“When kids feel in control, they act in control”: Dr Becky reveals how giving children ‘ownership’ over their day can stop tantrums and even get you out the house on time

Giving children a choice, even about small things, can prompt huge changes in their behaviour

parent sitting with their child
(Image credit: Getty Images)

Psychologist Dr Becky Kennedy has shared why she believes parents should give their children more control over what they do on a day-to-day basis, saying that kids who 'feel in control,' will 'act in control' - but what exactly does she mean? 

Parenting is punctuated by various struggles. There are the big social struggles like increasing childcare costs that are preventing families from having more kids as well as parental burnout, which is an increasing issue. But it's the more mundane, everyday struggles that parents also experience, like tantrums and school run meltdowns, that are the problems parents most immediately struggle with.

No matter what parenting style you choose to use, every single child will push back against certain instructions and rules implemented by their parents. That back and forth, the shouting or pleading that can arise from it, feels unavoidable when trying to get kids up, ready and out the door. There are always quick ways to calm down that parents can rely on after their kids have finally done what they were asked to, but what if we could skip over the argument completely? 

Psychologist Dr Becky Kennedy has now revealed some insight into how to get kids to better listen to and comply with instructions to help reduce pushback and it's all to do with giving children a little more control over their day so they, in turn, 'act in control.'  

"Imagine," she says, "you are woken up in the morning and [are] being rushed to brush your teeth. You're told what to wear, when to eat your breakfast, and what food you're eating. 

"For the next six hours, every minute of your day is structured by someone else...Where to look, what to read, when you can talk, even down to when you are able to use the bathroom. You come home and follow a similar pattern as the morning. You're then told to go to sleep and wake up to do it all over again." 

This, Dr Becky says, is the reality for children. When laid out in such bare terms, it's easy to see why children pushback against their instructions so much - would you want your life to be so dictated? 

"Kids have very little control over their day," the expert adds. "Yes, kids needs structure, but they also need to feel a sense of ownership. When kids feel in control, they act in control." 

So how do you give a child control while also making sure the rules are followed, that they do what they need to do? We can't deviate too much from a proper bedtime routine and a morning routine is important if we want to leave the house on time (which can be made easier with these expert tips). But, according to Dr Becky, it's actually surprisingly simple to give kids more autonomy over their days. 

According to Dr Becky, "We can do small things to give our kids that feeling of being in control. This can be as simple as: 'What colour plate would you like to use for dinner? Do you think we should do a bath before or after reading time? It's your choice! Which way should we walk home today?'"

These small questions leave children feeling more valued, their voices more heard. And, in return for giving them this small element of control, they will then act in control, being better behaved as they do what they want to do - which is, secretly, also what you want them to do.

There are tonnes of parenting tips and tricks, as well as more family news, to help parents better navigate the trickier parts of parenting. From the top 6 life lessons millennials were never taught that they are making sure to teach their own kids to the three simple phrases can help parents ‘empower’ and ‘give agency’ to their teenage daughters as well as this is what setting a boundary with your kids really sounds like

Charlie Elizabeth Culverhouse
Royal News and Entertainment writer

Charlie Elizabeth Culverhouse is royal news and entertainment writer for Goodto.com. She began her freelance journalism career after graduating from Nottingham Trent University with an MA in Magazine Journalism, receiving an NCTJ diploma, and earning a First Class BA (Hons) in Journalism at the British and Irish Modern Music Institute. She has also worked with BBC Good Food and The Independent.