The Delusion of Control

The Delusion of Control

This material is based on my Volcano Theory.

The English language plays tricks on us that we either don’t notice, or just live with. For example, we erroneously say, “The sun rises and sets.”

We do this with people too. On the internet advertisers talk about “driving traffic” to a specific website. This kind of talk is a delusion that the advertiser’s methods can somehow control the choices a searcher makes and “drive” him or her to the website.

We often delude ourselves into thinking a parent can or should be able to control a child’s behavior. Here’s why that’s impossible.

Every person’s thoughts and feelings motivate and determine their behavior And so, only that person can control their own behavior. Parents certainly influence, but cannot control, a child’s behavior (nor another adult’s). To think is possible is a delusion–a belief falsely held, according Merriam-Webster’s Collegiate Dictionary, 10th Edition.

Delusional Thinking

Here are some everyday examples of delusional thinking, the kind of statement you might hear in almost any situation, from almost anyone present.

● “Wow! Mr. Jones really has his kids under control, doesn’t he?”
● “Look at that poor, helpless mother! She should get control of that child!”
● “I want to be able to control Johnny better.”

Correct Thinking

My Volcano Theory says that thoughts and feelings motivate and determine every person’s behavior, no matter their age. This should be self-evident to anyone upon a moment of reflection. No matter how I may be threatened or persuaded, it is what I think about that threat (“I’ll get hurt if I don’t comply,” or “It’s not worth it to me to do wrong by  giving in”) that determines what my course of action will be. Similarly, my feelings about the threat or persuasion influence what I decide to do. I might feel afraid, and decide to comply, or I might feel angry and offended, and decide to defy the threat or persuasion. Thus,

● Since my thoughts and feelings motivate and determine all of my behavior, only I can control my own behavior.
● For the same reason, only the child can control his or her own behavior.

This is true for all people, at all times, in all places.


This stark reality has some profound implications that can greatly enhance the parent-child relationship if the parent really takes the message to heart and acts on it. For example:

● No one can make anyone do anything. The other person has to want to do it.
● A mother and father have no control over their children’s behavior whatsoever.
● Although parents cannot control their children’s behavior, they do have plenty of influence.
● Influence does not equal control.
● The best that parents can hope to get from their children is voluntary cooperation or obedience. But in both cases it’s the child’s thoughts and feelings that determine whether she cooperates/obeys or not. It’s not what the parent thinks or feels.
● Since Ts & Fs are internal processes, no one can actually see or know another’s Ts & Fs unless the other shares that information.
● To understand a child’s Behavior, the parent must understand the child’s Thoughts and Feelings that motivate and determine it.
● Parents can learn best about their child’s behavior by listening to what the child has to say about their motivations.
● A child’s “volcanic eruption” (tantrum) is least destructive when the energy erupts through the hole at the top of the volcano, the mouth, rather than through the hands and feet.

First step to parent-child harmony

In my New School approach to parenting, then, I define Step 1 to achieving harmony in the parent-child relationship as: Don’t try to control the child’s behavior (because you can’t do it). Instead, invite cooperation.

Cooperation is the very best you can get. It’s what you really want. This means the child actually wants to do, and chooses to do, what you want him to do. In this sense, obedience is a form of cooperation, but it’s not an example of parental control. (Influence, yes; control, no.)

The best way to get cooperation from a child is by listening to the child. The reason for this is that when the parent listens, the child is likely to listen. Then there is real dialogue and dialogue makes agreement possible. A child will “buy into” what they have agreed to much more readily than they will “buy into” what they have been told to do. This is cooperation–and it’s better than resistance! Cooperation results in responsible child behavior rather than mere obedience to a command. Isn’t that what we as parents are trying to foster in our children?


3 Steps to Parent-Child Harmony is my book  that describes in detail the differences between the Old School Parenting model and the New School Parenting model.  Please see these links if you are interested in more information or wish to purchase.

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