The Battle For Control: Who are the Children Really Testing?

From the time children realize that their emotions elicit an adult reaction, they start testing.  But what exactly are they testing by crying, refusing, yelling or challenging you?  I’ve heard many parents say that their children are testing them.  I beg to differ.  I don’t think children are testing their parents at all.  I think they are testing their own power.  Young children are egocentric and see the world differently than we do.  They are figuring out their own boundaries and areas of control.  They want to know if crying will change the plan of their day, not yours.  They want to know if refusing to move will mean that they can dictate the outcome instead of you.  If all else fails, they will control the things that only they can – the food they swallow and their use of the toilet.  It is important to recognize that they need to have some domains over which they rule.  The battle for control is all about priorities.

Parents and educators need to determine what is and is not negotiable. Decisions about what your children can and cannot control need to be made when you are not in the middle of the battle.  It is never good to make important decisions when you are emotional and what is or is not negotiable is one of the most important decisions you will make as a caregiver of a young child.  Here is some food for thought as you consider what control you can give to your child so he/she becomes a confident decision maker:

  • Not Negotiable – The items that are not at all negotiable should be those that impact health, safety and education.  For example, wearing a seat belt in the car is not negotiable.  Health visits to the doctor are not negotiable.  Attending school is not negotiable.  That’s right – that tantrum in the car cannot become the factor that determines preschool attendance.  As soon as your children realize that tantrums equal going home, you will face tantrums every day.  Whether they enjoy being in school or not, they will have discovered that their behavior determines their attendance.  It sets up an erroneous message that will carry through for years to come.  The understanding that receiving an education is a priority in your house starts from the first days of preschool.  Your children need to know that school attendance is not within their control.
  •  Negotiable – Anything other than health, safety and education can fall into the negotiable category.  When children learn to communicate their desires, they can begin making decisions.  Let your children choose their clothes unless they are going to a particular formal event.  So what if they don’t match?  Adults know when children put the outfit together.  And what will happen if your 4 year old refuses to wear a coat in the cold?  Chances are your 4 year old will be cold and determine the need for a warmer outfit.  Sometimes, let your child choose the activity of the day, too.  When you have a choice of going to the park or the beach, ask your children where they would like to go.  On occasion, give your children choices of snacks or meals.   Remember that you should present 2 options that are acceptable to you.  More than 2 choices make decision making complicated.  If your child will not choose, wait.  Calmly repeat the options.  You may have to calmly repeat yourself a few times but most children will eventually choose.  And if not, opting out was their choice.

Every parent, educator or caregiver has to determine their own priorities that work for them.  The most important thing to remember is that some things must be negotiable.  Parenting and educating is not about exerting power over children.  It is about teaching them how to wield their own.


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Copyright 2013 © Cindy Terebush
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  1. I love this Article!!! I will recommend it to the parent at my School.
    Thank you.

    1. Thank you! I'm glad you find my article to be of value.


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