedtime dawdling, refusing to eat dinner, etc.  Thus some of the very misbehavior we are trying to prevent by attempting to control our children is undermining that very effort.  Only by providing them enough autonomy are we showing them "I trust you," and "you can handle this," "you are important," "you can make good decisions," reducing their need to show us they are in control through passive aggressive behaviors.  When an adult in a child's life gets all whipped into a fury, the child, who may not be getting enough of his needs met for control (and positive attention, the other most basic need), gets an enormous dose of control.  After all, they subconsciously think, if I can get a big powerful grown up to throw an adult tantrum, then I am in control, right?

So, one of the keys, as explained in Parenting With Love and Logic (Fay), is to give a child as many choices as possible that are both acceptable to the parents.  Like "would you like to wear your green shirt or your red one?" or "would you like to set the table now or in 5 minutes?"

And, ultimately, our kids learn much more from what we do than what we say.  So if we are examples of control and discipline, including setting boundaries for what we will not allow to impinge upon our boundaries (whining for example-- we can't control their whining, but we can limit its effect on us by asking the whiner to go to his/her room away from us), that sets the ultimate example in helping our children learn self control.

Some of these principles are so obvious its crazy, right?  And yet, so easy to forget.  I was reminded of these principles from some of the webinars I've done through Positive Parenting Solutions.

How do you step back and allow your child appropriate control?  Do you ever have moments when you realize that something you were stubborn about really doesn't matter in the scheme of things?  Any good experiences in letting go of control? 

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