Guidance vs. Control

by Sandra Carrington-Smith

Guidance vs. Control

“Give people enough guidance to make the decisions you want them to make. Don’t tell them what to do, but encourage them to do what is best.”—Jimmy Johnson


A few days ago, I had a conversation with my daughter’s preschool teacher. Her concern was that even if Morgan scores exceptionally well on tests, she rarely follows directions, and prefers instead to follow her own mental map.


After hearing the same things over the years about my boys, her observations didn’t come as a surprise. Whether it’s a genetic gift or flaw, or it is a marked streak of independence in all of them, all my kids think outside mainstream boundaries, and prefer to find alternate ways to get to the answer. That said, all of them are exceptional students and always score very high on their tests.


When I confirmed that even at home all three children tend to be free thinkers and quite stubborn, I also explained that I usually give them three chances when I tell them to do something; at the third chance, if they don’t follow through, they are punished. The teacher gave me a patronizing look and asked me why I give them three chances. I quite calmly explained that I don’t run a dictatorship, but I’m trying instead to raise self-responsible human beings who are empowered to do, or not do, something because they know it is the right thing, and not because they have a gun pointed to their head. The teacher smiled and simply said that people have different ways of looking at parenting.


I suppose they do. I, for one, try hard to discern between control and guidance. I expect my children to respect what I say, but I feel that respect is a two-way street, and we all need to pick our battles. My goal is to raise people who can think for themselves and that, as long as they do so respectfully, are not afraid to ask questions or stand up for what they believe in.


Although the two are often confused, guidance and control are not the same. Control is exercised to overpower a person, and uses fear as its main tactic; guidance is used to empower someone, and uses knowledge as its foundation. In my opinion, empowering people and giving them the tools to succeed on their own, is by far a better choice than forcing them to follow through with a course of action they don’t understand.


Our kids are no longer allowed to learn from their own mistakes. Our society has largely banned failure, in fear of hurting people’s self-esteem. Nothing wrong with fostering one’s self-worth—and certainly, when it comes down to children, supervision is needed to ensure the mistakes they make are constructive and not detrimental to their evolvement as individuals—but stopping people from occasionally making the wrong choices is no different than clipping a bird’s wings.


The association between cause and effect is really important, in my opinion, to grow into a self-responsible and self-disciplined individual. Even in this case, there is a tremendous difference between the two—a disciplined person will do everything right if someone is watching because he/she is conditioned to function on command; a self-disciplined individual knows what to do even when alone because he/she has been taught how to think.


It is time we do away with the cookie-cutter mentality, and begin to produce individuals who can think for themselves. Each of us is a unique design, and we should be honored and respected for thinking individually. Mass production rarely reflects high quality.