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Published November 27. 2010 09:00AM

If you look carefully at the word "control," you will see the same root as is in the word "contrary." In other words, when we attempt to control a situation or a person, we usually have to place ourselves in opposition to something.

Parents know how hard it is to control their children at times. We call it "discipline" because we would like to think we are assisting the kid in becoming a disciple of our way of thought. If discipline doesn't work, we are faced with a control issue of the highest order, and sometimes it can get physical.

When a child is very young, we can place him in his crib and let him cry. We can put him in a playpen and walk away. We can pick him up and stop him from touching or banging or doing whatever we want him to stop doing. We are bigger, stronger, more experienced, and usually smarter. No question about who will win the battle.

But, as our children age, so does the critical need for a different type of control. No longer can we muscle our way to success. Now we need to make sense with our offspring. Now we must use rational thought and find non-physical ways to instill discipline. It isn't easy. There have been thousands of experts who have written millions of books on how to discipline or control your children. None of them is always right. Each child is different, so what works for one might never work for another.

In my opinion, the best form of discipline is SELF-DISCIPLINE and the best kind of control is SELF-CONTROL. Someone else cannot always teach these virtues. At times, we need to learn it for ourselves - and usually by trial and error.

If a parent wants a child to stop doing something, the first step is to tell them WHY they should stop. Using "Because I'm the mother" isn't helpful. Another unhelpful parental behavior is telling Johnny to stop banging his rattle, because Johnny is too young to comprehend the distraction his noise creates. I get red in the face and neck areas when I hear a parent pontificating to a small child about WHY something should be done or not done. It's a waste of time and breath. Just take the darn rattle away and give him a quieter toy.

But, an older child who is banging on a piano and creating havoc can easily be informed that the noise is bothering you and -if it doesn't stop- something will happen. Once the threat is made, then something had better happen if the banging continues. There's nothing worse than idle threats with children. They smell weakness like sharks smell blood.

Once a child knows that something will happen if he continues the undesirable behavior, then his own self-control kicks in. He can decide for himself if he would rather continue to bang or stop. Depending on the parent's threat, self-control can come easily.

Only a mentally disturbed, intellectually disabled, or poorly parented child would continue to aggravate under those circumstances.

But, what to do if the banging continues? Some parents might approach the piano with an angry look and a belt. Others might leave the house and let the banging go on. Still others might go to the piano, sit down beside the impaired musician, and play a nice piece on the leftover keys. And - depending on the child in question, one of those solutions will solve the problem.

So, it sounds simple, right? Dr. Smith should write a book about this! Wrong. It's anything but simple and Dr. Smith wouldn't be presumptuous to think that she could write a book about such a deep subject. The only reason she's even writing this article is in answer to a parental request.

A mother wrote me an email and asked for help dealing with her 18-year old son who wouldn't follow any of the rules that she and her husband set for him. I asked her why he was still living at home. She said, "Because he doesn't have a job and can't support himself." Then I asked her for a list of the rules. It was amazing. One rule was "You will not smoke pot in your room." Another was "No drunk driving."

I told the mother to call the cops when her son smoked pot in the house. I told the mother to call the cops when he was driving drunk. I told the mother that any other suggestion I might make was too late. When her kid was banging on the piano, she probably left the house.


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