Episode 020: Parental Control & The Child's Sense of Freedom


Setting limits is often the most challenging task when it comes to parenting and it does mean exercising control over the situation and making decisions as a parent. While we all understand that setting limits is critical, many of us struggle with it. And one of the reasons why, is because parental control is a touchy subject.

In this episode, we talk about setting limits and, more specifically, I frame this conversation around the parents’ right and responsibility to exercise control. So if setting limits is a necessity and parental control is not only a right, but a responsibility, why is it so hard to have the confidence to do that as a parent? The question is really not whether parental control is needed or whether the parent has to have the power of decision, but what kind of control and how to implement it. This is the art of the parenting practice that takes into consideration the power to help the child and prepare them for the future.

The touchy subject

The reason that parental control is a touchy subject is because, for some of us, the challenge lies in not knowing where is the line between being too strict and being too permissive. We may be worried that by setting limits we are being disrespectful of the child’s right to freedom, independence, and autonomy. We have previously discussed how freedom & limits work together to create a balanced perspective on what the child needs in order to function in their environment with confidence. In Episode 010, we explored how the most balanced and helpful way of thinking about respect is to understand it as “freedoms within limits” and it may be helpful to revisit that episode as it does provide a foundation for today’s conversation on exercising parental control.

But there may be another worry too… Maybe we are worried that exercising parental control and setting limits is contradictory to loving the child. But we also know that love comes with responsibilities and our commitment to the child’s well-being. Love is, in fact, what helps us set limits. We can set limits in a loving way, without focusing on punishment. We have talked about the kind of love children need in Episode 006. I suggest revisiting it, if it would be helpful to you to reaffirm your love for your child and understand that loving children does not mean only doing what makes them happy. We do not need them to be happy about everything we are doing in order for us to know that the limits we set are the right ones. The child’s emotions are an indicator on a need for our support and empathy, but they are not a direct reflection of whether our parenting decisions are good or bad.

Another aspect of setting limits that is important to understand is that this is the most direct and clear way to continue teaching children about boundaries. Not only is it important to understand that exercising parental control and setting limits has to be done in a loving way, but it is also important to remember the bigger reason behind setting limits. And that reason is teaching boundaries. Boundaries are critical for the child’s formation of identity. Limit-setting is one of the most important ways that we do that.

The art of parental control

The trick is in learning to exercise control without punishment. By exercising parental control we are able to set limits and boundaries. These limits, in turn, delineate when is something a YES, and when is it a NO. In order for these lessons to be most helpful to the child, they have to be grounded in a system of values that are respectful of all individuals involved and be explicitly and consistently explained. By showing what is NOT allowed, we are indicating and showing what IS allowed.

Parental control has more to do with safety, guidance, and having the child’s best interest in mind, than it does with punishment, oppression, and withholding of choice. When we set limits, it is helpful to ask:

  • whether the limit has to do with child’s safety and well-being
  • whether it will help the child grow, get along with others, and be more independent
  • whether our decision not to set the limit will have long-term negative consequences 

Tune in for more!





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