Building Resilience in Kids Pt. 6 | Controlling is Not Leading

There is a difference between leading and controlling your child. Leading is usually about a healthy process while controlling is focused on selfish outcomes. If you want your kid to develop resilience, you have to teach him how to make his own decisions.

Sometimes parents try to control their kids rather than lead them, preventing their children from developing their own identity. They are afraid the kid will grow up to live her own life apart from them. Here are four ways parents often try to control their kids:

  1. Inflicting Guilt: Some parents inflict guilt on their kids by making them feel like a burden on the parent. They say things like, “You don’t appreciate…” or “I sacrifice my time for you…”
  2. Creating Dependence: Some parents create a sense of dependency. They say that they could not live without their child: “I would die if something happened to you.” They make the kid believe that they cannot take care of themselves without the child.
  3. Setting Goals: This is when the parent lives vicariously through the child. She tries to make the child strive to be the best regardless of whether the kid is interested. They ride on the coattails of their kids’ achievements, looking for praise for themselves, creating unrealistic pressure for their kids.
  4. Ex/Implicit Threats: This attempt to control uses negative repercussions if the kid doesn’t do what the parent wants. They withhold rewards and give excessive punishment when they don’t get their way. This confuses the child and creates insecurity.

The role of parenting is not to make our kid into our own image. It is to steward, guide, love and teach our child to grow into his true self. This means that parents can teach their kids how to make decisions for themselves. Start small and increase the scope as your kid matures. You can lead him in healthy and mature decision-making processes. Sadly, many parents try to decide everything for their kids. They want a particular outcome and are determined to get their child to that outcome. Obviously, there are times when the parent needs to step in and decide for their child, but it’s far better to lead the kid to make wise decisions herself.

For example, let’s say your middle schooler has a sleepover opportunity the night before the big State Cup soccer tournament she’s been preparing for. You know that it would be unwise for her to eat gobs of cake, stay up ‘till 2am and try to play soccer the next day. But she initially thinks she’ll be fine and wants to do both. You help her to think through the consequences of either decision – whether to stay the night or not – perhaps find a compromise – but then let her make her decision. She may choose wisely and go to the party for a couple hours and come home early enough for a good night’s rest. Or she may decide to spend the night. You can allow her to make that decision and suffer the consequences. She may have made good choices during the party and refrained from candy, and maybe even going to bed a little earlier than the other girls. Or she may have made poor decisions that night leading to a State Cup disaster. So, what? We really only learn through failure. I guarantee she will think twice the next time.

But if the parents control these decisions all the time, especially in middle school, they will breed resentment, rebellion, fear, and insecurity. Resilience grows by being led in wise decision-making processes.

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Building Resilience in Kids Pt. 6 | Controlling is Not Leading

Chris Pritchett

Chris Pritchett was our first CEO of the Pro Deo Foundation. He currently resides in Salt Lake City, Utah with his wife and three kids. Chris is the Senior Pastor of Mount Olympus Presbyterian Church

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