Are You Afraid to Share Control?

Some of my favorite works of art are Julian Beever’s sidewalk illusions. If you haven’t seen them, they are truly amazing! He employs a technique called trompe l’oeil which is French for deceive the eye. He creates images that, when viewed from the correct angle, are optical illusions that appear to be three-dimensional. It really messes with your mind.

Finding a favorite is a difficult task as you will discover by viewing his works. I do have several that I really like, but one of my favorites is titled “Taking the Plunge“.

So apparently art does imitate life because Beever’s art reminds me that things are frequently not as they seem, this is particularly true for our kids from hard places.

A lot of our kids have control issues. (Can I get an amen?) I know you know what I’m talking about. Every time we plan to go anywhere they have to know every single detail before we head to the car. What’s for dinner? They want us to run that that by them too. Trying to have a conversation with other adults usually involves them doing one of two things, eavesdropping from 10 feet away or inserting themselves directly into the conversation. I know you have things that you can add to the list too, but let’s move on.

So what to do?

We have to remember that their need to control every situation is fear based and cannot be changed without addressing the underlying fear itself. Most parents (myself included) choose to get into a power struggle with their kids, and as I have learned, no one wins those.

Here are three things that we work on with our kids as we try to help him live a life free of fear.

1. Let them help

One of the great things about kids is that they love to help. Helping others gives them a sense of purpose, and as they get older they can help more. Our six kids are divided into three groups. The “big” kids (ages 12 and 10), the “middle” kids (7 and 6), and the “babies” (3 and 2). The older kids have the most responsibilities of any of the kids, not only because they have more ability, but because they want more control.

They change diapers, they help in the kitchen (cooking and cleaning), they feed babies, etc. Not only do they love to help, but they thrive on being responsible for something.

2. Control their control

If giving them responsibilities is 1A, then controlling their control is 1B. So what does “control their control” mean? Simply put, we give them control of certain things in our home. The key is that we, as their parents, decide what they have control over. Kids, like adults, like being in charge so we try to give them ownership of things that they can do and do well. It’s a win on multiple levels. We establish trust, remove some fear, they are in charge of something, and we get help.

The difference between giving them responsibilities and giving them control is this; the responsibility has to be done our way, things they have control over gets done their way within the predetermined boundaries.

3. Invite them into the conversation

One of the things we are trying to get better at is including our kids, especially our oldest son, in decisions that affect our family. Sometimes we fall into the trap that decisions need to be made by parents and that children need to just tow the line. Yes, there are some very adult decisions that parents need to make, but there are many that don’t need to be command decisions.

Now, these decisions range from where we are going to dinner to where we are are going on vacation. He has a need to know what we are doing and if we include him we lower his anxiety and raise the trust between us.

Remember, controlling people are fearful people. Lower the fear and you will lower the need to control at the same time.

Ryan North
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Ryan North

Ryan North is the Executive Director of Tapestry, the Adoption & Foster Care Ministry of Irving Bible Church in Dallas, Texas. As Executive Director of Tapestry, Ryan also leads Empowered to Connect. He frequently writes and speaks on connected parenting and ministry leadership.
Ryan North
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