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How to Avoid ‘Fear-Based Control’ Discipline with Children

One style of discipline is fear-based control – it is important to avoid it and here is how.
(2 min 59 sec read)

Tangee Veloso
Tangee Veloso, Founder and Executive Director of Family Love Village (FLV), is an eco-mamapreneur, coParenting life coach, and author.

One style of discipline is fear-based control – it is important to avoid it and here is how.

What is fear-based control? You know, the “donts,” “nos,” and “be carefuls” that seem to easily and constantly roll off the tongue. When kids are on the receiving end of our alarming and panicked commands, it can have a negative effect on them.

Of course, it’s only natural to want to protect our children from emotional harm and physical injury; but, when we’re constantly instilling fear in what our children do, it can possibly:

  • Make our children frightened of everything, which could numb their passion and creativity
  • Startle our children and throw them off guard, so they accidentally do the very thing we are wanting them to be “careful of”
  • Prompt them to explore the very thing that you continually are trying to prevent them from doing by saying the word “don’t” all the time

At times, this over-protectiveness can prevent a child from engaging in her world. Unfortunately, due to ingrained fear on the adult’s part, a child may not see or fully experience it as her own world. Additionally, they begin to not believe us when everything is a panic of a barked-out command. They lose trust in our ability to decide what is really true emergency from what is our personal emergency.

If what they are doing is truly dangerous and unsafe, then that is a different story. In situations where it is truly dangerous, it’s important that they see our authentic concern for their safety. But if they are always seeing that sort of response, they learn to not take it so seriously.

As adults, when we allow ourselves to experience new adventures and some risks, this frees up space for us to explore our passions. The same can be said about our children, as well. Following our passions, whether as a child or an adult, can be the most empowering model of motivation that encourages confidence within. Although most parents want to see their children engage in their passions, it can sometimes be difficult to allow them to discover them on their own without interfering or imposing our own fears and opinions onto them.

Here are some examples of fear-based control and some solutions:

Example 1: “Don’t touch that!” 

When you say the word “don’t” and attach a command after it, what they are hearing, most likely, is the command. If someone said to you, “don’t look over there but…,” what you tend to want to do is look. The same goes for children when you are telling them to not do something.

Solution: For babies/toddlers not yet verbal, saying “Hot!” instead of saying, “don’t touch!” is one way to express the warning without having to say “don’t”. Then let them know you’re picking them up away from the stove and say, “the stove is hot! You can’t touch that but you can touch this,” and give them something that they can touch (i.e. a toy). When we say adjectives, such as “hot,” “sharp” or “danger,” it gives a description of what the object is instead of constantly saying “don’t” to your child.

So, instead of focusing on what you don’t want your child to do, help them to engage in what you do want them to do. For older children, how about saying, “please keep your hands off” instead of the infamous, “don’t touch!” You could say, “let’s do this…,” rather than “don’t do that!” and then proceed to show them what you would prefer them to do.

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