Children in control

Do you live in fear of your little one? Does he or she call the shots?

It is quite common for parents to feel helpless in the wake of a toddler or small child who is flexing their little muscles and learning some (very effective) techniques of parent-control. These techniques can range from screaming, sulking, running for it, becoming a dead-weight or pester power. And some children use them to great effect.

How often have you seen a docile parent follow their child around, or a Mum buying their ungrateful daughter clothes or treats? When the children are older have you heard the plaintive cry ‘it’s easier to do it myself’? Well, there is a reason for that and our kids are learning to keep us just where they want us!

The benefits of boundaries

So how can we regain some power when our three-year-old is running rings around us?

It’s important to understand that our children benefit from parents setting boundaries. Permissive parents may have children who are free-spirited and creative. But children like to feel safe and protected. And a child who has learned to scream and fight for what they want is learning some warped lessons about how the world really works.

Children who force their parents to give in are probably going to have problems with teachers and authority figures as they grow older. They are learning the lesson that they can make people do what they want.

They are not ‘bad’ children

Please don’t get me wrong though – these children are not bad children. They are normal children who are learning about the world through their interactions with others. It is why, as parents, we have to teach our children, gently but firmly. We all want our children to grow up to be loving, caring, responsible adults. So sometimes we need to take control, even though our children may kick-off.

Although children may seem upset when they don’t get their own way, they need to learn that in real life rules exist. And it is easier to learn the lesson earlier rather than later. If our child has got to the point of disrespecting teachers, running riot in school or (heaven forbid) breaking the law, then we need to take action.

Getting back in charge

Ok, so what can we do if our child is ruling the roost?

Firstly, we need to decide what rules we want to enforce. Sit down and work out what is causing concern. It could be that our child is staying up later than we feel is good for them, watching too much TV, eating too much junk food or just speaking in a rude or off-hand manner to us or other adults. Partners need to be involved in deciding the rules so they feel involved and part of the solution.

The next step is to explain the new rule to our child, and when it will come into force. Some rules may need to be started instantly, but if we can, it is nice to give children some notice that things are going to change.

We need to make it easy for our child to want to follow the rule. We can offer our child a reward if they manage to stick to it. We know our children best, so we can think of a reward that does not cost much, but will appeal to our youngster. Rewards should be small and easily earned. The best rewards are quality time spent with us or our partners.


However, if your child won’t stick to the rules, you may need to have some consequences. The best consequences are those that help children learn from their mistakes, such as doing something nice for you or making amends. It is good if your child can say sorry (but only if they really mean it). Alternatively, you may need to remove a privilege – like not earning screen time. But you will have to be firm and make sure that you stick to what you said. Gradually your children will learn that there are boundaries and that pushing them leads to consequences – just like an adult caught speeding!

We are parents, not friends

Ultimately, we are our children’s parents, not their friends. Of course, we want to get on with our children and have a great relationship. But it is important to help children learn to be kind, thoughtful and respectful. And not to believe they can control the adults around them. Sometimes ‘no’ has to mean ‘no’. It is up to us to teach our children the lessons.

child behavioural expert
The author:

Elizabeth O’Shea is a parenting specialist child behaviour expert and one of the leading parenting experts in the UK.

Need help now? Ready to explore whether investing in some tailor-made parenting sessions would be right for you and your family? Book your FREE 20-minute call with Elizabeth here

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