how to deal with a controlling child - Mothering Forums

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#1 of 11 Old 12-14-2010, 07:00 PM - Thread Starter
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my 10yr old daughter (oldest) is a VERY controlling child in regards to her brother (5yrs).


i am at my whit's end.


i spend so much time correcting her behavior and i realize i'm not really helping things because i feel like i'm trying to control her from being controlling! but i don't want to just let her behavior go and have her (and especially her brother, who's the brunt of it) think this behavior is ok.


the kind of things she does is correcting anything and everything (some days) that her brother does. the songs he sings are never right (lyrics wrong, tune wrong), the way he plays games is always wrong, the way he eats his food, the way he draws, the way he writes, the way he does EVERYTHING. she's so condescending and nasty to him at least half of the day, every day, that i am always so frustrated and angry, it seems!


i don't want my son growing up thinking his sister hates him and everything he does is wrong. he's no angel, mind you, and is quite good at pushing buttons to set her off...and i do call him on this behavior as well. i feel like all i do most days is correct behavior! (we homeschool, so we spend just about all day, every day together.)


i have always leaned towards gentle discipline. we don't spank, i was very against time-outs for a long time (although that's changed lately...but he's a whole 'nother story)...i always figured i could work through any problem with my kids by just talking to them about it. this works pretty well with my son (unless he's out of control). not really at all with my daughter. they are very different.


my daughter and i are very similar people...and i've tried very hard not to be like my mom was with me, but i just can't understand how this sweet little girl, that i love so very much, can spend the vast majority of her waking hours being so nasty to her brother. i've talked and talked and talked to her about it. nothing has helped.


i also do realize as a homeschooler that i have to make time for her to be away from her brother and i do that. i need to try to schedule this even more, i think...that does seem to help.


and don't get me wrong. she does have plenty of moments where they play together and she is quite sweet to him. i just feel like those times are so very few and far between and most of my waking days i'm spending correcting HER behavior correcting HIM! i've told her many many times that he does not need another mom. she will seriously discipline him right there in front of me while i'm working on it already! i'm like, hello? am i not already saying this to him...i do NOT need your help!


she almost seems like this need to correct her brother is impulsive.


another thing about her is that she absolutely will NOT do whatever you suggest to help a situation. she's always been this way...if you tell her to calm down, take a deep breath (she's lost control a lot lately and ended up in hysterics), she will NOT do it. period. won't happen. she just won't. anything you suggest, she won't do it. never has. never will. i've had to figure out ways to cajole her to try new things even (that's a whole nother issue...she hates new things...just like her dad), because she just balks. she says she feels silly and she gets embarrassed. so i let it go because i know any suggestions i make, just won't happen.


i really don't know what else to do with her. of course i love her dearly but i feel like we are so at odds all the time that i'm afraid i'm damaging her self esteem. i probably am. but i don't know how to make it clear to her that this nasty behavior is not ok without making this a slap on her self esteem!


anyone with a similarly controlling and often nasty with siblings child? i really need to know i'm not alone in this right now. any creative ideas on how to deal with her controlling personality would be wonderful.


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#2 of 11 Old 12-14-2010, 07:26 PM
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When my kids get like that, I say, "Hey, you're not the parent, so I don't want to hear parental things coming out of your mouth."



(And that usually works for me, so I'm sorry I don't have more suggestions if that doesn't work!)

"Our task is not to see the future, but to enable it."
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#3 of 11 Old 12-14-2010, 07:42 PM
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Could some of this be you needing a break?  You mention that there are many times where they do get along so I wonder if you might need time away from the minor annoyances that come with living with other people, especially when they are your children.  Usually when I feel like my dd is doing so many really annoying or horrible things and I think it is all the time it is because I am so in need of personal space and time alone that I can't see anything except the things that annoy me.  When I was homeschooling dd things got really bad between us for a while because there was never anytime where I was alone at first except at night if I stayed up late, but then I was grumpy because she is an early riser and I didn't get enough sleep.  Things improved dramatically when I got a little time to myself each week, she didn't change but my perspective did (and almost always does when we are in a phase where I am annoyed by everything) and I was able to firmly address the things that needed to change without making a battle.  I also have to approach her carefully because she doesn't like to feel like I am telling her what to do, and that is sometimes very draining when I have very little patience left in the first place.

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#4 of 11 Old 12-15-2010, 06:58 AM
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You are definitely not alone in this! My 11 year old is very controlling with her siblings, though it has gotten better over the last couple of years. I think it's not uncommon for the oldest sibling to have this kind of tendency. 


When my oldest attempts to discipline one of her siblings, my response is "Stop. I'm the parent. I will handle it." Or "It's not your job to be concerned about that. That's my job" or "you worry about you, not him/her." If I do need to address something with her sibling(s), I try not to do it in front of her. I'll tell her to leave the room, or I'll take the sibling into another room, or I'll wait and talk to the sibling later (depends on the situation). 


When my oldest is being critical of her siblings, I don't usually intervene directly with oldest dd unless I see/hear it and 1) the sibling is becoming upset and/or 2) I'm getting annoyed by it. My rule is that if you're yelling, screaming, calling names, or otherwise being aggressive, you go to your room until you're calm enough to treat your family with respect. I will talk to you when you're calm. If she's just being nasty (like saying "you're not singing in tune" or "your drawing is ugly"), and I hear it, I will say (once only) "I don't like it when you treat your brother like that." If it continues, I will separate her from her siblings. I try not to make a huge deal about it but just be brief and matter-of-fact, whether I'm sending her to time out or just telling her that I don't like what she's doing or separating them. (*You might like Mom, Jason's Breathing On Me by Anthony Wolf. I found his idea of staying out of it, staying calm, stating expectations to be very helpful.)


If I don't hear/see oldest being nasty but a sibling comes to me upset and complaining about it, I'll just talk to the sibling ("that hurt your feelings", etc.) and help the sibling come up with ways of coping (including "you can just walk away from her, you don't have to play with her/listen to her/talk to her when she treats you like that").  I find that minimizing my involvement in the actual conflicts helps the overall situation, and one way to do that is to not get involved when I haven't actually witnessed the incident. It's enough to just talk with the sibling about their feelings/coping skills. 


I find that being very firm, very calm, and following through with established consequences is vital. It's also vital that my oldest and I have fun time together, and that I give her plenty of positive feedback. Each child also needs private time, away from siblings. 


Also, sometimes if she's been very frequently nasty to her siblings, or more "intensely" (for lack of a better word) nasty, I might pick a calm time to sit down with her alone and talk about it. Ask her why she's been nasty, let her know that I know it's hard to be an older sibling, talk about how her siblings feel when she treats them like that, invite her to come up with other ways of handling her frustrations. Sometimes there's something going on that's bothering her, and she's taking her stress out of them rather than talk about the real problem. Sometimes it's just hard living with siblings. 


As far as calming down goes, for a very long time my oldest was the same way--we'd give her suggestions for calming down, and she'd refuse. She's now able to, for example, take deep breaths to calm down some of the time. The one thing that consistently works for her is time-out. Time-out here is simply sitting somewhere until you are calm, because we can't talk or solve a problem if we're not calm. For a very long time, she would take time out in the same room with us. I've only recently begun asking her to go to her room for time-out. She also has a little box of sand (her inside sand box) that she is welcome to use for calming down. I'd love it if she'd just always go use her sandbox, but if you suggest it she'll refuse. She's just like that. If I tell her to go to her room for time out, but she asks to use the sandbox, that's okay with me. The important thing is that she take time away from the situation to calm down. At one point we had a list of calming-down activities that she could choose from. For some kids that is a great thing, but for her it just didn't work. I think it was too many choices to face while angry. Might work for your dd though. 


You mentioned that she doesn't like to try new things. She also loves control. I wonder if she's kind of an anxious kid. My oldest is very anxious as well, and anxiety can make her very controlling--if she's in control, she feels less anxious. While my oldest doesn't mind trying new things, my youngest is anxious in a different way and is very reluctant to try new things--some of that is just personality, but some of it is definitely anxiety (for her, social anxiety). For both my girls, but especially my oldest, the more anxiety they're feeling, the more conflict they have with their siblings. When you're anxious, you just have less in the way of emotional resources and coping skills. The more conflict there is, the more anxious you feel, and so on.

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#5 of 11 Old 12-15-2010, 12:13 PM
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Since you said you feel like you are often correcting her I would examine how I could change that.  Perhaps she wants to control b/c she feels like she doesn't get to control a lot in her life.    She may even feel like she's helping you by taking care of things.  I'm not sure what all she gets to decide for herself but maybe she could decide more.  Maybe she would even like some alone time at home without her brother around.  I told my older girls they could put a sign on their door that says alone time if they just wanted to be there without their brother coming in.  Siblings Without Rivalry is a great book for these types of situations also and basically what it comes down to is try not to get involved and take over the disagreement/situation and don't take sides.

Cathy mom to 13 y/o DD, 10 y/o DD, 7 y/o DS

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#6 of 11 Old 12-15-2010, 08:01 PM
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That sounds like a rough and irritating situation!  I really don't know but have some guesses...  Perhaps your daughter has some unmet needs.  Maybe she needs to be away from her brother and with her peers more, like you said.  Maybe she feels like something is out of control in your home life and she needs to step in to help things be right?  Maybe she could have some times when it is okay for her to direct her brother (you probably already do this).  But tell her it is her responsibility to teach him something and also give her information about how to treat him in a positive way - how to be a good teacher.  Like let him do everything he can and don't help him too much, don't criticise unneccesarily, etc.  Maybe her need is to contribute in a direct way to your homeschooling curriculum and feel more a part of deciding how things are done.  Just guesses in the dark but maybe something will feel at least partly on target!

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#7 of 11 Old 12-17-2010, 10:37 AM
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I had a little boy in my home program who was very controlling and would get upset when nobody wanted to play with him as a result.  One thing I did that was very indirect (but it helped I think) was, each day before rest-time, I'd ask him what was one thing he did that morning that was fun, and one thing he did that morning that was friendly.  At first he couldn't ever think of anything he'd done that was friendly, so I'd remember something I saw him do.  This was great because it forced me to start noticing friendly things he did, when otherwise I didn't see them!  Eventually he started being able to remember friendly things he'd done by himself, and then finally he started going out of his way to do friendly things.  He was still controlling, but in a friendlier way.


I also think that the idea of having her be a teacher or in a teaching role is great.  That way she can exert some control, but perhaps can learn to do it in a positive way.

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#8 of 11 Old 12-17-2010, 11:53 AM
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A couple of reading suggestions, since I'm not sure where the need for control is coming from:


The Challenging Child -- I'm not sure your daughter fits into one of his '5 types' of challenging children (Sensitive, Self-Absorbed, Defiant, Inattentive, Active/Aggressive), but I like it a lot because it talks about the need for connection first, problem solving next and consequences third. I think it's got great strategies for a child this age, and overall its very GD.


Kid, Parents & Power Struggles  The title says it all.  It also talks about temperament (yours and hers), so it might give you some insight into where the areas of conflict are.


Playful Parenting also has some good insights about sibling rivalry -- he makes the argument that when kids' cups of attention are filled by their parents, there is less sibling rivalry. I do find that to be true. It doesn't eliminate it, but it does help. Have you read Siblings Without Rivalry or Mom, Jason's Breathing on Me? Both have good ideas about how to deal with some of this.


In my family (a long line of very bossy/controlling people), bossiness comes mostly from anxiety. The more we feel out of control, the more we want to micromanage the world to help us feel in control. When I'm tired and/or hungry, these tendencies come out more. When I'm hormonal, they come out more. (Any chance that your 10 year old is getting hormone surges in pre-puberty that's making her feel a bit out of control?) Part of our bossiness comes from having a very specific idea in mind and getting frustrated when the rest of the world is doing it 'wrong'.


For example: a 3 days after I'd had knee surgery, I took the kid to Target to get some sorely needed supplies (Goodnights for ds, light bulbs, and I forget what else). Dd (2 1/2) was newly potty trained. She had refused to go potty before we left the house. As soon as we got to the corner of Target which was furtherst from the bathrooms, dd announced that she needed to go potty. With my knee, I was not about to hobble back to the bathroom and hobble back to the lightbulbs and Goodnights. I told her she'd just have to wait while we quickly picked up our stuff (she had incredible control, I knew she could do this). Ds (5 1/2) kept asking her every 3 minutes if she had to go potty or if she was OK. I kept telling him it was OK, I was taking care of it. Finally, the third time he asked, I stopped and said "Who's job is it to take care of your sister? Who's job is it to worry about her?" His response: "Yours, but you're not worrying enough!" lol.gif


Yesterday, dd (now 6) was in high dudgeon leaving for school because her teacher had not practiced Passport Club (where the kids identify countries on the map) in class. Dd was very upset. "Why did Mrs. J have to spend so much time on the gingerbread house project? She should have done that in January when we had more time!" I tried to comfort dd that it would be OK because we had practiced the countries together and she could identify them. "But what if the other kids didn't know enough to tell their parents to practice with them?! Mrs. J. really should have practiced with us as a class!" Sigh. I just hope she didn't tell her teacher that. It's hard when you know how to run the world and the rest of the world doesn't recognize that fact.


In both cases, my kids were anxious about something (sister having an accident/kids not doing well in class), and had an idea of how it should have been. What they lacked was the bigger picture and the ability to understand why someone was doing things they way they were.


Other than the books, I'm not sure I've got a lot of practical advice. One thing that does help both my kids is having 1-1 time with me where they get to choose the play and direct it. Ds loves to play baseball in the backyard with me, or "animal soccer" with stuffed animals in the living room. He usually beats me. He practices arguing. Dd loves to play stuffed animals or playmobil people with me. That connection does reduce the amount of time they spend yelling at each other.


Another thing we do is send the bossy child to their room until they can speak civilly. We also practice saying things politely. "That was rude, try again" is a phrase we utter a lot in our house.

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#9 of 11 Old 12-17-2010, 02:00 PM - Thread Starter
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thank you so much for the responses! i had a particularly bad day when i wrote the original post. things are still hard but i do see that there is much that i can do to help the situation...if only i can get my butt in gear.


one is that i need to connect with her more. i'm ashamed to say that the worse her behavior gets, the less i enjoy being around her and this starts a vicious cycle. i know this, but darned if i can get myself to break the cycle. wonder where she gets that stubborn inability to do what is needed? hmmm...LOL!


she tells me repeatedly that i'm the reason that she is acting this "being mean" to her. however, most of what she's talking about is either me asserting my parental authority (a necessary part of the job, no matter how much she dislikes it), or me reacting in anger to her behavior. she is EXTREMELY sensitive to my anger. (something i should relate to as i felt the very same way as a child and i KNOW how that feels!) so i'm asking HER to not react in anger, and here i am, reacting in anger to HER! i suppose its good i see it at least and continue to try to work on it.


i especially appreciate knowing i'm not alone in this. that always helps me tremendously. i'm my worst critic and i am very hard on myself daily.


one thing i'm trying to do...not really succeeding well yet, but i'm trying to keep it planted in my mind so i can see how well it works (i'm also very likely A.D.D. so staying on track with plans is darn near impossible for me right now. at least til i find some techniques to help me with this...a whole 'nother story) the use of hugs. this is especially hard for me because i hate feeling like i'm rewarding her for bad behavior...but a heartfelt hug truly helps her. she melts into me when i am giving it out of love and not just appeasing her.


one night when she was sobbing yet again (another thing that is very prevalent in her life is crying.) over something irrational i cannot remember right now i calmed myself down (it sounds horrible but since she cries over seemingly EVERYTHING, my patience has long since worn thin on the matter. i have to grit my teeth sometimes to keep from yelling at her to knock it off. i don't always succeed.) and i asked her very honestly what she needed right now...what she needed me to do. she immediately calmed down and wrapped herself around me in a hug. amazing how something as simple as a hug can be such a cure-all. well not ALL, but you know what i mean.


so maybe i need to put hug signs up all over the house to remind me to hug her instead of yell at her, LOL! hey, whatever works!


i also do agree with those that said i should think about more 1-on-1 time with her, time for her away from brother, and filling her cup, etc...that's all very true. she often asks for "mommy time", and darned if i can find time in our lives most days. but i need to figure this out so i'm going to make a concerted effort. i really don't want my daughter unhappy. and when one of us is unhappy, we all are. it so affects the entire family.


so keep the ideas coming...i am filing it all away in my brain for use when needed. and thank you so much!



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#10 of 11 Old 02-27-2012, 06:31 AM
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I was startled, but relieved to read your account, because I have the exact same sitation with my granddaughter.  She is 10 (middle child) and interacts with her 5 yr. old brother the same way.  We are all baffled as to what to do to turn this around. 


I see your post was entered in 2010. If you received any replies to your entry that has helped your situation, I would be most grateful if you'd share them with me (us).  

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#11 of 11 Old 02-27-2012, 06:58 AM
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I know this is an old post but I noticed that the OP's son seemed to be engaged in this conflict as well. I can picture a little boy tempting his sister to say something and then enjoy having her be reprimanded.


Also, it's true that it's not ideal that control issues from a child are met with control attempts by the parent. That does not disengage the issue.


However, it's fine for control attempts by one person are met with resistance from the other person. When it's no longer a triangle (daughter, son, parent) it's an interaction between two people (sister, brother) and a lot more straightforward.


Which is my long way of saying, it might be helpful to talk to the BOY about how he can handle conflict with his sister. Ways of telling her "I didn't ask for your opinion" or "I'll do it my way and you do it your way" etc. Then the parent can step out of it. At first the parent can help prompt the boy, but the idea is that he is the one who handles the conflict. Ex:


Girl: You're drawing it all wrong.

Boy: [whatever usual response he has, perhaps trying to draw his mother into the conflict]

Mother: Son, is this one of those times when you do it your way and she does it hers?

Boy: Yeah!


Then, after he gets used to a few responses, mother can shift it all onto him to handle.


Girl: That's not how it goes!

Boy: [usual response]

Mother: What is a good thing to say to her?

Boy: I do it my way!


Now he can deal with his sister himself with reasonable tools. It's not that I imagine this will magically make her control issues disappear (they won't, lol) but he can be equipped to deal with them reasonably, and she can get used to not being able to control everyone or causing a huge conflict if she can't.

Homeschooling mama to 6 year old DD.

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