Relating vs. Controlling, Part 1: Parent/Child Relationships

Yesterday the children and I went out to the garden  – me to trim the trees (although I ended up chopping practically the entire tree down – I really had no idea what I was doing)  – and the kids came out to ride their bikes and color with chalk.  I asked my daughter, the five year old, to please go back into the house and get the bucket of sidewalk chalk and my water bottle.  She obliged and eagerly went back into the house and up the stairs to get what I had asked for.  I turned my attention to the trees and started to chop away at them.  The baby  – who is really a toddler at this point – was happily walking around and my son was riding his bike.

A few minutes later my daughter came downstairs holding all of the things I had asked her to bring  but she was in tears and started to whine.  I don’t know about you, but I have absolutely no patience for whining.   My stress level rises and my heart starts beating quicker every time she whines.   I try to make a huge effort to relate to how she is feeling whenever I can, but it does not always come so naturally to me and my instinct is usually to jump in and tell her to stop whining.  So this time  I was about to tell her to stop whining, but the ‘parent whose intention is to relate‘ in me kicked in.

Take a deep breath.  Ignore her whining.  Crouch down to her level and look her in the eyes.  Ask her what happened.

“Sweetheart, what’s wrong?”

I…(hard crying, unable to catch her breath)…I…”

“It’s okay, take your time, tell me what happened.”


Keep breathing.  I have no idea what she said.  Ask her again.  Stay cool.

“What was that?  The whining and crying makes it very hard for me to understand what you are saying and I really want to understand what you are saying.”

A little calmer now: “I was coming down the stairs and I was calling you and you didn’t hear me and your bottle fell and I fell and you didn’t come!”

Ooh, she’s angry.  She has a right to be angry.  She called and I didn’t hear her.  I could just tell her that I didn’t hear her and say something about her not getting angry with me, but instead I tried to relate – repeating the following mantra in my head:

Is what I am about to say or do going to bring this person closer to me or push them farther away? (Taken from Choice Theory – a book that changed my life! – by William Glasser.)

“I’m sorry baby.  You are right.  That is very upsetting.  You called and I didn’t answer.  That must have been scary.”

Tears have subsided.

“Yes it was.”

Crying ends.  Relationship in tact.  I feel closer to her.  We all go back to doing what we were doing.


So what is up with all this relating stuff I am referring to?

In all of our relationships, especially in our relationships with our kids, it very easy to fall into the habit of wanting to control rather than to relate.

Do what I tell you to do!

Because I said so.


I’m the parent!  You must respect me and listen to me.

But we often get into power struggles with the people we are trying to control.

Here is what happened in one family situation where the child ( a six year-old) was not ‘listening’ to her father:

Father: Stop being silly at the table.

Daughter continues to giggle.

Father: I said stop being silly at the table!

Daughter: No!

Father: Get up and go to your room.

Daughter: No!

Father:  Stop yelling at me!

Daughter:  But you’re yelling at me!

I wonder what would have been different if instead of trying to control his child, the father tried to relate to her?


When our intention is to relate we want to really connect to the other person, get to know what they are really going through.

We make ourselves a bit more vulnerable when we are trying to relate.  We get real so that the other person can recognize that we too are human and that we too have feelings.

When you whine, my heart starts to beat faster and I feel as if I am going a little crazy inside.

Yes, even a five year-old can relate to that.


How about you?

From whence do you parent – from a place of wanting to control or from a place of wanting to relate?

How does that impact your relationship with your child?


To learn more about how you can learn to parent from a place of  wanting to relate rather than control, contact me.

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2 Responses

  1. Janet

    I think there has to be a balance. Yes, it’s best to relate, but a 5 year old isn’t always interested or in the mood to acquiesce just because you tried to relate and explain. Sometimes “because I said so” is the only thing that does get through. Just as we try to understand all of G-d’s ways, sometimes He says to us “because I said so”. I always try to explain to my 5 year old daughter why I ask her to do certain things, but even if she doesn’t want to do them, even if my reasons aren’t “good enough” she understands “because I said so” is, in fact, a reason. Parents do have authority over the kids, and the kids understand that, even when they can’t relate to the requests.

  2. Jenny

    Janet – it’s true…and children, especially at age five, do require boundaries – and sometimes the answer just is – because I said so. And I guess the balance is created in the WAY we say the “I said so.” We can say it with a tone that says – I want to be in control. Or we can say it with a tone that says: “I love you so much…please trust me on this.”

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