Friday, July 25, 2014

How to Have a Healthy Locus of Control

One of the cool phenomenon that all psychology students learn about is called "locus of control".  This is a super concept for all parents to know about because understanding it a little better will help you both understand your own parenting better AND help you understand (and direct) your kids better.
Locus of control is kind of your accountability center and relates to how much control you think you have over the outcome of a given situation.  When stuff goes well, do you attribute that to your own hard work or to luck? When things go poorly is it because of others (or bad luck), or because you failed?  The generation ahead of us would say it is the responsibility center - do you take responsibility for yourself or do you blame others or outside forces?

How we attribute our successes and failures, determines whether we are classified as having an internal or an external locus of control.   If you think that your success is because of your own awesomeness then you have an internal locus of control and vis-versa.

This is one of the those areas in psychology where gender differences are found.
Men are more likely to attribute their success to their own awesomenesses while women think they got lucky.  When failure occurs, men think they were unlucky while women think it is their own fault.  That is why often dad's don't take it personally when their kids mess up, yet mom's often do.

In general, people who have an internal locus of control fair better and many parents want to encourage their children to have an internal locus of control because it is associated with being more self-assured, higher personal agency, being more confident, less influenced by the opinions of others, and more confident, happier and independent.

As parents, we need to help our children see that their are consequences for their actions - the big ones and the little ones, the good ones and the bad ones.  Without a healthy locus of control, children grow up having a more difficult time taking responsibility for their actions and blaming others instead.

Locus of control is a continuum, so even if we generally find ourselves exercising an internal locus of control, it is healthy to allow ourselves to recognize that their are external forces at work when things aren't going as well.

To put the conversation solidly in parenting terms...

Let's just say hypothetically… that your teenager or toddler is being really tough.  Maybe disobedient or defiant... 

Do you attribute that to your own failing as a parent? 
Internal locus of control

Do you attribute it to their hormones, sleep deprivation, too much sugar, the alignment of the moon, or the child's own temperament?

External locus of control

A lot of moms find themselves attributing their kids successes to the child's natural awesomeness, yet these same women take the full blame when the kids have a rough patch.   It is as though we think we are responsible for their failures and not for their successes. It is healthier to have a internal locus of control, but in times of conflict, it is less stressful to have an external locus of control. 

Balance is best.

We need to be aware that our kids success and failures, in the small areas and the big ones, are largely but not exclusively because of us.  Many factors are at play. Sometimes life just isn't fair.  And sometimes, kids and especially young adults, just make bad choices. Realizing that we are choosing to take the blame for our kids failings is helpful.   So next time your daughter throws her full cup across the room, (as little anna did today at gymnastics causing a total scene), remember - your parenting didn't cause that to happen… But the next time someone compliments you on your children, remember - you did help that to happen! Happy parenting everyone.  Thanks for stopping by!

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