Episode 66: Guiding vs. Controlling Our Kids – Is There Really a Difference? with Dr. Siggie Cohen






Brief summary of show:


How can we guide vs. control our kids? Is there really a difference?

We want our kids to be independent and make their own decisions, but there are some times in life when they have to do what we ask them to do.

So, where’s the balance?

Joining me for this conversation is Dr. Siggie Cohen.

Dr. Siggie is known as the "child whisperer" for her unparalleled depth of insight in working with children of all ages. For more than 35 years she has worked with thousands of children and families across the US and abroad, first as a teacher and then as a professor and counselor. Her method provides parents with practical tools and scripts to feel more empowered and less guilty. She is also a mother of 3 and runs a private practice in Los Angeles.


Listen in as we talk about:

  • [2:30] The difference between controlling and guiding our kids

  • [5:30] How to approach situations with a guiding vs. controlling way

  • [9:55] The role adults play in dealing with difficult kids

  • [14:25] Why parents demand a certain amount of respect and control

  • [17:10] How to be firm without getting angry

  • [25:20] Being firm and the impact to kids’ mental health

Notes from Natalie:

Resources Mentioned in This Episode:


Connect with Dr. Siggie


Connect with Me



View Transcript for this Episode

[00:00:00] Natalie: Hi everyone. It's Natalie, stop controlling me. Do you ever hear those words as parents? We have to have some control, but we also have to understand and listen and guide our toddlers.

[00:00:14] Preteens even teenagers today, I'm talking with Dr. SGI Cohen known as the child whisperer for her unparalleled depth of insight in working with children of all ages. She is fantastic. I've been following her for years and I love her work for more than 35 years, she's worked with thousands of children and families across the us and abroad first as a teacher, then as a professor and as a counselor, her method provides parents with practical tools to feel more empowered. She's also a mother of three, the conversation.

[00:00:49] Particularly important, in my opinion, as we are all getting back to life and to our routines and for some families, you know, this is especially hard because for the [00:01:00] past few years, we've kind of been in our own little world, isolated our routines. They haven't been normal, at least as adults, what we would think of as normal.

[00:01:10] So before we get started today, I wanna encourage you to jump over to Instagram, check out my latest posts, there message me. If you have any topics that you want to hear me cover here on the podcast, I am so grateful for you and I'm glad you're here. I know you're gonna learn some great things in today's episode.

[00:01:29] So here's my interview with Dr. Siggy.

[00:01:31]

[00:01:34] Natalie: Dr. Saggy. Thank you so much for taking the time. As a parent, I deal with this topic and I know if I'm dealing with it, then my listeners are dealing with it too. And that is guiding versus controlling our kids. Is there really a difference?

[00:01:50] Dr. Siggie: Yes, absolutely. So controlling is coming at them with the idea that we know it all, and they're only [00:02:00] supposed to do what we say, which there is some amount of control that we need to have, but not necessarily over our children.

[00:02:09] More sometimes over the situation and really what we want is to help them gain self control. So as controlling them does not help them self control. It really only helps them push us back. Right. Somebody's coming to control and oppress me, our children, living a democracy in many ways. And uh, they push back.

[00:02:31] Don't control me and they say that right. Don't tell me what to do. Don't control me. Mm. Yes.

[00:02:38] Natalie: Those are the words I often hear is why are you trying to control me? Yeah. And I hear that from high schoolers. I hear it from my own kids. Sometimes even I think we get these words in marriage. Maybe you hear that a husband says it to a wife, or why are you trying to control me?

[00:02:53] And then we pick up on those words or the kids pick up on those words. So is it the way we [00:03:00] approach. The situation, the way we respond to problems. Give me some examples of what that might look

[00:03:05] Dr. Siggie: like. Yes, absolutely. So without noticing we correct them a lot in a very negative way with judgment and criticism.

[00:03:14] So we don't think that that's what it is, but this is exactly how it comes across. Don't do that. Why aren't you doing that? Why aren't you doing this this way? and noticing you can, you know, parents can actually kinda look at themselves. How many times throughout the day they start a sentence with stop it or don't do that.

[00:03:36] So the word don't is immediately criticism, judgment and control. But the thing is this I'm saying, okay, you can say, don't do that, but it's incomplete. You are telling them what not to do. You are also judging and criticizing what it is they're doing. So it's negative, but you're not giving any guidance.[00:04:00]

[00:04:00] You're not saying, Hey, don't do it this way. But how. Do it that way and you can phrase it however you want, but think to yourself, don't do that. Don't do it this way. Okay. So I hear you angry at me. You're frustrated you criticize me. You're judging me. That's the control. Yeah, that's kind of don't tell me what to do.

[00:04:21] And that's where the defense. Comes up. So children are attacking us back because they feel attacked because this is really what judgment and criticism. They feel like a personal attack.

[00:04:35] Natalie: Okay. So I, I hear you loud and clear. Give me some words and let's set up an example. My 12 year old son is making breakfast, which is a problem on its own, cuz he wants me to make the breakfast for him, but my son's making breakfast.

[00:04:50] I don't like the way he's doing it. And instead of saying, don't do.

[00:04:54] How should I approach that in a more guiding way instead of controlling way? [00:05:00] Right?

[00:05:00] Dr. Siggie: So notice the first thing that happens when you're watching your children do something the wrong. It triggers you immediately, you go into fight or flight because that's what a trigger is.

[00:05:14] And you immediately pull the first thing that comes out of your mind. But the problem with that is that the fight or flight mechanism is really, truly only great for dire. Life threatening situations, your child is about to, yeah. You know, spill the milk on the floor, make a miss. I mean, I get what it does to us.

[00:05:36] Mm-hmm but it's not a life and death situation. So I don't take a moment to actually think about my reaction to have a thoughtful or thought through reaction. Mm-hmm I pull something out of my emotion, my instinct, my immediate trigger. and that's what comes out. Don't do it this way. Mm-hmm. So the first thing that needs to happen is [00:06:00] you wanna know that whatever your child does triggers you pay attention to that.

[00:06:04] Take a moment. I am triggered anger, frustration, disappointment. These are all human emotions. I am human. I feel these emotions. They're not good parenting tools. That's the difference. So give yourself a moment. Okay. Oh no. I could see the disaster. This is my, you know, because I'm tired, I'm exhausted. I got so much going.

[00:06:29] I don't wanna clean up after him and he's not gonna do it. I mean, we run through all that, in that split second, and that is what drives our immediate reaction. But none of this is a real threat. It's, it's annoying. It's exhausting. It's not a real threat. So I can't pull something. just like that. I must think, notice your emotion, take a moment to recognize I'm human.

[00:06:55] I feel these emotions. Okay. How do I guide my child? [00:07:00] I narrate. And this is how we think when we need to take a moment to actually reconsider what it is. We wanna say, repeat what you're saying, repeat what they just said. Or just simply narrow it as if you're reading the writing on the wall. Mm-hmm oh, look at you.

[00:07:17] You are making breakfast. Oh, wow. There's a lot of stuff on the kitchen counter now. Oh. And the fridge is still open. Yeah, I hear it's. I mean, literally like that mm-hmm, what you doing writing and there invite them in there is not coming at your child in this sort of offensive kind of way, you know, attacking them.

[00:07:39] And you are giving yourself a moment to rethink what it is you are about to say that gives them guidance, not just comes at them. And that's the control that they feel like don't tell me what to do, cuz you just did. Don't do it this way.

[00:07:55] Natalie: Right, right. It's interesting. Cuz as I'm hearing you say this, you know, I'm [00:08:00] thinking of maybe college daughter, one that just graduated from high school and specifically.

[00:08:04] Talking about my 12 year old, who's learning to make eggs and more complicated breakfast. But when I'm thinking about this, I'm also thinking about our other relationships. And I know you specifically work with kids of all ages, but I'm thinking of marriage. I'm thinking of my coworkers. Like anytime you come at someone with, ah, that judgment right away, it hurts the relat.

[00:08:27] Dr. Siggie: Yeah, very true. And it doesn't, you know what it does in the moment, it really creates a Def a natural defense mechanism. Mm-hmm and then we push whoever is coming at us. We push them away. Maybe we feel bad about ourselves. It also depends on personalities. Right. So some of us are more submissive. Yeah. So they make.

[00:08:48] Feel bad. And we go into ourselves, we shut down sometimes are much more confrontational and we fight, but we don't always know what it is. We're fighting. We're fighting the pain that we [00:09:00] just felt because somebody came at us.

[00:09:03] Natalie: So much of what I hear you talk about, and I, I love your Instagram page, and I know you have a TikTok in those things, but so much of the things I hear you talk about are working with kids, but

[00:09:14] I find, and I'm curious with the clients you work with, how much of it is actually working with the adults because.

[00:09:22] Kids can be difficult. And my kids are so different. I mean, my first was my hardest. She's awesome. And a great adult now, but she was firm and tough and strong willed, but it was how I approached the situation as a parent in what you were telling me, like how to not be controlling, that really mattered the most.

[00:09:42] So are you often finding yourself working with the parent as much as it is the child? And how they

[00:09:50] Dr. Siggie: react most of the time, I would say, I don't even wanna say all the time, but maybe it is all the time. Yeah. So my interaction with the [00:10:00] child and it can be a three year old. It can be literally a three year old and a baby that I just seen in the background.

[00:10:06] It can be a six year old, a 12 year old and even an older child, my interaction with them. And of course is the older they. They have more say in their sort of like journey and therapy, right? Mm-hmm but no matter what, they still go back home to their parents. Mm-hmm and the most important interactions happen right there in the home.

[00:10:29] And so you can't just direct everything to the child. You must look at the family as a whole. And 100%, so much of it is how we respond and how we understand not what we think. We understand what we really do understand. So don't control me. Think about it like that. Don't control me or stop control me or don't tell me what to do.

[00:10:54] We think we understand what they're saying. We actually don't and we [00:11:00] never stop and say, what do you mean by that? Can you explain that? Oh, you're just controlling me and you always tell me what to do. I hear you. What, what exactly are you saying? What can you give me an example? Can we talk about it some more?

[00:11:17] I really need to understand. So you see, if you just said to me, stop controlling me, don't control me and I reacted immediately. You, and I may not be talking about the same thing at all. Mm-hmm , mm-hmm, , don't fully understand where you're coming from. You didn't explain yourself. You just gave me a headliner.

[00:11:34] Yeah. Yeah. It's like, yeah. It's like, we read the headline, but we don't read the full article and we just assume that we know the information. That's so

[00:11:43] Natalie: true. And for so many parents. The way they treat their children often is a, a product of how they grew up or an insecurity maybe they have about being controlled or, you know, there's so much deeper as we say, you [00:12:00] know, peeling that onion.

[00:12:01] There's so much underneath

[00:12:02] Dr. Siggie: that. Yes, absolutely. And I hear that all the time, things like. Frustration towards my child that allows themselves, how dare they right. Speak to me this way. I would never dare. So people get very upset, angry, frustrated about that because they're comparing themselves. If I said that to my parent.

[00:12:23] Oh my, I agree. But that's you. That's not your child. That's a whole different dynamic set of circumstances time. Yes, parents also, nobody ever explained anything to me. So now they over explain and everything. I felt very controlled, so I'm gonna let my kids, but you see, even the statements that we make are taken out of context, they don't look at the entire picture.

[00:12:51] Again, there were other people there, other circumstances you can't just pull something out of it and say, I'm not gonna do this. I'll do the [00:13:00] opposite. yeah.

[00:13:01] Natalie: everyone. It's Natalie. I am excited to let you know that I'm opening up spaces for collaboration and advertising and sponsorship on this podcast. And on my YouTube channel, if you're a brand looking to grow in the wellness family or mindfulness spaces, I would love to collaborate with you. You can find a link to get in touch with me in the show notes, and you can always find out more about what I'm up to on Natalie tisl.com.

[00:13:29] And parenting feels like, you know, with different decades, like I just heard you say and something I have said too, is I never would've said that to my mom or I never even would've looked at my mom that way.

[00:13:43] You know, we had a different. It was just, it was a different age, a different time.

[00:13:48] But do you think a lot of parents tend to parent that way because they grew up and they just are demanding a certain amount of respect or control because that's what [00:14:00] they had as a child that they respected their

[00:14:02] Dr. Siggie: parents that way.

[00:14:03] Sure. Absolutely. And they don't understand how come today's different. So they try to come up with maybe some reasons today's kids. Right. We always start the sentence today's kids. Yeah. And immediately that's just judgment. Do we really know? Do we really understand? What does it mean? Today's kids and hasn't been.

[00:14:26] Some form of a beginning of a statement at every generation. Yes. So things evolve and change and we don't always understand it. So we try to go back and take from something else that was true and right at a whole other time that doesn't fit here and now anymore. So today's kids, I would say if you want to actually be or give a true statement.

[00:14:52] Today's kids are much more expressive than ever before, because we have given them that permission. We [00:15:00] have actually encouraged them. To speak up to tell us everything. So back then, what I didn't dare, like you say, look at my mom, even this way of certainly not say anything. It doesn't mean I didn't think or feel that mm-hmm I just kept it to myself.

[00:15:17] Yeah. Yeah, today's parenting is like, we're constantly there pulling information out of our children. We wanna know every little thing about them and they're like, okay, then I'm gonna tell you everything.

[00:15:30] Natalie: So. There are times where as parents, we have to be firm, of course our kids wanna have say in everything they wanna feel like they have a certain amount of control and all of that's important, but there are times where we have to be firm and, you know, they're not able to make the decision and I'll, I'll use an example and then you can help guide with this.

[00:15:51] So my 12 year old has chores that he does in the summer. And before he can go do his own thing, he needs to do a [00:16:00] chore practice, his piano, do some reading, and I get pushback on that. Right? Most parents would so use that as an example of no, I'm gonna be firm with this. You don't get this, you don't get to decide.

[00:16:12] These are the things you have to do in the summer. And. how do I manage that? Or how would other parents, even when it comes to safety or the amount of video games a child might play, how do you express and be firm without being too controlling or angry?

[00:16:31] Dr. Siggie: Right. So if we take the word control out of it, okay.

[00:16:34] We set boundaries because we know better, we have more experience and we understand the, you know, the, the bigger picture. Mm. It's not about, I'm trying to control you, but you are absolutely right. That there are things that I understand better than you. I am older, wiser, more experienced, knowledgeable, and that is not actually an argument.

[00:16:59] See kids [00:17:00] try to push back. I know. And you and I, and don't tell me, and I'm like, no matter what, sweetie, truly, and I'll say it the, in the kindest way possible, no matter. I know more simply because I'm older and more experienced. And therefore I can tell you to do certain things that I know are right for you.

[00:17:20] Mm-hmm and I can say it right here right now. Actually, I don't even always have to explain. And that's another fault in some of the style to date that every time I say you really need to do that. But why?

[00:17:37] Natalie: Mm. Oh, why? That is the, I hear that question 20 times a day and he'll go, oh yeah. Stop

[00:17:44] Dr. Siggie: asking why

[00:17:45] Yeah, exactly. But you know, what, what promotes this? Why is our, because , mm-hmm they say, but why, but why or why? And we say because, and now we have a whole lecture, an [00:18:00] explanation of reasonable. Right. A thing that we actually pulled out from our knowledge and experience, and you wanna know something, we cannot actually convince our kids of that because they have not been where we are.

[00:18:15] Yeah. Can't so if the, if we understand and back to understanding them, It's not what they say that we think we understand. It's truly understanding what it is they're saying, but why is not a real question? It's a complaint. It's an emotion. It's rhetorical. But why that, why that they ask is really just basically saying I don't wanna

[00:18:41] Natalie: do that.

[00:18:41] That's so true. So how do you respond to the why when you get the why? If I say it's time to go to bed. Why? And I say, because it's nine o'clock. Okay. But why what's what you hear this all the time, right? I know every parent understands

[00:18:57] Dr. Siggie: this. Yes, absolutely. So [00:19:00] if I know that this, why is I simply, the child is simply saying, I don't want to mm-hmm I'm not responding to the why.

[00:19:08] I'm translating it to what they're really saying, not implying. Oh, you're telling me you don't wanna go to bed now. I hear you. But yeah, you are. And another thing here, most of the time, which we can go back to. When we were kids or us and so on, what do we remember from then? We actually connected the dots and knew a lot of what it is required of us without asking.

[00:19:35] we just knew. And this is what we, again in a way messed up today that we think our kids don't know unless we tell them mm-hmm . So my child at nine, o'clock saying, but why I have to go to bed. He. It's as if he doesn't know. Yep.

[00:19:52] Natalie: Absolutely knows. Yes. And that's what I wanna say. Yes. Yeah. I love it.

[00:19:56] That you just mentioned that because I [00:20:00] being a parenting reporter and having three kids my own, I am such an advocate for. If they know their responsibility and it's even written, you know, we, he knows exactly what he has to do every day and he checks it off a check system. So it's not a question. So maybe that's a reminder for people.

[00:20:18] Is do you have expectations? Are they very clear where they're not having to ask why? Because you've written them down or you talk about them often, so they know what their expectations and roles are in the.

[00:20:32] Dr. Siggie: Yes, absolutely. And they also learn it verbatim. They learn it over time. I mean, we know that four roads know the, the preschool routine.

[00:20:42] Yeah. When it's snack and when it's time and what, and when do we do, I mean, so they have natural intelligence. Mm-hmm they learn by being immersed in the system. Yeah. Your 12 year old has been going to bed or you've been telling him to go to bed [00:21:00] for he's

[00:21:01] Natalie: still trying to push that bedtime back. Yeah, yeah.

[00:21:03] Yeah. I mean, he keeps trying, you know, you have to give them some credit for, for trying

[00:21:09] Dr. Siggie: right. You know what? That's a great point by the way. So we wanna foster some of that pushback. Yeah. But not just based on emotions. I don't wanna go to bed. It's not a real argument. So it's kind of like, this is why I don't say because it's, I'm like, yeah, you don't wanna go to bed now you do need to, and you actually know that.

[00:21:32] So I don't even have to say because that's kind of redundant, but if you actually have some argument about it, like you want to say something, come up with an actual mm-hmm plan a conversation. Okay. Yeah, no, not right now at 9:00 PM. but go ahead and think about it. I'm willing to come to the table and negotiate, but you can't just throw stuff at me because you don't want to.

[00:21:59] You [00:22:00] think about it and that teaches them also to take responsibility, accountability, to think something through not just constantly push us back because they can.

[00:22:11] Natalie: Right? Yeah. Especially in those teenage years when, when they're trying to to negotiate. And come up with reasons for staying out later or whatever the case might be, but to, to really have to think through a plan.

[00:22:25] Yeah. So I wanna ask you just overall working with kids today, the biggest problem you see, or other pieces of advice that you would have for families in dealing with these times, especially coming out of like I see as a teacher, That kids are somewhat struggling, but we know they're resilient coming back to a normal schedule after being home for so long.

[00:22:51] And it's just different. And I'm wondering what for you, as an expert, working with families, the biggest problem you see, or piece of advice that you would

[00:22:59] Dr. Siggie: have. [00:23:00] So change is very difficult and it definitely creates a sense of instability. So we've gone through a lot of changes mm-hmm in the last few years, and I don't know that we have completely processed everything we've been through.

[00:23:16] So maybe that's a conversation certainly with teens, but you can even do it with younger children reflect back on what it was, what we've been through and the good and the bad about it. What we actually liked about it. Right. We didn't have to rush. There was no traffic. It was kind of simpler times in so many ways, but we lost something.

[00:23:40] We lost the socialization or sociability. We lost our confidence about being with other people. So conversations about it, just to surface all these different issues. Help us actually begin to put some perspective and proportion into what it is that [00:24:00] we're feeling or going through because inside us, the thoughts and the feelings can become very chaotic.

[00:24:07] Hmm, but when we speak to others and we all sort of like lay right here and kind of begin to organize it together, it helps us as well. And then we can accept it better or cope with it much better. So it's not finding the optimal situation the best. Oh, this was worse. This is best. It's neither. It's both benefits, advantages gains as well as losses and you know, disadvantages or.

[00:24:41] Cost.

[00:24:42] Natalie: Are you seeing more more people today, more of the young people with anxiety and depression coming out of, I mean, we see the numbers, we hear the stories. Are you seeing more of that? Because I think a lot of times for parents, they are cautious about being [00:25:00] controlling or firm because they're so worried about their children's mental.

[00:25:06] Dr. Siggie: Yes. You're right. So yes, I see so much more of it to tell you that, that I actually know if it's, because there's more or we talk about it more mm-hmm right. I'm not really sure. I think we need some more time to really understand that we definitely are much more aware of. talk about it, open about it, which is great, but you are right that parents tiptoe around their kids feeling they're fragile, mm-hmm and breakable, and that's not the case.

[00:25:39] And that's also not helpful because we have natural coping skills and resilience, and we need to foster that. So I don't wanna see my child as breakable. I wanna see my child is facing challenges. It's not easy, but the fact that they can get through it [00:26:00] is what I wanna trust and hope for. Yeah. Yeah. So I don't try to avoid, or, you know, protect or bubble wrap them from the challenges.

[00:26:11] I fear for them. I feel the challenges I understand. And then I still have to say, okay, but they have to get through it. So we're gonna work on that. Not on avoiding the challenge. Oh no, no, no, no, don't go there. But. Okay. Yeah, let's go there wherever that is and strengthen ourselves, our muscles, our ability to get through it.

[00:26:35] Yeah.

[00:26:36] Natalie: So as, as parents and in our families, actually having what I'm hearing you say is having those boundaries and remaining firm is healthier for our kids in these trying times. And with anxiety, it gives them a sense of almost confidence knowing. This is going to remain solid. Even when the world is somewhat feeling like it's crumbling.[00:27:00]

[00:27:00] Yes.

[00:27:00] Dr. Siggie: Very true. So boundaries are safety. They're not controlled, right? Yeah. Like walls around us. They're not controlling us. They're keeping us safe. You know, so very different. Our home is not. A wall that is controlling us, but it keeps us safe. So that's what boundaries are. Right. And you wanna look at it like that.

[00:27:22] Children need boundaries for safety. Also boundaries can be grounding because they're more predictable. They're more consistent. They're reliable.

[00:27:34] Natalie: Yeah, I think that is so important and so worthy of, of our discussion. Okay. So I know you have a lot of places. People can go to learn more. I love your tips and everything that you do tell us where we can find you and what else you're offering for, for families on your website and social media.

[00:27:52] Dr. Siggie: Right. Thank you so much for that. So most of the information is on Instagram. So Dr. Siggy on [00:28:00] Instagram it's almost daily. We, we constantly keep our, yeah. You know, our page engaged and go and ongoing there's Facebook as well. So Dr. Siggy on Facebook, a lot of times, it's obviously a replica of that.

[00:28:14] We have a website, Dr. siggy.com. And right now there's a course there, toddlers, and also plenty of other information that is downloadable and free. The course is not, but other stuff is free. And hopefully in a few months we're coming out with another course, so kind of stay tuned.

[00:28:34] Natalie: Wonderful. Well, I appreciate you and your E.

[00:28:37] I've learned so much in following you and in this conversation. So let's do it again very soon and so nice to just chat with you.

[00:28:46] Dr. Siggie: Thank you so much. And I would love that and it was my pleasure as well.

[00:28:50] Natalie: All right, well, take care. We'll talk again soon.






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