TRANSCRIPT: Your Parenting Long Game Episode 207 – Why Your Child Really Doesn’t Want to Control You (Or Anyone Else)
Hello it’s Rachel, and welcome to episode 207 of Your Parenting Long Game.
In this episode, I’m going to talk about why your child may seem like they want to control your mood. They may seem like they want you to bend to their whim, but in actuality, they actually don’t want to control your mood…or anyone else’s.
Let’s be real: They certainly act like they want to control you and others. They say things that seem intentionally meant to hurt you and are eerily good at knowing exactly what to say to upset you. They may want you to change your boundaries and will say anything to make that happen. They boss people around — you or their brothers or sisters or their friends — telling them exactly what to do and how, without seeming to care how it impacts others.
Now, by the way, if you can relate to this — to how much your big-feeling child’s behavior and emotions impacts your home– I encourage you to check out my free video series that I created especially for parents raising children with big emotions. My guess is that you’ve tried lots of strategies used to change things, but any results you’ve seen haven’t lasted that long.
So in this video series, I’m going to tell you what’s really important if you want to diffuse situations with your big-emotion child more quickly, if you want to teach them how to be more flexible, and if you want to make sure that you are thinking about all members of your family, not just your big-emotion child. You can find that video series at rachel-bailey.com/longgame.
But as I mentioned in the beginning, as much as children seem like they want to control you, they really don’t. I will say that their meanness when you tell them they have to go to bed earlier than they want to, or their attempt to try to get you to change your boundaries — those are simply signs that they have Yuck inside. They’re frustrated. They’re disappointed. They may feel out of control. And they’re simply coping with those feelings in an unhealthy, immature way. They feel these feelings, they try to get rid of them, and they turn them out on you.
So how do I know that they don’t actually want to control you, even though I grant you that their behavior certainly indicates that they do? I know this from supporting so many kids and families with at least one member with big emotions. I’m going to tell you some of the main reasons I can say with confidence that they actually don’t want to control you.
The first reason is that for kids, as much as they seem to want to be in charge, the world is a big place to them. And it doesn’t feel safe for them to dictate everything, especially because so many big-emotion kids worry a lot.
They actually need to know that there are consistent, confident boundaries around them, protecting them. It’s like, you know, when we get a puppy and we bring a crate home, but we say, “Oh my gosh, this puppy is so cute. We’re going to let them have free roam with the house.” But the puppy inevitably goes into that crate, and that’s where they end up sleeping. It’s because the walls of the crate or the boundaries that we provide our children actually help them feel more safe. All kids, but especially big-emotion kids, do feel better when a confident, predictable adult is in charge, an adult who’s not going to shift their mood based on what a child is doing.
Now, the second reason I can tell you they don’t want to control you is that big-emotion kids can barely manage their own emotions; they don’t want to have to deal with yours as well. In the moment when they’re being mean or bossy, they’re in Yuck. And when their Yuck puts us into Yuck, they sense that — because you know, big-feeling kids do sense our energy and they sense it very strongly. So when we go into Yuck, it becomes an additional difficult energy and feeling that they have to manage. Kids I used to see in therapy told me that, although they thought getting their way would make them feel better in that moment, they found that upsetting their parents just piled on to their initial Yuck.
And that leads to another reason that allowing their moods to determine our moods is really hard for them. When they see that they are dictating our moods, they usually eventually feel more negative about themselves. You’ve probably seen this in some cases after your child has had a meltdown, or been mean, or bossy to you or a sibling: They often feel bad about it later. They wonder why they can’t stop doing what they’re doing. And they wonder why what they’re going through doesn’t happen to everyone else. When we allow children to control our mornings, our days, our family decisions, they feel bad about themselves. Again, another area of Yuck that they have to deal with.
To help you understand what this might actually be like for a child, I’ve written a hypothetical letter from a child whose mood is dictating the mood of his entire family. This is a letter written by a hypothetical boy named Ollie who went to the movies with his family.
At the movies, Ollie ordered a pretzel without salt, but they gave him a pretzel with extra butter and extra salt. He melted down in the lobby, and he could feel everyone in his family — his mom, his dad, his brother, Andrew — he could tell that they thought he ruined the experience.
And here’s how he would describe it, if he were writing a letter to his family. He would say:
I’m really sorry about what happened at the movies. I know it shouldn’t have been a big deal that I got the wrong pretzel. See, the thing is, I’ve been really looking forward to getting that pretzel. Sometimes my pretzel is the best part of the movie that we go to see, especially because movies can be hard for me if they’re too loud, or if I just don’t like what we’re watching, but I know I’m always going to love the pretzel.
So when I saw that I wasn’t going to be able to eat one today, I was really disappointed, especially because that wasn’t the only thing that had gone wrong that day. Earlier in the day, my brother Andrew came into my room when I didn’t want him to. And Mom and Dad yelled at me when I complained about breakfast.
After all of that, with the pretzel issue, it was like this big wave was knocking me over, and I felt like I didn’t know how to pick myself back up. I was upset, and then I saw Andrew getting annoyed with me and that made me feel even worse. I know he doesn’t get upset like I do, and he doesn’t understand it.
So I tried to calm down so Andrew wouldn’t be mad, but that just made it harder for me to calm down. And then Dad told me to stop making such a big deal out of nothing. And then Mom got mad at Dad, and everything just got worse. Why can’t I’ve just not cared about the snack? I’ve tried not saying anything about how I feel, but then it just builds up inside. Why do I ruin everything? What is wrong with me?
Children don’t want to ruin everything for everyone. They don’t want to control our moods. They just don’t know how to control theirs. That’s really what it comes down to. They hurt you because they’re in Yuck, and they don’t have healthy ways to cope with it. So they turn those feelings out because they’re simply too much for them to handle. They say these things because when they’re hurting, they don’t want to be the only one hurting. They become controlling because they feel out of control and they don’t know how to handle it in an effective, mature way.
So initially in the long run, we need to teach them better coping skills. I’ll be doing more episodes on that in the future, and it’s something that I focus on now in the program I have for parents of kids with big emotions.
But in the meantime, I want to give some tips for what is in your control, whether your child uses their skills or not.
First, we have to stop getting sucked into their upset. It’s one thing when kids are in Yuck, it’s another when we let their Yuck drag us into Yuck. It’s like they’re drowning, and instead of staying regulated and pulling them out of the water, we just jump into the water with them.
Not seeing their behavior as a threat — knowing that it’s going to happen and that we can handle it — can shift the entire dynamic in your family. It can make you stop waiting for the next shoe to drop. I did an entire episode on how to not be so overwhelmed and exhausted by your children’s emotions, and I will link to that in the show notes.
But I do have some other tips that I want to share, in case you’re noticing that you are starting to get into the water or into the Yuck with your child. And really these are cues I want you to use to step back onto the dock, so you can pull your child out of the water.
One tip is to use a mantra as a reminder of your goals and your values. I actually have one that I use when my kids are upset — and trust me, I feel my kids’ energy, and only sometimes can I stop seeing it as a threat.
So what I say in my head is, “Your emotions don’t control my emotions.” Or I have another mantra that you may want to use, if you are a mantra person. It’s based on a quote by L. R. Knost who says, “When our little children are overwhelmed by big emotions, it’s our job to share our calm, not join their chaos.” Other parents I’ve worked with have told me that they’ve shortened that quote to, “Share my calm, don’t join their chaos.” I know parents who have used these mantras, and actually even write them on post-it notes and put them on a wall in rooms where things tend to not go well.
In addition to a mantra, there’s another technique you can use that is more visual, and some parents I’ve supported have used this one. What you can do when your child is in a bad mood is to imagine something around your body that is not letting their emotion into yours. This could be a big bubble that surrounds you. It could be a pink bubble or a purple bubble, whatever you like. Or pretend you’re wearing a big stuffed animal suit. The key is that you can imagine that you have a layer of protection, so you can see their emotion is something maybe coming at you, but bouncing off of whatever is surrounding you, and their emotion is falling to the floor. Their feelings can’t get inside of you.
Now I have one more tip that may seem really surprising when I say it. And that is: if your child seems to be having a really big Yuck-filled day, if they’re in Yuck over and over, my tip is to actually go about doing what you would normally do that day. I know you’re thinking, “What? How can you do that? When your child is upset? What if they follow you around? And aren’t you just ignoring them?”
The best way to actually do this, to go about doing what you normally do, is to let them know ahead of time how things are going to go if they’re being disrespectful, or if they’re being rude, or if they’re being controlling. Make a plan for what you will do when they are in this place.
You’ve heard me talk about “when-then” statements. So what you can do is say, “When my child is being rude, then I will _____.” They should know what you’re going to do ahead of time. Because if you tell them and you follow through, then you’re actually being that predictable adult that they really need around them.
So if you say, “When you say something I feel is disrespectful, I will remind you that I’ll talk to you once you change your tone, and then I will go back to what I was doing — helping your sister with her homework or whatever I was doing.” And then once you’ve told them that, you just do it. Are they going to like that in the moment? No, but they’re not really going to like anything you do in that moment when they’re in Yuck, which is why dealing with Yuck in general is more of a proactive practice.
But what will be more helpful about letting them know ahead of time and going about your day is that, first of all, you’re going to feel more in control. You’re going to know what to do, so you are less likely to get sucked into their Yuck — and you being less likely to get sucked into their Yuck is one less thing that contributes to their Yuck. And the other thing is that once this moment is over, when they see that they have not controlled you — after they’re out of Yuck, they will feel better about themselves. They won’t think that they have so much power to destroy the day of everyone around them.
So I’m going to give you one more example of this strategy, using the story of Ollie that I mentioned before. Knowing that Ollie does feel things strongly and may get upset, Ollie’s parents could have told him before they went to the movie, they could have told him, “If something is upsetting you during the movies, one of us will walk outside with you so you can tell us what’s going on for you. And the other parent will take your brother, Andrew, into the movie theater.” That way everyone knows what’s going to happen. His brother, Andrew, won’t get resentful. And Mom and Dad will feel more in control because they know what to do.
Now, when you’re creating this plan, you can certainly get your child’s input about what they think you should do in that moment. Are they going to be happier because you use their input and the plan in the moment when they’re upset? No, they’re not going to be happier, but at least you’ve given them some control.
And ultimately, whatever plan you make is going to help you feel more in control, which is actually better for everyone. So the action I suggest you take if you do have a child who seems like they’re trying to control your behavior:
- Number one, remember that your child actually feels better about themselves when they don’t control you. They will not feel better in the moment. You’re not going to see this when they’re in Yuck, but in the long run, it can improve how they feel about themselves.
- I also want you to choose an external cue to remind you not to get sucked in, not to jump in the water with them. You can use a mantra, or you can use that visualization of the bubble around you.
- And lastly, I really recommend that you make a plan for how you can go about your day and do what you would do. Have your child help you build that plan if appropriate, but you want to remind them of the plan and follow through. Don’t expect it to make them happy in the moment, but know that in the long run, you are doing the right thing.
Because when you let your child have their emotions without getting sucked in and without allowing it to control you, first of all, you spend a lot less time and energy managing situations. And when you let your child have their emotions without getting sucked in, your child doesn’t have your emotions to handle, in addition to theirs. And when you let your child have their emotions without getting sucked in, they don’t have to worry about the fact that they’re affecting everyone, and they don’t have to feel worse about themselves.
Now I’m not saying this is easy or that it happens overnight — but with reminders and repetitions, it will happen. If you want support with this, if you want to know how I’ve helped other families bring more peace and flexibility to their homes, I encourage you to watch my free video series that shows you how having new tools can impact not only you and your big-emotion child, but your entire family. You can find that video series on my website at rachel-bailey.com/longgame.
And I would also ask if you enjoy this podcast to subscribe, rate, and review it. And if you know anyone else who’s raising a child with big emotions, I would love for you to send it to them as well. They and their family can also get to a better place, they can bring their children to a better place, and I would love to be part of that solution in some way.
I will be back with you again very soon with more tips to improve your parenting long game, especially if you are raising a child with big emotions. I’ll see you then.
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