We are obsessed with control these days.  Every company, institution, agenda, and family member wants to have some sort of control over us, and we want it over them.  We want our opinions to be heard and our needs to be met.  We want the control.  Why do we want this control?  If we are in control we are happy.  Everyone is. 

If a baby cries and her needs are met she is happy.  She learns crying is a good way to get what she wants.  Maybe a child will resort to hitting a parent or sibling to gain control of a situation.  As we grow it isn’t much different.  If we want more political control, we fight for it.  If we want more control at work, we fight for it. 

The rules for battle vary from person to person.  Some fighters have more power than others.  Likewise, some have fewer morals than others.  These two factors make the battle for control vicious and seemingly never ending.  The lack of morals and obsession about power only encourage those in the fight to continue battling.

In these daily battles we all get our moments of glory.  We say a phrase just right which boosts us up on the intellectual power scale.  We gossip and talk about the battle to another person and thereby recruit another warrior for our cause.  We feel proud and even angry at times.  We know we are on the right side of the issue. 

Once we realized we were right there, was no backing down.  If we were right, that meant everyone else was wrong.  We have done our research.  We have sought out all the flaws in the other person’s point of view.  The issue is always with us.  We live for the predictable future victory.  It is coming and we have control.  Or do we? 

How Do We Know if We Have the Control?

What does it really mean to have control?  How do we really have influence?  Can controlling another person ever give me control?  NO.  To spell this out more plainly, I cannot ever have control by attempting to control another person.  The only control I can ever have is over myself. 

Leonardo DaVinci once observed:

“You will never have a greater or lesser dominion than that over yourself.  The delight of a man’s success is gauged by his self mastery:  The depth of his failure by his self abandonment.  He who cannot establish dominion over himself will have no dominion over others.” 

Learning Self Control

Years ago I was introduced to DaVinci’s philosophy by my father.  My three brothers knew how to get a rise out of me in almost every situation.  They were the perfect teasers.  They had complete control over my emotions and I knew it.  It was so hard to handle. 

One day when I was tattling on my brother for teasing my father looked at me and calmly, almost like a special secret said, “You know Nicholeen they only tease you because it works.”  His voice got a bit lower as he said, “If you choose not to be affected by their teasing then they won’t have any more fun and they will stop.” 

I was amazed!  I really was.  Was it that easy to get control of myself again?  Could I really just make a choice to control my emotions and control a whole situation?  Wow!
My father could have handled this situation very differently.  He could have gone to my brothers and made them stop.  He could have controlled them because they were controlling me, but he knew there was a higher principle and that I could understand it and do it.  He knew that the person who controls themselves has the power to control any situation.  I am so glad he shared this with me instead of bailing me out by forcing my brothers to behave differently.  I never had problems with people teasing me after that.  It just wasn’t fun for anyone to tease me because I was completely unaffected.  I chose my own responses. 

Can People Push your “Buttons?”

People around the world have emailed me with the same question after my episode of The World’s Strictest Parents, produced by the BBC, aired.  The question usually goes something like this, “Your son said you don’t have any buttons which other people can push.  How is that possible?  How can I get rid of my buttons too?”

DaVinci answered this question above.  You can’t control another person without first controlling yourself.  My good friend Ernest Justesen said one Sunday during church meeting, “The greatest battles of life are fought out daily in the silent chambers of the soul…a victory in a man’s heart is worth a thousand on the battlefield of life…The crown of character is self control.”   

Once a person chooses to win the battle against their own emotions then they have won the greatest victory of all.  And, once a person wins that victory they have the power of influence in any situation.  Don’t all adults need this power of influence?  When should the power be learned?  Learning self control should happen as soon as possible.  I was a young girl when my father taught me where my real power was and how to use it.  We can teach our children the same. 

I believe that each person can effectively learn how to govern their own thoughts, behaviors, and emotions.  Self-government is “being able to determine the cause and effect of any given situation, and possessing a knowledge of your own behaviors so that you can control them.”  (Parenting A House United by: Nicholeen Peck) 

In order to asses your own behaviors and emotions and change them for the better it is essential to understand cause and effect.  I am sure you have noticed grown adults who don’t understand cause and effect well.  These adults are the ones who yell to get their way, and ignore people to get their points across.  I don’t want my children to turn out like either of the adults above, so at our house we regularly analyze our emotions and discuss the best ways to communicate as a family. 

Control is a Gift

Being able to control our own thoughts, actions and emotions is a gift from our Heavenly Father.  It is called agency.  We get to choose our own emotions in every situation.  We can’t always choose every situation, but can always choose how we will respond to each situation we are in.  This kind of control is the greatest gift we have.  We fought for it in heaven.  We knew before we came here that without the ability to control our own thoughts, emotions, and actions we would not be able to progress spiritually.  Control is a gift.
However, just as Heavenly Father gave us the control we have over our own lives and growth, we can also give it away.  Control cannot be taken.  It has to be given.  I know this is true.
I remember hearing a story years ago about a United States soldier who was captive in a Vietnam War camp.  He was tortured and neglected.  He experienced the most humble and humiliating situations but he was joyful.  He related that his captors could control his surroundings and how he was treated but he knew they could never control him.  He knew he controlled his own thoughts.  They could never take that away from him.  He could remain happy and positive if he chose to.  Nothing was bad enough to lose his self control over.  A person can physically control a person by force, but still emotional and spiritual control cannot be touched.  It has to be given away.  The soldier mentioned above could have given his happiness to his captors but he chose not to. 

My fifth grade teacher taught me the same lesson the soldier learned above about self discipline by running with us.

  We would run one and a half miles each day; rain or shine.  It was hard and we didn’t like it most of the time, but my teacher would do it with us in his dress clothes even.  He would run past us and gently say, “Mind over matter, mind over matter.”  Thank you Mr. Whiting!  I was listening.  Not only did I learn I could run any distance I set my mind to and think myself through any problem or pain, like child birth and chronic back pains, I learned that my mind could win any physical situation I found myself in.

In the situation above about my brothers teasing me I had given them control over my emotions and even some of my actions because I didn’t know the control was mine to begin with.  To realize I had the control the whole time and could take it back when I wanted to was completely liberating.  I never forgot that lesson. 

When You Understand

When you understand that you have the control over your own responses you are free.  Then you can choose to be the kind of parent who is always calm.  You can destroy your “buttons,” as my son put it, forever. 

So often parents approach me and say, “I think I might need to learn self-government even more than my children do.  I just lose control all the time.” 

When I hear responses like these I smile.  It thrills me that the parents are on the right track.  Just like DaVinci said, you can’t ever control another person until you have control of yourself first.

Oliver DeMille, author of A Thomas Jefferson Education and president of George Wythe University in Cedar City, Utah, teaches a principle called “you not them.”  He says that if a parent wants their child to love reading or learning the parent must set the example.  I have found this principle to be true not only in inspiring my children academically, but spiritually and emotionally too.  Teaching your children self-government is about “you not them.” When you govern yourself, you will have the power of calm which gives you the power of influence in any situation.
The children are fighting, crying, pouting, or whining.  No matter.  You are calm.  Since you have taken the time to learn how to control yourself you can show your children how to control themselves.  You can speak from experience. 

Will it be easy?  No way.  Learning self control is never easy.  But will it be worth it?  Oh yes!  Imagine yourself in a room with an out of control child staying calm, and being able to transfer that calm feeling to their heart from yours. 

Being calm shows love and commitment to a relationship too.  Your children will see that your family relationships are about more than power or control.  They will see the family relationships are about peace, love, trust, respect and good communication. 

Learning a New Language

Sometimes learning self control means learning a new language for communication.  The way I speak in parenting or confrontation situations is always the same.  I have planned it and practiced it.   At first it was difficult to teach myself a new language but I would never change now. 

For help with learning the language of calm read Parenting A House United.  This book is intended to help parents and children learn self-government skills, and focuses heavily on the language a parent who wants self control can use to teach themselves self control while they are teaching the other members of their family too. 

Looking to the Future

We can only control one thing, our own thoughts and emotions.  Trying to control anyone else will always be a power struggle.  Heavenly Father didn’t make us parents to control other people into goodness and self-government.  He made us parents to lead our children to goodness, and self-government.  If we focus on controlling ourselves and having the spirit of calmness with us each day will be able to share the secrets of self control we learn with our children too so that they are not captive by the emotional control of others either.  We want success for our children and success comes much easier to those who know they are responsible for controlling themselves. 

For additional help with parenting or learning effective communication and problem solving visit https://teachingselfgovernment.com