My youngest son always wants to be in charge and have the last say. When I put his juice in the orange cup, he wants the blue one. If I say it’s time to stop playing on the iPad he won’t stop. If his sister sits in one of the car seats, that’s the seat he wants to sit in. If the family is watching Blues Clues on the TV, he will want Power Rangers despite the fact that Blues Clues is his favorite show right now. It’s just relentless. We put him in bed, he gets up… I end up losing my mind and we are fighting all the time. Please help me.
Thank you for sending us your heartfelt note regarding the behavior challenges that you are experiencing with your son. Just know that this is a very common challenge for many parents and that you will be able to sort it all out and channel his control in more positive directions.
It sounds like you have a wonderful, very strong willed and determined son, all of which are traits that will stand him in good stead later on in life but which are clearly proving to be a challenge right now.
According to Adlerian Theory, the child seeking CONTROL (one of the 4 goals of misbehavior) is doing so to make him feel like he belongs and because he is not feeling capable enough within himself. This behavior pattern is his way of making himself feel like he belongs, is in control and feel capable and better about himself.
His mistaken belief is that he only belongs when he is controlling others. So he throws you the rope, dangles the carrot and just waits for you to take the bait…the fight is on and he feels he belongs, is capable and in control.
As such, a wonderful way to help your son is to make him feel capable and give him plenty of opportunities to empower him and make him feel capable, in other words, top up his “Capability Cup”.
Have him help you with household chores, preparing dinner, gardening, anything. Be with him and let him know how much you value his help: “You know what, I couldn’t have done that nearly as quickly without you – thank you for your help”. Ask him for his help: “I could do with some help here, could you help me with……?”. Also, it is important that you notice all the times he accomplishes things and amplify it back to him about how good it must have felt to have done it: “I can see that you worked really hard at that, you must feel really good about yourself and your persistence to get it done – you are one capable guy”.
Remember “What you Focus on Grows” and “The Smallest Things can make the Biggest Changes”.
His recurrent behavior pattern is not going to go away over night, but pretty soon, when you change your response and his Capability Cup fills up and his controlling behavior no longer serves him well, he will not feel like he has to control others in order to feel good about himself.
In the short term, while he still tries to exert control over you, in the heat of the moment, don’t rise to his bait or pick up the rope. You may find that his behavior might get a bit worse before it gets better because he will be mad at the fact that he is no longer getting the control he is used to and still believes he needs. This is when he realizes that his behavior is no longer serving him well. In his mind, he is thinking: “Wait a minute, what’s going on here, this is no longer working. Well I guess I’ll just have to ramp it all up a gear and see if that works”!! Hence it might get worse before it gets better.
Remember: “No habit is maintained when it loses it’s purpose” – Rudolph Dreikurs
Other things you can do at the same time are:
- Give him choices where choices are appropriate but don’t over-load him with them
- Be very clear with whatever your “not negotiables” are, set limits around these and make sure that he is aware of them. Be consistent in applying them in a firm but kind way. Remember, your son needs to know that you love him but that you do not love this behavior. He needs to feel that he belongs and is capable
- Let routines rule to take yourself out of potential arguments. The use of timers can work well in certain situations, ask him to set the timer, give him control and then you can say: “I can hear the timer, that means your time is up” or “I see the clock says it’s 8pm which means it’s time to go upstairs and get ready for bed”
- Plan ahead to avoid unknowns and him potentially feeling out of control, if he knows in advance of what’s happening it will help him. Gentle reminders on time can sometimes work quite well for the controlling child ie. “We will have to leave the park in 5 minutes” or “You have 10 minutes of time left on your iPad”
Always think to yourself, what is the purpose of his behavior and remain curious to it. Ask yourself regularly: Am I reinforcing the pattern of behavior I don’t want and focus on what you do want, your vision or goal. You want your son to feel like he belongs and feels capable but in socially acceptable ways.
The main thing is to get him more involved. Be with him, spend more time with him, empower him and give him lots of opportunity to prove himself capable.
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