Internal vs. External Control
We all want to be responsible parents. After all, that’s the job we signed up for. With that responsibility comes a requirement – legal, moral and ethical – that we do what we can to control our children.
Though it is an expectation of child-rearing, it also behooves us to recognize our limits and learn how to manage our children without becoming dominating or overly-controlling.
The job is to develop young adults who can control their own behavior without external motivation or short-term gratification. That requires that we teach them to manage and control themselves.
Managing vs. Controlling Children
It is true that one aspect of management is control. Think about teachers. Classroom management requires that they assume control of the environment. Behavior management requires that they assume control of the behavior of the kids in the classroom.
Teachers achieve these responsibilities by using skills. If simply telling kids to sit still and be quiet were sufficient to manage a classroom, the finesse of managing the behavior of the children in the classroom would be unnecessary.
Likewise, if parents could create mature, responsible young adults by simply telling them what to do, the job of parenting would be much simpler. Unfortunately, that is not how it works.
Most humans learn through repetition and practice. Teaching is complicated. Particularly when you consider that all of us have different styles of learning. Lots of trial and error go into success.
Teaching and Developing Children
In the realm of parenting, attempts to control a child can result in many poor outcomes.
We cannot take control of another’s behavior or emotions. Nobody can control emotions or behavior other than that person. You can’t make me happy or unhappy – though you may set up an environment that lends itself to one or the other.
As long as children have free will, they choose what to do, how to react, and how they feel to a large degree.
Have you ever tried to get a child to stop crying? They may eventually be able to reign in their emotions, but not simply because they are told to do so. Commanding them to stop emoting may result in suppressing their emotions, but it does not mean they stop feeling what they feel.
Commanding a child to stop fidgeting may get short-term results, but what happens when you aren’t present? This is internal versus external control.
Ultimately, children need to internalize the skills to manage their own behavior and emotions. Otherwise, they rely on external circumstances and control to do so.
Teaching and managing children is more likely to result in the long-term changes that you want for the children. Allowing them to learn, choose, and accept responsibility for their choices results in the lessons needed to internalize both skills and confidence.
Internal vs. External Control
Either I learn to manage and control myself, or I need someone else to monitor, motivate and control me.
By teaching kids to think critically, make the best choices, learn from mistakes, and fine-tune their skills, we allow them to internalize skills necessary to be successful.
Adults who lack internal control often develop addictions. In the workplace they usually require close supervision and external motivation – either positive or negative – and frequent rewards. In relationships, they are often unreliable.
Such people often find themselves in trouble, but it is never their fault. Always, someone else should have, would have, or could have caused their behavior.
They take no initiative, accept no responsibility, and assume no consequences.
Promoting Positive Self-Esteem in Children
Using the following process allows you as a parent to establish an environment in which your child can learn, grow, and develop the skills needed to become a young adult with positive self-esteem. They’ll have an internal locus of control.
These are the essential steps:
1. Communicate expectations with accountability clearly.
2. Get all the adults on the same page.
3. Be consistent. Follow through and negotiate any changes explicitly.
4. Allow them to experience the natural consequences that arise from their choices.
5. Help them learn from their failures and shortcomings.
6. Encourage good behavior and avoid reinforcing bad behavior.
7. Set up opportunities for your child to succeed.
8. Love them anyway.
Each step in the process is critical. Teaching, monitoring, processing and enforcing consequences make this work.
The result will be young adults that have high self-esteem and take responsibility for their own actions. They’ll be on the road to greater success and happiness for life.