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Thoughtful Leader vs Controlling Parent

When parents contact me and complain about the power struggles they are having with their children, I wonder what part they are playing in the dance. Let’s face it, the reason people take parenting classes is often to attempt to change their children’s behaviour.

This is why we start by teaching parents what “normal” behaviour looks like in children. We encourage them to consider the child’s maturity level, temperament and developmental needs. We believe that parents need to understand all of this before considering any attempts to “discipline” their child.

Most of our courses are eight weeks long. By the third week, we hear parents say, “My kids are fine. It’s me that must change.” Music to our ears because we know two things from this statement:

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1. They are going to mirror acceptance to their child instead of holding the bar at an unreachable height.

2. They are ready to work on their belief systems and their reactions.


When we move into the discipline part of the LIFE material, we start by suggesting that understanding antecedents (triggers) to a child’s challenging behaviour is the beginning of supporting children. Antecedents are what happen before a behaviour, even simple things like hunger and fatigue can be overlooked. Instead, the temper tantrum becomes the problem and a search for the right kind of punishment ensues. Eventually, parents realize that punishment or “logical consequences” don’t work.

Parents must dig and investigate to identify possible triggers. Has there been a new event in their child’s life? How are they getting along with the other parent? Are challenges happening at a certain time of day, such as transition times? Or is there a particular circumstance where the challenges show up? Once an antecedent is identified, parents can attempt to manage it or support their child emotionally.


We then identify what responsibilities belong to a child and teach parents the gradual art of teaching, supporting and letting go. This can be challenging for parents who tend to over-function by taking over other people’s responsibility. Where there is over-functioning, there is under-functioning. Parents learn in many ways to parent less in certain areas that we identify as “kid issues.” They learn not to say, “I told you so,” when their child messes up but rather, give love and support without taking over.

When parents control less, they have more authority. Let’s identify control; gushy praise, rewards and punishments, nagging, perfectionism, coercion and over-protection are all examples of parents trying to control children. When we stop nattering at someone about their responsibilities and focus on our own, we clear a path for people to do the same. Anyone who is over-controlled feels as if their head is being pushed under water and they fight and gasp to take a breath. To add to this, if they are told that their “behaviour” is unacceptable, 10 times a day, they feel like a gigantic disappointment. Nobody wants to be anybody’s disappointment, that includes our adult partners.


When parents are confident with their own boundaries around what is reasonable and what they are willing to do and not do, they stand as a thoughtful leader. This eases anxiety as children want that reasonable structure.

While there is much more to the dance of parenting, including our language, for now ask yourself:

• Do I have a positive and supportive view of my child’s behaviour?

• What are possible antecedents to consider?

• Where do I over-function?

• How confident am I with rules that really matter?

• Can I stand firm in my values without getting triggered by my child’s reactions?

A parent who stands strong in their own values is likely to be more effective than a parent who relies on techniques directed at their children.

Grown-up parents facilitate grown-up children.

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