How To Parent A Strong Willed, Controlling Child


Last week I wrote about behavior and decoding the challenging ones. In this blog I am going to explore the challenges that the controlling child can present.

If a child has a tendency towards control and is regularly given the opportunity by their parents to be controlling (unknowingly or because it is easier) the child may end up finding it hard to accept or cope with situations where they have no control or when someone says “no”. The result of which, usually being, that everyone suffers. Very often, chaos reigns, control meets control, tempers flare and it is no fun for anyone.

Why do some children become controlling?

In many cases, a child exerting control is often doing so because of a lack of confidence or belief in themselves of feeling CAPABLE (one of the 4 C’s of Adlerian Parenting). The goal of their behavior is therefore to prove themselves capable but they go about this in a controlling way which when viewed through their lens can look like this:

“I can control the family and I am really good at it. I’ll show you and prove to you that I am capable. What I say or do will go and I will have you running circles around me.”

How it can escalate to becoming a bigger problem

If this behavior is not dealt with and it becomes the default pattern, as the child gets older, not only can things get a lot worse at home but as they progress through school, they can begin to feel incapacitated with their seeming lack of control and may eventually start to give up and stop contributing altogether. They no longer feel capable because they no longer control the show. Seen through their eyes it can develop into something more like this:

“If I can’t control, what can I do? I could become revengeful and ultimately give up and stop trying. No-one can stop me doing that. I can be good at that too.”

This is when parents often get a call from the teacher requesting a meeting.

The Solution

When dealing with the challenges of a controlling child, the goal is to help the child develop a tolerance towards things that they have no control over ie. things at school or not negotiable situations in the home. As a parent, always remember that you should be in control, it is your job to be in charge. A child is not yet equipped with the skills required to run the family or their own lives effectively.

Parenting Techniques that can help

  • Be firm but kind, set very clear limits and boundaries (we know that this will help to increase their tolerance of frustration) and use consequences to allow your child to learn from the consequences of their actions. To refresh yourself on limits and consequences, you can always refer to my previous blogs
  • Acknowledge and validate your child’s feelings of anger and frustration when they are no longer controlling the show
  • The most important thing of all for parents is to be CONSISTENT. Inconsistency will only fuel the “control fire” further
  • Your child needs to be made to feel that he / she is capable in as many different ways as possible. This is what will give them the self-confidence they so desperately need to allow them to move on without having to use methods of control in order to feel good about themselves and capable
  • Think of what your child is good at and have them do as much of this as possible. Have them help you with something or help Dad (cooking dinner, mowing the lawn, or fixing something). Let them know that you wouldn’t have been able to have done it without them. Also remember one of my favorite parenting phrases: “Never do for a child what a child can do for themselves” as it robs them of feeling capable
  • Fill them with encouragement

A combination of all of these things will help make a child feel safe and connected, capable and reliable. It will also give them courage to try something new, like not having to have control in order to feel capable. My advice to you is to try and nip this challenging behavior in the bud at a young age to reduce the risk of it becoming a bigger problem later on.

If you are dealing with a controlling child and need some help and encouragement as to how to deal with it, I’d be happy to hear from you.

Partnering you


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7 thoughts on “How To Parent A Strong Willed, Controlling Child

  1. Kristen

    I am very interested in learning more about helping my controlling son and possibly looking at some individual ideas for his behaviors if possible?

  2. Dave from Ohio

    I will begin changing my behavior in order to begin changing my 8 year olds behavior. Thanks for your insight. Looking forward to other ideas.

  3. Donna kiely

    My 5 yr old girl is giving us a very hard time.
    She’s very controlling and makes us do things a certain way and makes us repeat it if it’s not satisfactory to her.we sometimes abide for an easier life but it’s making our lives a misery.please help x

  4. Craig Hopkins

    This post was helpful for me in understanding why my son acts the way he does. I only see him every other weekend. I will try and keep trying to make him feel better. I just wish I coule get hos incooperative mother on board. I have so many qiestions please email me back. I need to help him.

  5. pilar

    hello , im a mother of a very controlling son. he is now an adult and it is very difficult to stop his behaviour. I already tried many things. pls send me a mail thank you

  6. Sharmaine

    Hi, I have a two year old and he is very controlling of his father and myself. If he does not get his way he throws tantrums, bites, hits and kicks.
    I have tried a bunch of things and they just don’t seem to get through to him.
    I’m feeling a bit stuck with how to parent him – I want him to grow up and be a strong independent person but I am tired of being hit and get worried about him interacting with other kids because he will push them around as well.
    Any advice would help.
    Thanks Sharmaine

  7. Camille

    When My almost 4 year old Can’t do something right, she throws the item or toy and says ” I can’t do it!” And starts crying or yelling explosively. I try to help her by telling her to try again or tell her to ask me to help. Shes very whiney. She also demands requests like “mommy give me water” and sometimes freaks out if I ask her to ask nicely. It’s a hit and miss. I think it has to do with her being “hangery” hungery and angery.
    Also sometimes when I tell her no, she cries yells, covers her mouth and yells explosively, sometimes she will try to hit me or put her hand in the air and scratch or flick without touching me. Sort of like a cat does when they make a warning. I need help. ..

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