Does your toddler greet your with a salute? Does he address you as "sergeant" instead of "mom"? Do you become upset if he brushes his teeth at 8:12 p.m. instead of 8:04 p.m.? Do you sing the song "You're in the Army Now" to your little one at bedtime instead of lullabies? Do you insist your children march in lockstep on their way to school? If you answered yes to any of those questions, congratulations, you're probably a control freak. You may believe that over controlling helps your tot develop discipline, but constantly tamping down his autonomy can lead to behavioral problems.
1. Constant Defensiveness
You may call it arguing, but it's just your little one's attempt to explain why he was three minutes late to breakfast or that he didn't put away his socks in the right drawer. Since it's impossible for the tyke to live up to your high standards, he's constantly put on the defensive. Learning to speak up for himself is a natural and healthy part of your toddler's emotional development. He may become on edge so much that arguing and defending himself becomes an ingrained habit in social situations -- even when it's not necessary, because that's what he was forced to do with you.
Remember that girl in high school who everybody dubbed, "Miss Perfect?" She had perfect clothes, perfect grades, a perfect appearance and was perfectly well-behaved -- but deep down, she was miserable and terrified of letting down her control freak parents who demanded perfection from her. You may be sending your toddler a similar message that not being perfect comes with a high cost -- your disapproval, anger and even rejection. It could turn him into an unhappy over-achiever like "Miss Perfect" or he may become so terrified of not living up to your expectations that he doesn't even bother trying.
3. Lack of Confidence
Toddlers develop autonomy by forming their own independent thoughts and feelings, and then express them in a safe, supportive environment. If you try to control your little one by running a dictatorship, repeatedly shooting down his attempts to become free from your control, he'll have trouble developing autonomy. Instead he may believe his opinions don't matter, which could lead to a lack of self-esteem. Expressing his feelings will become more difficult, because he learned that doing so comes with a high cost. He may not have the confidence to go for his dreams, but choose safer, less risky routes instead, even though they're not emotionally satisfying.
4. Neglects Own Needs
You're proud of your obedient little soldier, but keep in mind that insisting he follow your every order may have emotional repercussions for the rest of his life. By making every decision for him, he may fail to develop the ability to make decisions on his own and depend on others to do it for him. His lack of assertiveness could have negative consequences in all areas of his life. You may have meant well, but by always trying to control him, he received the message that other people's needs should always come before his own.
5. Loosen the Reins of Control
Sure, your toddler is a handful, and you may believe the only way to control the active tyke is to set strict rules and regulations. But think about it -- is it really such a crisis if he's two minutes late for breakfast? Or, if he spills a drop of juice on the living room couch? It could be your own irrational anxiety of losing control that's causing you to become a control freak. Allowing your little one to become more independent and make more of his own decisions will give him the sense of autonomy he craves, which will help him become less rebellious and ultimately easier to control. His feelings of rebelliousness and inadequacy could plague him into adulthood, possibly making it more difficult for him to achieve his full potential and potentially carving the way for future relationship or marital problems.