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For The Mom Who Feels Like She’s Lost Control Of Her Child

I’ve been there. I totally get it. This is for the mom who feels like she’s lost control of her child.

When my child started to meltdown, in the middle of Target, I was acutely aware of all the people staring at us.

It was ugly – like really, really ugly.

He was hitting me, clawing his own arms, and actually knocked over our cart. I know now that it was the sensory input of the lights, the smell of the Target Cafe and the baby crying in the background that likely triggered it. But at the time, all I knew was that my seven-year old was out of control. We did not have a diagnosis. We did not have any support and I had no idea what to do to help him.

As I tried, desperately, to turn the cart back over and just get the heck out of there, I heard a man turn to the lady next to him and say loudly,

“She needs to get control of that boy or he’s going to end up killing someone, someday.”

I pulled my son out to the car, both of us sobbing.


lost control of child


Nine years later, that same boy still hates going to Target. He doesn’t meltdown, he just tells me that he would prefer to stay in the car. He jokes that Target is his nemesis. We work around it.

That same boy is part of a leadership program at his school, and he helped take care of his little brother when I had the flu a few weeks ago. He amazes me every single day, and he is the same boy he was at Target all those years ago.

Did I finally get control over him and make him behave?

Nope. Not even a little. In fact, quite the opposite.

Instead of punishing, imposing my will and demanding certain expectations, I gave up. I gave in and decided to just do it his way for while.

I stopped making him wear socks and eat exactly what I made for dinner every night. I allowed him to go to his room and be alone, even when other people where visiting. I nixed any and all Target trips for about four years. I stopped trying to make him do all the things I thought he should do.

In short, I stopped trying to control him.

For The Mom Who Feels Like She's Lost Control Of Her Child

For The Mom Who Feels Like She’s Lost Control Of Her Child

It feels counter-intuitive, when your child and your life are spinning out of control, to let go and let them spin. It also is contrary to every message we receive in our culture.

Do more.

Try harder.

Take control.

Just do it.

But our children are not a workout. They are not a schedule or a task for us to complete.  They are real live human beings with needs and struggles of their own.

In my experience, the more we fight to regain and maintain control, the more we lose sight of the simple fact that our children are, well, children.

Does this mean we do nothing? That we give up, let them be feral and raise themselves? No , of course not. 

But I can tell you that when I stopped looking at my child as someone who I needed to subdue and instead as someone I needed to help, our entire world changed.

That was so hard for you. How can I help make it easier next time?

I know you don’t like eating with us at the table. If you prefer to eat alone that’s fine, but I want you to spend time with our family at night. Will you come hang-out with us after?

You don’t have to finish this homework assignment on your own. Shall we do it together?

It may seem like these statements are spoiling and coddling, but I want you to know that changing my tone from one of control and authority, to one of concern and care, has made everything in our lives – everything – better.

For The Mom Who Feels Like She's Lost Control Of Her Child

“She’s lost control of her child!”

If you feel like you just can’t get control of your child, please, let me encourage you to take a step back and give everyone a little grace (including, and maybe especially, yourself!). As a mom with two teenagers, I can’t stress enough how much our lives improved when I let go of the expectation that I control my children’s behavior.

I stopped listening to all those voices, ringing in my head, saying my children would become killers or drug abusers (seriously, why is this something people actually say?) and instead started listening to my children.

Turns out, my boys knew what they needed all along. 

I just had to see their behavior as communication and not something to be controlled.

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  1. Thank you for this! I absolutely need to practice this. My 5-year-old has SPD and Target is on the no-go list, even though she loves the items Target has and asks to go. Once when she was having a string of weeks with great self-regulation and no tantrums, I thought we could go to Target together but nope! Major meltdown that took over 3 weeks to recover from. How did you actually change from trying to control behavior to showing concern, how did you do this in the moment? I’m thinking about taping up notes to myself around the house.

    1. I am impressed that with a 5 year old, you are already making this shift! It took a lot longer for me.
      So, my advice is to give yourself grace. No beating yourself up. If you find yourself totally reactive, try to take a bit of a mental moment and then just ask a question. How can I help you? What do you need? Would you like to go to food court and get a drink? For some reason, asking a question always helps me make the transition to a more concerned approach. I am not sure why, but I guess because it places the control not in my hands, my kiddos tend to respond. Then, I follow-up with something mirroring. I can see this is really hard for you or I am on your side. (BTW..Notes around the house can help too! I used to write out statements like what I am sharing here every morning as a reminder. I would even practice saying them out loud sometimes.) Does this help?

      1. Yes, this helps very much. Thank you Shawna!

  2. Jen in Oz says:

    I have always been big on teaching my boys to learn to listen to themselves and to learn self control. It seemed simple until my fourth child. We have many discussions about being upset and knowing what is okay to do when angry or sad. He still has melt downs which we don’t try to control and he is growing in confidence as he learns how to either calm himself or how to prevent a melt down. He is only ten. I don’t expect perfection by any means. But he is learning. And that is all I can do… help him to know himself.

    1. Wow, Jen. So well said. Help him know himself.

  3. Thank you for this. I hate that that man said that to the woman in line about your son. Why do people do that?! To speak such hate and condemnation over a child is just heinous. I cant stand it that people think that’s ok. I’m so so sorry. I cried reading this bc I can 100% imagine how it felt to flee that awful scene, sobbing. Thank you for your encouragement and wisdom. I’m going to share this post w my parents as they’re learning how to love their grandchild who melts down, too.

  4. Melanie A Bonenfant says:

    Loved this post! It is so hard to go against our natural way to parent, especially if we have other children who didn’t need “special” accommodations. It’s especially hard when other’s have very strong opinions about how our children “should” be parented. Ugh. I struggle daily to know what to let go of and let them be themselves or what needs to be worked on. It’s emotionally and physically draining. Storing up treasures in heaven with you friend.

    1. Jen in Oz says:

      Melanie, I know how you feel. It does feel like a daily struggle but I am learning to rephrase the struggle as this is how my life is and I am blessed to have children. “Struggle” seems like something we would want gone, but this is not something we truly want gone because then we would not be being refined and our beloved children would not be developing into their true selves. We can’t know their destiny and how we will contribute to it. It could be awesome so hang in there. It is Life and It is a Blessing!

  5. Hopewell Farm says:

    How do control the violent, aggressive meltdowns though? Throwing things and such?

  6. Good for you! And your son!
    After 37 years, my son (both Down Syndrome and ASD) will no longer
    wear shoes, socks, jacket, or a hat. And we live in the mountains, with
    ice and snow. Life is interesting.
    Mostly I tell people that we’re lucky he’s still wearing clothes.
    Target was also the site of a meltdown, the beginnings of “I don’t
    want to wear shoes”.
    Acceptance is a big part of our lives. Thank you for this post.
    Years ago, people would tell me if I’d been married, then he would
    not be born like this (church no longer became part of our lives).
    And the so called “normal” kid of a friend (who would not take
    my son as a day care because of his disabilities) was the one
    who grew up to be a pedophile, and spent 4 years at San Quentin.

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