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The Struggle for Control

The Struggle for Control

We all want to be in control of our lives. Children are no exception. The big difference is children naturally have so little control. The fastest way for a child to gain control of a situation is to act out. With a loud scream and a body slam to the floor, all eyes are on them. As they pull the food off the grocery shelf and throw it across the store, all eyes are on them.

Although I cannot promise melt-downs will be a thing of the past; I can say that with a little preparation, those trips to the grocery store or coffee with a friend can be much more pleasant for everyone. With a few tricks and mindful parenting, your little one will rise to the challenge and feel good about them self in the process.

How do we give our children control and remain in charge?

We give our children choices. A choice gives the child control within a boundary. It builds self-esteem and makes our little ones feel important.

Sometimes, it is difficult to think of good situational choices when you are in the heat of a melt-down. So this is when a little preparation helps.

Take a moment to think about your past week. What situations were difficult? When did behaviors get out of control? Was it dinner time… getting dressed… talking on the phone…shopping?

Try to think of choices you can give your child in tricky situations. For example, when my daughter was three, she always wanted to bolt through the parking lot. I was afraid she would be hit by a car. I would try to hold her hand; she would scream and pull away. I would get frustrated and avoid taking her shopping.  Then I realized we were just having a power struggle.  I gave her a choice: you can hold my hand in the parking lot or I can carry you. She thought about this, weighed her choices, and replied I will hold your hand. This was acceptable to her because it was HER choice.

Of course this brings us to the key: Neutrality

If you can distance yourself from the emotion of parenting, if you can look at each event as an opportunity for growth and learning, you will be able to stay neutral while parenting. A child knows when you are frustrated. Remember, they are little, they are learning, we are helping them to figure it all out. So, when you are giving your choices, do so calmly.

Examples of everyday choices:

  • You can pick your toys up or I can help you
  • Would you like to wear long sleeves or a jacket today
  • Would you like to put the toothpaste on your toothbrush or would you like me to
  • Would you like me to pick you up at 10:00 or 10:30 (choice given via text to my teenager last week)
  • Should we read 3 books or 4 books tonight
  • Would you like to try 1 bean or 2 for dinner
  • Should I make you oatmeal or pancakes for breakfast
  • You can take turns on the slide or we can leave the park

Timing is everything

The expression “timing is everything” is so true. Try to give the choice before the struggle occurs. Set up the situation for your child. We are going to the grocery store, when we get there, would you like to hold my hand or be carried through the parking lot?

When it all fails

Sometimes, despite our best preparation, the task proves too challenging and a melt-down occurs. It’s okay. This is expected. Come up with a way to make it positive and let your child know that you believe in them even though things didn’t work out this time. I use the saying, “we can try again tomorrow.”

Remember, behavior is our children’s way of communicating with us.

About the Author

Lisa Hamblin, M.S., CCC-SLP

Lisa Hamblin, M.S., CCC-SLP

Lisa has worked with kids since her days in college coaching gymnastics for children 3-13.  Lisa is stimulated by watching children learn and succeed “their inner light shines so bright” she says, and it's this passion that serves as the foundation of SCT's mission to support and enrich the lives of children.

Lisa's therapy focuses on a child's specific needs and personality; a strategy that makes therapy feel more like play and less like work. Her specialties include autism spectrum disorders and advanced training in early speech and language development. Her training and experience with children birth to three years gives her a deep understanding of how to help children at any age. When Lisa founded SCT, she made training in birth to 3 years a requirement for all therapists as part of her effort to provide the best therapy possible for every child.

At home, Lisa has had the opportunity to guide the development of her own children – ages 17, 15, and 3. She finds relaxation in physical activities like running and rock climbing. This summer Lisa's oldest daughter will join her “on the rock” for the first time.


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