Controlling Children, Controlling Ourselves

Anshel’s wife (blog taken over by spam) had a hard day. She asks, “What do you do when your kids don’t act the way you want them to act?” A very good question, although I might rephrase it, “How do you get your kids to want to act the way you want them to act?”

The short answer is that it’s not about the techniques you use to control your children, it’s about the relationship you build with them from birth. Children who are “out of control” are often responding to a lack of connection with their caretakers (barring some kind of developmental problem). A mother who is too stressed out on a regular basis to communicate or play with her children, or is preoccupied with other things, will find that her children don’t want to cooperate when she needs it the most. I’m saying this as one who grew up in a fairly emotionally cold home and is normally involved in about a million projects at once.

So here are my suggestions:

  1. Take care of yourself first. Make sure you get a decent amount of sleep, eat regular meals, and receive the emotional support you need, whether from your husband or others. You are the center of the family, you hold everything together, and you can’t run on empty.
  2. You can’t control your kids. They are independent people. But you can control the environment. If they draw on things, keep all writing implements out of reach unless you are directly supervising them. If you don’t want them to touch your laptop, lock it up. It’s unrealistic to expect them to play by themselves for a long period while you are occupied elsewhere. Make yourself available when they need you, even if you are busy, within reasonable limits. Then they will be less likely to seek your attention with negative behavior.
  3. You can’t control your kids, but you can control yourself. Before I had kids, I thought I would be the perfect mother. It’s just as well that I’m not, because perfect people are awfully hard to live with. Lower your expectations for what you have to get done, and keep the focus on the relationships within your family. A broken applicance is easier to repair than a broken relationship. Building a good relationship with your children is the best investment you can make. If you do mess up, forgive yourself. Have a hot drink, call a friend, and think what you can do to prevent the situation next time.
  4. Avoid harsh punishments and time-outs, because they also interfere with a warm, loving relationship. When children act inappropriately, wait until you are calm and connected with them to discuss the problem. Also, I think some people are better at using such techniques as punishment more than others. Using them just made me more angry and frustrated, especially when they didn’t work. Instinctively, I felt they were wrong, so I dropped them and haven’t looked back.
  5. Make sure you and your husband communicate about issues involving the children. Even if you don’t agree about what to do at least understand the other’s perspective. Let each other know your expectations. For example, when I got angry at the kids my husband would jump in to defend me until I explained to him that I needed him to stay relaxed in order for me to calm down.
  6. Get your children involved with your day-to-day activities. Getting connected with them doesn’t mean you need to sit on the floor and play with them at the exclusion of all else. Look at your daily chores and see where you can involve your kids. This is another investment that pays off later on. Wait until they are playing independently and then try to do something by yourself; don’t start it and then ask them to keep themselves busy.
  7. Embarrassment at what other people think interferes with our effectiveness as parents, and sends our children the message that we care more about others’ opinions than we do about them. Guilt about past mistakes is also generally unhelpful.
  8. Some book suggestions: Adventures in Gentle Discipline, by Hilary Flower; anything by Faber and Mazlish; Playful Parenting by Lawrence Cohen; Noach Orloweck as mentioned in the comments on the Neufeld book post. The Neufeld book is a bit heavy. If you have a baby, What Mothers Do by Naomi Stadlen. You could also join or start a parenting support group.

I’m going to take my own advice here and get off the computer!! I hope today goes better for AW.


  1. All good, but I think 7 is the best/most important of them all. As a kid, I remember that while it seemed like it was okay for a parent to embarrass their child by punishing them in public, the reverse wasn’t true at all. Parents need to do what’s best for their kid’s learning, not what’s least embarrassing for them personally.

  2. Right on, especialy your primary point. I agree that mothers who pride themselves on self-sacrifice to the point that they don’t take care of themselves are doing their family a disservice. No one appreciates a doormat, and no one likes a martyr.

  3. Typo in above: “especialy” should be especially

  4. mother in israel says

    Good point.

    Ariella: I looked all through my post for that spelling mistake. Can you tell I’m paranoid?
    Being a doormat is also a bad example for the kids.

  5. Jerusalem Joe says

    that looks like a pretty good recipe to raise a family with. probably much easier said than done.
    by the way – it bears a close resemblance to Adlerian psychology.
    i find it amazing that there is no such thing as schools for parenting. don’t you?

  6. mother in israel says

    JJ, it actually is easy. When we are sensitive to their needs they are more secure and more in tune with us. The problem is the “experts” and the stresses of modern life.

  7. SephardiLady says

    Being a doormat is also a bad example for the kids.

    Bad example for husbands too. đŸ™‚

    i find it amazing that there is no such thing as schools for parenting. don’t you?

    On the surface, it seems like their should be parenting school, but instinct is often the key to parenting. Schooling might cause a loss of instinict.

  8. Anshel's Wife says

    I was just telling my husband that I’ve always believed that mothers (and fathers) have instincts when it comes to raising children. But I truly hit the age of wisdom last year (when I turned 40) when I realized that instinct can be helped by talking to friends and professionals. Thank you to all of you.

  9. mother in israel says


    I’m so glad we could give you some “chizuk.”