How to Deal with a Controlling Child: Setting Boundaries

Krystal DeVille

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How to Deal with a Controlling Child.

When your kids show and act with controlling behavior, it can be a challenging experience. I know, my husband and I have dealt with this with our third kid. However, It’s important to recognize that the need for control can often stem from a child’s internal anxieties, fear of the unpredictable, or a desire for autonomy.

Addressing this behavior requires patience, empathy, and consistent strategies that empower both the child and the parent.

Table of Contents

Key Takeaways:

  • Understanding the motivations for a child’s controlling behavior is crucial.
  • Consistent parenting strategies can help manage and reduce controlling tendencies.
  • Professional intervention may be necessary if controlling behavior continues.

Understanding Controlling Behavior in Children

How To Deal With a Controlling Child infographic.

In addressing controlling behavior in children, it’s essential to recognize the signs, understand the personality factors involved, and distinguish between leadership qualities and domineering tendencies. These steps can help caregivers manage challenging behaviors effectively.

Understanding a child’s personality can provide insights into why control issues may manifest.

Identifying the Signs of Control Issues

Children exhibiting controlling behavior often demonstrate a clear pattern of actions. They may:

  • Resist following instructions or accepting a ‘no’ without becoming extremely distressed, displaying a clear need to control the situation.
  • Consistently insist on having things done a specific way, to the point of conflict, indicating a struggle to feel in control.
  • Display anger, frustration, or extensive tantrums when not in charge, which could be seen in scenarios ranging from a 4 year old trying to dominate playtime to an 8 year old refusing to follow bedtime routines
Kids mad at parents. Parent-Child Conflicts.
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Personality Factors Contributing to a Need for Control

Several personality factors may drive a child’s need for control, including:

  • An inherent temperament that leans towards wanting order and predictability, often observed in strong willed children.
  • Underlying anxiety or fear, often causing children to seek control as a way to cope with insecurities, a common issue in child with control issues.
  • A history of inconsistent caregiving can lead to a child’s belief that they need to take charge to feel safe, a sentiment that might be expressed by both a year old daughter and a year old son in different contexts.

Differentiating Between Strong Leadership and Domineering Tendencies

It’s important to differentiate a child’s healthy leadership skills from controlling, domineering behavior. A child showing leadership is often:

  • Flexible and can adapt their approach when needed, a quality that help your child develop into a positive trait.
  • Willing to listen to others and incorporate their ideas, allowing them to feel heard and valued in the parent-child relationship.

In contrast, domineering children may refuse to consider others’ viewpoints and insist on their way, revealing a power struggle rather than leadership. Addressing these issues early on, through means such as parenting classes, can help give your child the tools they need to try to control their impulses more appropriately.

Whether dealing with a 6 year old’s defiance or an old son’s demand for autonomy, understanding and compassionately guiding them can strengthen your bond and teach valuable life skills.

Parenting Strategies for Managing Control

family happily watching tv.
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Effective parenting involves establishing strategies that promote a healthy balance of control within the family dynamic. Parents may need to navigate their children’s controlling tendencies by setting clear rules and encouraging independence, especially when dealing with a 6-year-old who wants to control everything.

Setting Clear Limits and Boundaries

Parents should communicate their expectations clearly, defining what behaviors are acceptable and which are not. For example, they might state that raising one’s voice is not an appropriate way to seek attention.

  • Clear Expectations:
    • Do: “Homework should be done before screen time.”
    • Don’t: “No yelling during family time.”

This clarity is a cornerstone for parents in helping their child feel understood and guiding them towards good behavior, fostering a healthy sense of control without overstepping into parental control.

Consistency in Rules and Consequences

Once rules are set, parents need to consistently enforce them. If a child doesn’t complete their homework before screen time, the agreed-upon consequence should follow. This consistency helps the child understand the reliability of boundaries.

  • Rules: “Bedtime is at 8 PM on school nights.”
  • Consequences: If not in bed by the deadline, 10 minutes less screen time the following evening.

This consistency helps the child develop a tolerance towards limitations, addressing power and control issues in children, whether they are a 6-year-old boy or a 10-year-old girl. It’s essential for a child who has a sense of their own power to also understand the importance of rules.

Encouraging Responsibility and Autonomy

Encouraging children to make choices within set limits helps develop their sense of autonomy. Offer them decision-making opportunities, such as choosing between two appropriate outfits or selecting a snack from a range of healthy options.

  • Choices Within Limits:
    • Clothing: “Would you like to wear the red shirt or the blue one?”
    • Snacks: “You can choose an apple or a banana for your snack.”

This approach encourages self-control and is crucial in helping them let go of the need for undue influence, particularly when a child is trying to assert themselves inappropriately.

KinVibes Pro-Tip: Allowing your child to make small decisions can help reduce their need to overly assert control, which is often indicative of a lack of confidence. Moreover, this approach fosters a more attentive listening attitude in the child towards their mum or primary caregiver.

Creating a Supportive Environment

parents reading with their daughter.
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Creating a supportive environment when dealing with controlling behaviors involves reinforcing positive behavior, strengthening a child’s self-esteem, and providing a predictable routine. These strategies foster a child’s confidence and help mitigate controlling behaviors, which is essential in understanding child psychology.

Positive Reinforcement and Praise

Children thrive on positive reinforcement and praise, which teaches them the rules and expectations within their environment. Recognizing and praising desired behaviors immediately reinforces to a child that what they’re doing is good, thereby reducing troublesome behavior.

For instance, if a 7 year old shares their toys without prompting, a caregiver might say, “Great sharing! I see how kind you are.”

This help and encouragement supports positive actions and diminishes the child’s need to gain control through undesirable behaviors.

  • Example of Praise: “You did a fantastic job cleaning up your room!”
  • Benefits: Increases likelihood of behavior repeating, encouraging the child to listen.

Building Confidence and Self-Esteem

A child with high self-esteem is less likely to exhibit controlling tendencies as a means of asserting themselves. Caregivers try to focus on building confidence by offering choices where appropriate and supporting the child’s interests, which signals trust in their decisions.

  • Encourage Effort: Celebrate the effort, not just success.
  • Offer Choices: “Would you like to wear the red shirt or the blue one?”

This approach helps children understand what they can’t control, moving away from the need to be the center of attention through controlling behaviors.

The Role of Routine and Structure

A consistent routine provides a sense of security and predictability, which can reduce a child’s perceived need for control. The structure should not be rigid but instead provide clear rules and expectations, making it easier for kids’ to understand their boundaries.

Daily Schedule Example

Breakfast8 a.m.
Playtime10 a.m.
Quiet time2 p.m.

Visual Aids: Use charts to illustrate the daily routine, providing great ideas for children to follow.

This approach emphasizes the importance of understanding that a child exerting control is often a sign of unmet child needs. Through proper guidance, parents can stop trying too hard in the wrong areas and instead focus on areas where the child already knows they have some autonomy.

As a result, this encourages a healthier dynamic where the child gets to feel heard and respected.

Addressing Behavioral Challenges

mad kid with clench fist.
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When a child knows how to push boundaries, controlling behaviors can lead to avoiding a power struggle and exhibiting aggression or attention-seeking actions. Caregivers and educators need to handle these challenges effectively, focusing on staying calm and taking proactive steps.

Dealing With Power Struggles and Aggression

Children asserting power can often lead to power struggles, particularly when they exhibit aggressive behavior. A useful approach is to set clear and consistent limits. Caregivers should:

  1. Establish clear rules and consequences related to aggression, helping children often better understand the boundaries.
  2. Avoid a power struggle by not engaging in a battle of wills, which can develop a tolerance towards challenging things.
  3. Offer positive alternatives when redirecting the child from aggressive actions, this way children can explain their feelings and needs more effectively.

Handling Attention-Seeking and Intimidating Behaviors

Intimidating and attention-seeking behaviors are a child’s way of communicating needs. Proper handling of these behaviors involves:

  • Recognizing triggers for attention-seeking actions and addressing them early.
  • Providing consistent attention for positive behaviors, thus reducing the need for intimidating actions.
  • Implementing time-ins where the child can engage in positive interaction instead of being isolated can reinforce negative behaviors and hinder patience and understanding.

Strategies for Remaining Calm and Proactive

Staying calm in the face of challenging behaviors is crucial. Proactive strategies include:

  • Practicing self-regulation techniques such as deep breathing.
  • Preparing behavioral plans in advance for known challenges.
  • Engaging in active listening to understand the root causes of behaviors, which goes a long way in helping build a sense of empathy and respect for authority.

Parents can ensure that the child knows how much control they have positively, even if they’re as young as a month old or as challenging as a two-year-old. This approach fosters a family of faith in their abilities to manage emotions and behaviors constructively.

Communication and Emotional Skills

Children are often able to explain their behavior and responses when given the chance. Parents must develop a tolerance towards things their child does, even when it seems they’re just trying to get what they want by digging their heels in.

Sometimes, this might stem from a lack of confidence or belief in their abilities, and it’s something to be mindful of. When you try to talk to them about their actions, you may want to check how you approach the conversation.

Fostering Open Communication With Your Child

To foster open communication, parents should encourage their children to share thoughts and feelings without judgment. Active listening is crucial: parents can maintain eye contact and nod to show they’re engaged.

It’s beneficial to use “I” statements to voice concerns without casting blame, such as, “I feel worried when you don’t listen to others.”

Teaching Empathy and Understanding Tolerance

It’s easy to lose your temper with a persistent child, but remember, patience is key. While these strategies are helpful, they are no substitute for treatment if deeper issues are at play. Every child needs to learn how to navigate their emotions and social interactions.

Parents might introduce scenarios where they ask, “How do you think he felt when that happened?”

This practice helps the child step into someone else’s shoes. Encouraging children to talk about their own experiences when they felt misunderstood can also build empathy.

Expressing and Recognizing Emotions Properly

Teaching children to express their emotions appropriately involves recognizing emotional triggers and finding healthy outlets for feelings. A useful strategy includes helping them match words to what they’re feeling:

“It seems like you’re frustrated because you can’t have the toy now.”

If you’re sorry to hear about struggles with your child, remember, you’re not alone. A lot of the time, it’s hard to accept that our little ones, even as young as your two-year-old, can exhibit such strong wills. But with the right approach, it’s possible to deal with a controlling child and guide them towards more positive behaviors.

Professional Intervention

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When a child’s controlling behavior interferes with their daily life or family dynamics, professional intervention may be necessary. There are clear signals that indicate when it’s time to seek assistance and important considerations to understand regarding behavioral disorders.

When to Seek Help From a Child Psychologist

Parents should consider professional help if they observe:

  • Persistent patterns of controlling behavior that disrupt family or school life.
  • Escalation of behavior despite consistent home intervention.
  • Signs of distress in the child or family members due to these controlling behaviors.

Understanding ADHD and Other Behavioral Disorders

ADHD: Attention-Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder can sometimes underpin controlling behaviors. Recognizing the signs is vital:

  • Frequent interruption of others or trouble waiting their turn.
  • Difficulty focusing on tasks or following instructions.
  • Excessive movement or fidgeting when not appropriate.

Behavioral Disorders: These may cause or exacerbate controlling behaviors. Professional help can provide a diagnosis and management plan.

The Broader Impact of Controlling Behavior

Controlling behavior in children often extends beyond the parent-child dynamic and can significantly affect those around them, particularly siblings and peers. Children who exhibit controlling tendencies can inadvertently shape the environment of their household and social circles, leading to a range of consequences.

Effects on Siblings and Peer Relationships

When a child displays controlling behavior, it can have a direct impact on siblings, straining relationships and potentially leading to increased friction.


They are often the first to experience the brunt of a controlling child’s behavior. This can manifest in:

  • Reduced sense of autonomy as the controlling child may often dictate play scenarios or group decisions.
  • Feelings of resentment if they perceive inconsistent parenting or if they are frequently compelled to acquiesce to their sibling’s demands.

Peer Relationships

  • Friendships can also be affected, as controlling behavior may deter other children, who feel overshadowed or less valued, from forming close bonds.
  • Playdates might turn into power struggles rather than cooperative play.
  • A controlling child might struggle with teamwork activities in school due to the persistent need for personal dominion.

Preventing Bullying and Aggressive Behavior Patterns

Unchecked controlling behavior can develop into bullying, as the child may continue to seek power and control in interactions.


A controlling child might not recognize the inappropriateness of their domination, which could evolve into patterns of bullying.

  • Regular intervention and discussions about empathy and consideration are critical in redirecting these behaviors.


  • Communication is key, teaching the child ways to express themselves without exerting control over others.
  • Positive reinforcement helps when they engage in collaborative and respectful behavior.
  • If necessary, seeking professional help early can be crucial in preventing the escalation of controlling tendencies into bullying.

Frequently Asked Questions

What are some common indicators that my child may be exhibiting controlling behavior?

Signs that a child may be trying to exert control include resisting authority, completing tasks halfway, using silent treatment, and showing inflexibility during group activities. They might also demonstrate a steadfast insistence on making their own choices in scenarios typically guided by an adult.

Can certain childhood experiences lead to controlling tendencies in children?

Yes, experiences such as a lack of routine, inconsistent discipline, or facing learning and communication challenges can result in a child developing a need for control. This often arises from a desire for stability or attention.

What strategies can help when dealing with a child who insists on being the decision-maker?

Parents can mitigate controlling behavior by offering limited choices, ensuring age-appropriate involvement in decision-making, and setting clear and consistent boundaries. It is helpful to validate the child’s feelings while also maintaining necessary parental leadership.

How should parents navigate power struggles with their children?

Effective navigation involves picking battles wisely, enforcing consistent rules, and employing natural consequences. It’s beneficial to avoid escalating confrontations and instead model calmness and clear communication.

What disciplinary approaches are effective for children who display challenging behaviors?

Parents might find success through positive reinforcement, structured environments, and setting clear expectations followed by fair consequences. Building a strong, respectful relationship is key to addressing behavioral issues thoughtfully.

How can parents cope when they feel overwhelmed by their child’s demanding nature?

They can seek support from family or professionals, practice self-care, and set aside time for personal relaxation. Parents need to remain united in their approach and if necessary, consider educational or counseling resources for additional guidance.

wrapping up – Approach a controlling child with love and understanding

Understanding the root of controlling behaviors is crucial. Often, these behaviors stem from anxiety or a need for autonomy. With this knowledge, parents can approach their children with the necessary empathy. This ensures the well-being of both the child and the family, leading to a more balanced and supportive relationship.

As you can see, the journey is challenging but rewarding. It promises to strengthen the bonds of love and respect, which are the foundation of the parent-child relationship. Ultimately, this process guides the child towards becoming a confident, compassionate, and self-aware individual.

About Krystal DeVille

Hello! I’m Krystal DeVille. By day, I wear many hats: a homeschool teacher, wife, and mother. By night, I’m a fervent journalist, pouring my thoughts and experiences onto paper. Parenthood, for me, has been an exhilarating roller-coaster filled with emotions, invaluable lessons, and moments of sheer joy. With three wonderful kids of my own, I’ve journeyed through the highs and lows — from sleepless nights to their very first steps and those unforgettable proud parent moments.

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