Do We Really Want to Control Our Children?

A Bold Question
It is my guess that the answer is not always clear in comparison to the question the title so blatantly asks. Many of us come from widely varying backgrounds, and the question of controlling our children has yet even more meanings for each of us individually. A mouthful of words? Yes.

This question is meant to pull at you a bit and make you think, so pardon the initial tone of what is written. I ask myself the same question to clarify my choices as a parent. In my experience, parental responsibility and the question of controlling our children are questions that deserve our inquiring attention. Is this really what it takes to parent effectively — control, regulation, authority? And if not, what do we do instead?

emotional facesFirst, let’s take a stroll down memory lane. Do you recall when you were a child? A little bit? I know some people sort of conveniently forget that phase of life, but if you check your research, it’s a profound period in one’s life. Can we get through unhappy times we experienced as children? Certainly. Is that always easy? Uh, no.

Okay, so you’re remembering what it is like to be little. What did it feel like when others tried to control you? Not so good. Can you honestly look back and say it made you a better person? Really?

As Naomi Adort asks in her book Raising Our Children, Raising Ourselves, if you knew bottom line that your children would turn out okay, happy, and successful adults without shame, blame, control, and punishment, would you use it to parent them?

Is that not the reason parents feel they need to have some sort of upper hand with their children? To produce adults who can function in our society?

We All Think About It
I spoke with a friend recently. She is a very kind, caring mother and as we talked, the issue of her children understanding authority came up. She was feeling like she needed to be a source of authority for her children to understand what it was. She is not alone, many parents feel this way and many more will claim it is the only way to parent, teach, or relate to children. Even parents who don’t feel this way may see the tendency to control come up in their parenting experience.

Let’s Look At Authority
We all know the word: authority. Now for some definitions:

  • convincing force
  • person in command
  • an individual cited or appealed to as an expert
  • power to influence or command thought, opinion, or behavior

It is my guess that most can agree their idea of authority is one of or a combination of these ideas.

Certainly, we want to be able to influence our children’s behavior, especially when it comes to their safety and well-being. However, do we want to do it through force or command or because we are the expert? While we may be experts in the human experience, our children will likely testify to the fact that they are the experts in joy, creativity, and living life without worrying what others think!

It’s true … we could take some lessons from our children.

A Parent’s Role
Everyone has a definition of a parent’s role. These words will likely affirm or challenge that definition.

Adults are the masters of the human experience (or maybe not so much, but we keep plugging away). We’ve been around for awhile so we generally know how to operate in society without getting ourselves locked away or killed, and maybe we have even figured out how to prosper! Just the same, children are the masters of having and creating fun, living life with enthusiasm, and exploring their world.

Controlling our children will likely lead to one thing: rebellion at some point later in life, not to mention a less-than-it-could-be relationship with our children. We birthed these little beings — why not have as much fun as possible with them?!

What We Can Do
We can start by realizing where we are. By the way, these words are to pointedly draw awareness, not create guilt within the parent reading. I firmly believe parents are always doing the best they can in any given moment.

If you want a change in your relationship with your children, you can have it, and it does not have to include control, punishment, shame, or blame.

We can begin the journey by starting to think about the idea of not worrying what others think, especially when the said judgment tends to push us further down our own spirals of “bad” parenting. I know, I know — it can be difficult, but it’s a step. Think about what would change in your parent/child relationship if you took out the element of what others think. Does that lighten the load a bit?

What other people think is really not our concern. It is important to consider the feelings of others and respect one another. That is certainly true. However, in the case of guiding our children, it is not necessary to hold tightly to the belief that guiding involves shaming.

When one of my littles was a toddler, we were in an ice cream store and she got up onto the table. It took a moment to get her down as I was with my other children, and I could feel looks from my elders. When I brought her down, there was not a mention of the table and her on it. I scooped her up, enjoyed our ice treat, and went about our business. I addressed the issue, without the shaming and reprimand usually thought required in our society.

We really can all be appreciative of one another and realize that we’re in this together ~ we’re not as separate as we think. In moments we can’t be happy, we can begin to accept what is, and keep moving forward.

Inner Authority
Another way to work with feeling like we must be the authority or control agent is to help children cultivate their own inner authority. Children have an innate sense of right and wrong, helpful and harmful. This doesn’t mean they always know the difference or have the experience to do what’s helpful in the moment, but with attention to awareness they can learn to trust themselves and gravitate toward harmonious behavior.

Learning to trust our children and give them the room to choose actions that will help can take practice. Sometimes this can look like transitioning our authority from control into guidance. An example may be with a child who hits when frustrated. We can work through our own reactions and instead of reprimanding the child with a strong focus that points to how that is harmful, we can trustingly offer an alternative behavior that allows the child to connect: possibly a hug, high-five, or stretching his body to move some energy. This provides an opportunity for the child to tune into his innate sense of well-being while directing him to an appropriate behavior that will work in the environment. The parental authority is directed to what is positive and expected, rather than focused on shaming the child for what went wrong. The child’s inner authority is affirmed by offering an alternative while trusting strongly that the child will choose that action with proper support.

I admit the transition of working through our own actions, as well as repetition of focusing on the positive alternative behavior, take time and determination. From what I have gathered, parenting is all about time and determination, no matter how we choose to parent. So parenting in line with our values while releasing the need to control will yield promising results, one moment at a time.

How do you release the tendency to control children?


This article has been edited from a previously published version at

About The Author: Amy

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Amy Phoenix is a gentle yet direct mom of five and author of Presence Parenting, a space to address the presence we bring to parenting, especially when feeling frustration, anger or rage.

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