Locus of control

Mostly we grow and bring up our children with a notion that “We and our behavior are the outcome of our environment (people and circumstances). Pause and reflect what it would be to have the locus of control inside you not outside you

I was driving and a car (taxi) was honking behind me – urging me to move out of the lane. After some time I got irritated and fumed ‘these taxi drivers, don’t know have any road sense. Let me teach him a lesson’

My five year old daughter sitting next to me asked, “Why are you upset?” I blurted our my views about the taxi drivers of Bangalore. The taxi continued to honk. I shouted, “These guys ..” (I was getting more irritated)”.

She again asked “But, Dad, why are you upset?”. This continued for few times, with she questioning me again and again and then, some thing stuck me! ‘WHY AM I UPSET?’

And immediately i moved the car away, he overtook my car and there was peace on the road. Am I upset because he is making me upset or I am choosing to get upset? I realized –

That I can choose to be upset or choose not to be upset.

That I am not governed by other’s actions

That my feelings are not controlled by other’s actions

That it is my choice.

That I am responsible for my own emotions.

Somehow, right from early childhood, we parents, caregivers and adults communicate in many ways to the child that “you are not in control of yourself; somebody else is, or circumstances are. We establish in the child that your locus of control is outside you.

This starts with the omnipotent, “Because I say so” or “Because papa/mama says so” and carries on with external control statements such as –

  • “Finish the whole bowl” (whether you are hungry or not).
  • “Go to sleep” (whether you are sleepy or not).
  • “Say hello to Uncle” (whether you like uncle or not).
  • Stop playing at once” (whether you want to play or not).
  • “Share you toys with your new friends” (whether you want to or not).
  • “Stop crying at once” (whether I feel terrible or not)

Somehow we are constantly communicating to our children that what you feel and think is not so important. We are teaching children to discount their own feelings, their own judgments. Soon the child starts operating as if the locus of control is outside – ‘I will behave based on what people say or do’.

A five year old in Geniekids who was constantly hitting others. Instead of trying all the regular stuff (which doesn’t work with any child anyways) like “Behave yourself”, “You are hurting others”, “How will it feel if somebody else hit you”, “if you don’t stop you will have to leave this room (time out) and so on, what we said to him was:
How do YOU feel when you hit somebody?”. The child was shocked – he had never thought of that! He blurted out, “I feel good”. We simply ignored his response as superficial, and continued, “So how do YOU feel when you hit somebody? While we did not get an answer, we just continued this line of questioning at every further incident, helping the child to touch base with his feeling.

As if magic, soon the child stopped hitting others.

It was then I realized what we had done – we had helped the child gain control of his own emotions, we had shown him another way to deal with whatever was going on inside. Somewhere he felt the outside world was inflicting pain on him, so he was returning the pain by hitting. The moment we made him realize that it was all of his making, he could chuck it away immediately.

We, as adults also tend to behave as if the world is in control of us. Consider this “You are irritating me”. This statement implies that you have the power over me to cause me to feel and behave in a negative way. But that’s not true – the irritation is inside me, I have only let the other person’s behavior surface it. Alternatively, I can react to this behavior just the way the father finally reacted to the honking driver – just move to one side and let the other person deal with his need!

What would happen if we were to train children right from early childhood that the locus of control is always inside you? That you have the power and resources to respond to any situation the way you want. What will happen if we showed the child that the most amazing power in this world is not muscular, not mental, but emotional? I can always find somebody else with stronger arms to lift the load for me; with sharper mind to solve the problem for me. But my emotions, I have to MANAGE THEM MYSELF.

Children can be, and according to us, should be, trained from an early age to work from an inside locus of control. This not only fosters independence and responsibility but also gives children the understanding of the power we carry within. As Stephen Covey says, “10% of what the world does to us is not in our control, but 90% of how we respond to it is what makes the difference”.

Here are seven golden guidelines on how to raise a child who operates from control from inside (rather then outside), who responds rather then reacts, and who is discovering the amazing emotional resource we carry within:

1. Use COULD instead of should:

This is not just a play of semantics, but a complete parenting approach. ‘Could’ offers choices; ‘Should’ indicate commands. ‘Could’ communicates that you are allowed to choose, ‘Should’ says I am the decider. ‘Could’ emanates from acceptance (if you think otherwise), ‘Should’ believes in compliance (even if you think otherwise). ‘Could’ is democratic, ‘Should’ is dictatorial.

2. Give CHOICES:

Especially when you think that this situation is not about giving choices. The faith we put in a child by leaving the decision on to the child is so liberating that it can have truly amazing effects. A child used to throw things around. I gave him choice – “You can either throw the things, or you can enjoy using them. The choice is yours.” I repeated this often – however not getting perturbed when he did throw again. Within two hours he had stopped and then (at least within Geniekids), he never repeated it again.

3 Seek their OPINION:

Whether their opinion matter, or doesn’t matter; whether decision is important or not important –SEEK OPINION. A friend of mine had to take a tough decision of whether to go for operation on his father’s gall bladder or not – very inspiringly, he even asked his son (10 years old). The son said he doesn’t want operation because it will cause lot of pain to grandpa. This caring and sensitivity immediately gave a lot of courage to grandpa himself and he said yes to operation simply because he felt he had his grandson too share his pain. So while they did go ahead with the operation, grandpa found an unlikely ally, and the child took much more care of his grandpa, post operation.


We talked about this one above. Somehow we relate more to behavior then to feelings. We often do not understand the role of emotions in our behavior and how important it is to acknowledge them rather then trying to change them. Giving children opportunities to think about their emotions, to be in touch with the emotions, empowers them and makes them more emotionally balanced. So one of the most important questions you can ask is “How are you feeling? Or How do you feel about this?


I was crossing road with my daughter when she saw a bus at a distance. Instinctively she pulled my hand wanting to stop and not to cross the road. I pulled her saying, “It’s too far”. The next day, same thing happened again. Its then I realized what harm I have been doing. Here she is, developing her sense of road and traffic. Instead of encouraging her to develop that, instead of helping her instincts get refined, I am only communicating to her – ‘do not go by your own instincts, let me determine what is right for you’. We as parents do that for so many decisions that children make: “No, eat one more – how you cannot be hungry!” The message the child gets – do not listen to your own stomach – listen to mummy’s mind!

6 Play WHAT IF?

A child at Geniekids was crying since she was missing her mother. We asked her, “What if your mother was sitting downstairs waiting for you to finish your session? What if she was eager to see what you have done in the session? What will you do then?” The moment the child was able to change her own inside frame of reference she started feeling much better and stopped crying. ‘What if’ is a great tool to bring the locus of control back inside the child. So when a situation occurs which the child is not handling properly and is too focused on the outside, try asking a what if question.


When a child comes running to you and asks, “How is this (say a painting)? Instead of showering your praise, try asking, “What do you think about it? What do you like in it? What will you like to make better? Etc. When children realize that their best encourager as well as critique is inside them, then their journey of learning and development is much more accelerated. Also it liberates them from constantly seeking outside praise, which often is not very forthcoming.

The other day my daughter asked me a riddle, which I ask you here, “In which direction do trees move?

If your answer is “that Trees do not move” – think again before reading further.

Trees do move,
They move UPWARDS,
Each one of them,
Taller from inwards!

Trees do not see:
Where others are going.
They only see:
How they are growing.

While twigs and leaves,
spread far and wide
Trees are strongest
Always inside!

By Ratnesh & Aditi Mathur