Three Reasons to Stop Trying to Control Your Child

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Dr. James Dobson calls them the strong willed child. Dr. Leman uses the term the powerful child. I think my parents just called me the hardheaded child! While these terms aren’t necessarily synonymous, they do refer to a similar dynamic – those parent-child relationships that seem especially difficult and even confrontational.

What we have found in our experience is this; the common denominator is control! At the core it tends to involve a parent that leans heavily towards control and a child that doesn’t like to be controlled. Invariably what ensues is a power struggle – a struggle for control!

Now if you are that parent, we want to acknowledge that you are driven by love for your child. I’m guessing you love rules and regulations. You may find yourself saying things like, “Do it because I said so.” There is a good chance you operate out of a position of fear… fear that your child might get hurt… fear that your child might go off the beaten track… fear that your child might make a big mistake… fear that you’re not doing your job as a parent. Certainly that’s not always true, but often it is.

Here are three reasons why we think you should consider giving up control. And please reread what I just wrote. We’re not suggesting you give up parenting – just give up control. More accurately, we would say give up the illusion of control. Because the truth is, rarely do we have as much control as we think we have. A strong willed, powerful, hardheaded child will almost always find a way around the control and do whatever it is they wanted to do anyway.

Which brings us to the first reason you should consider giving up control:

  • It doesn’t actually work. That’s right. When the power struggle happens, the strong-willed child finds something you can’t control – food, sleep, bodily functions, spiritual choices. Just know when you get into a power struggle with your child you will lose every time because eventually they’ll find something you can’t control.
  • We want a child with self-control. When we teach parenting conferences we teach self-control as one of the three most important things to teach your child. Your child’s ability to follow through on the things he/she should do or not do hinges on their ability to have self-control. If they are dependent on you controlling them, then they never learn to control themselves. Proverbs 25:28 compares a person without self-control to a city with walls broken through. If you really want to protect your child, then teach them to have self-control. But it requires you to give up some of that control.
  • There is a more effective way to train or disciple your child. We know our kids will make mistakes and need correction. Certainly we aren’t suggesting that now we simply drop all expectations and standards – that’s called child neglect. What we are saying is, controlling or authoritarian parenting isn’t effective. Instead, one of the greatest assets in your parenting arsenal is this reality – sooner or later, your child will need something. Most likely it will be sooner – they need a ride to the store, they need money for an ASB card, they need a physical for basketball, they need to borrow the car. When that happens you simply say as nicely as you can, “Oh honey, I love you but I’m sorry I’m not going to do that.” Obviously, they are going to ask why and you say something like, “What happened yesterday didn’t feel very good. Obviously you have this all figured out and you don’t need me.”

I know I just made that sound so easy. We’re the first to admit, it’s not easy, but it is simple. It takes a lot of self-control on your part. You will want to yell and scream and cop an attitude. But don’t do it. Life is all about learning to live in relationship with others. What a valuable lesson you are teaching your child as they figure out how to make choices and control their life in a way that allows them to do the things they want to do.

Before you think it let me say it… “But isn’t this still controlling?” And the answer is, it can be. The difference is, rather than yelling and screaming and threatening your child (the power struggle) – instead you’re giving him/her a choice to make. It’s important that you examine your heart. Are you now using this new tool to control your child… or are you training your child how to control or govern himself?

While I’m at it let me mention the other scary reality of giving up control, “What if something bad happens to my child?” In other words, can we guarantee you that your child won’t hurt himself or make a really bad decision if you follow our advice? Of course not. But here are two thoughts for you to consider.

First, there’s no guarantee if you try to control – except maybe a broken relationship with your child. And second, at the end of the day we rest in the truth that God IS in control and He loves our child even more than we do.

In fact, the theme we’ve been sharing, “The Moon is Round” certainly applies to our parenting. When you find yourself scared about your child, consider the great truth in that phrase. Rest in the knowledge that God has you and your child in His loving arms, even when you can’t see him. Do your best as you parent your kids, but don’t trust in your ability as a parent, rather trust in the goodness and sovereignty of God.

By the way, in case you haven’t heard, we have an official “The Moon is Round” T-shirt available to order. You only have until midnight on July 24th to order your shirt and then we are cutting it off. To order click HERE. Get a shirt today for yourself and maybe even one for your hardheaded child!!!

2 thoughts on “Three Reasons to Stop Trying to Control Your Child

  1. I always believe that God is just in time when we believe and keep praying. This message about “not controlling” our children is just what we needed to hear. We’re dealing with a hard-headed child who I realize now is just trying to take responsibility for his own actions and his life, and we’ve been struggling with trying to let go and let him fix his own mistakes. Thank you for this.

    • Thank-you for your honesty and transparency. Letting go is hard for all of us. We constantly live in the tension of knowing when we need to step in and when we need to trust the Lord and the work He is trying to do with our children. We’ll say a prayer for you and your child tonight. We’d love to hear an update down the road. Blessings – David & Kelli

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