When Fear Looks Like 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 44 of his most famous works. [click here] I do have several that I like a lot and this one titled “Taking the Plunge” [pictured] is one of my favorites.

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?) 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 the 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 really 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, and as they get older they are able to help more.  Our six kids are divided into three groups. The “older” kids  (ages 11 and 9), the “middle” kids (6 and 5), and the “babies” (20 months and almost 3). The older kids have the most responsibilities of any of the kids, not only because they are more able, 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 controlling 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 are 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 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.

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