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We’ve all been there – the middle of a shopping centre, restaurant or playground and your child loses the plot. But what happens when you’re a child psychologist and parenting expert? How do you respond? Read themindspace’s Greg Powell’s story. 

I recall a recent trip to Bunnings (yes I am a slow learner…) with my own father, my two girls (4 years old) and my little man (18 months) that went horribly wrong. But it all started so well. It was late afternoon (possible mistake…) and I was on a mission, list and all. The three children all managed to get their own mini shopping trolley and they seemed content to follow me around the shop, happy for me to put things into their trolleys so they could ‘help’ me out. But then, of course, I needed a bit of time to think and make a decision about which light globes to buy – an important decision that required delicate research and careful consultation with the elusive Bunnings helper.

The children became a little restless, not content to stay still looking at light globes. So they began to make their own fun. Creative critters. They started a smash-em-up derby in the isles, running and screaming, and crashing into each other, having an absolute ball. But I could feel the eyes of other shoppers. I did my best to ignore my children, pretending they weren’t mine, until of course someone got hurt and I had to intervene. Being a proud male I swooped in to take control and demonstrate my superior child-management skills. I gave them a lecture about behaving well, talked about some consequences, and delivered a few threats. It was a perfect example of parenting expertise, one that any sane child would have responded perfectly to. But not my own children. They responded by running away, in three different directions, screaming and laughing, and pushing their mini trolleys as fast as they could.

What to do?

Feeling completely emasculated, I of course gave chase and managed to catch one. I picked her up and dragged her into an aisle, her still holding onto her trolley, and then set her down to give her another chance to succumb to my intellectual parenting prowess. She looked at me and responded promptly with a scream, became writhing mass of arms and legs, and began behaving like those other parents’ children, the ones who have no control over their children.

So I picked her up and decided to do the only thing left in my repertoire, run.   The only thing I could do was get her out of Bunnings quickly, before she attracted any more attention from shoppers. I quickly handed the responsibility for my other two children to my father, and I began working my way to the exit. As I walked calmly down the aisles carrying this child, she screamed at the top of her voice, grabbing anything she could get her hands on, while continuing to try to get free. I smiled calmly at other shoppers as I passed by, leaving bits of my pride on the floor next to the scattered brooms and rakes she had successfully kicked over, as I made my way to the door.

Reflections

As we all drove home in the aftermath of the great Bunnings debacle of 2015, it struck me how powerless and self-conscious I felt trying to control my out-of-control child. It also struck me how angry, frustrated, and embarrassed I had felt through the process. How could I, a grown adult, clinical child psychologist, parenting consultant, have not been able to control my own child? And then I realised that my child was doing exactly what she was meant to do. With her frontal lobes (the logical and rational decision-making part of the brain) still developing, and her priority in life being to have fun and explore the world, she was being age appropriate and doing it well. The greater problem was my own pride and expectations. I should be able to control my child… shouldn’t I?

There is nothing like a child to teach us how little control we really have in this world. And it’s funny but in that space I get drawn back to God, being reminded that I was never expected to control the world. Being reminded that when life feels out of control, how blessed I am to have God who I can hand my control over to. That in his hands, he calls me to grow and mature in him, and as we work together, He gets to play a more active role in the lives of my children. I become a better parent not as I become more dominating and controlling of my children, but as I become more submissive and trusting of God. As I allow this to happen, God shows me where I need to grow, with less of me and more of Him.

 More parenting advice from themindspace:

Can’t you control your child?

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