When children feel out of control, for any reason, they will find a way (unconsciously) to regain a sense of control. This is not abnormal, adults do it too, but because children can’t verbalise what is going on, especially if they are very young, they tend to act it out and may do so in ways that freak their parents out such as:
- resisting bowel movements or soiling their pants
- refusal to eat or fussiness with food
- refusal to go to sleep
- wanting to sleep in your bed not their own, etc
Causes of hyper-control
Changes in a child’s life or circumstances can cause regression of learned behaviour, such as:
- the arrival of a new sibling
- moving house
- new school
- separation or divorce
- death in the family
- when parents lose control
Parents are part of the problem
In all of the above situations children need to have their sense of physical safety and emotional security restored as quickly as possible in order for the inappropriate behaviour to be resolved. While children therapy can be extremely helpful, if children return home to a guilt-ridden parent or one who loses control by shouting and screaming, they will not feel safe and secure and the problematic behaviour is likely to continue.
If not nipped in the bud quickly, children discover that they can get attention by continuing with inappropriate behaviour and it becomes a method of control and manipulation. It becomes a choice.
Children can fix themselves – help them to do so
According to educational psychologist and Smart Choice Parenting founder, Ken Resnick, in order to solve the problem, children must also be given a choice – a choice to own the problem themselves, and a choice to fix it. “Parents just need to learn how to handle these choice-making situations more effectively.”
“The secret is to ensure that the child owns the problem so that the adult can stay calm and maintain authority. We also need to understand that everything that a child does is a choice with consequences. If the consequence is a threat or an angry reaction from the parent, it means that the adult owns the problem, not the child, and then we send the child to therapy instead of educating the parent how to be more effective.
Change your approach and get a different result
When children are feeling out of control because their world has been turned upside down by a major or minor event, or out of control parents, we need to step in and teach them how to take back control by learning how to make positive choices leading them to co-operate. This means providing a supportive environment in which they can own their own issues by providing:
- a structure of regular routine
- a structure for making choices
“When a child makes a bad choice, you are never punishing them,” says Ken. “But you need to act like you don’t understand why they are making these choices that have a negative consequence eg. not watching TV and going to their room if they refuse to eat, or giving away all their toys and getting a dummy and a bottle if they want to sleep in your bed like a baby. No three, four or five year old wants to be a baby. Providing the right choices calmly and confidently invariably results in positive choices in an instant.
Preparing them for life
By handling choices well, parents create a very powerful process of teaching children to overcome obstacles in their lives, preparing them to live independently as an adult one day.
For more assistance should you be battling with your child and issues of control or regression, do connect with educational psychologist, Ken Resnick who specialises in helping children to make smart choices from two year olds to teens. He has a very high success rate with difficult behaviours including bedwetting (eneuresis), children who resist having bowel movements or soil their pants (encopresis), Obsessive Compulsive Disorder, ADHD, resisting sleep, fussy eating and more. Contact: [email protected] .