Last Updated on March 9, 2021.
Out of the four parenting styles, authoritarian parents can have the most difficulty raising kids. Authoritarian parents are often considered controlling parents. And their controlling behaviors are often counter productive.
Controlling parents attempt to manage their children’s behavior to an unacceptable degree. They supervise and monitor their children, make decisions for them, control their friendships and allow them little choice, even in small things. They insist on knowing where their children are at all times and what they are doing.
Disclosure: Affiliates allow us to keep our content free. If you make a purchase, I may receive a small commission at no cost to you. I will never betray your trust and recommend something I wouldn’t use! You can read our full disclosure here.
While all children need guidance and supervision, controlling parents carry this far too far. Controlling parents often think they are “doing what is best” for their kids. But children need to learn to make decisions, to make choices, and to live with the consequences of their actions. These essential skills can be blunted if they are over-controlled during their development.
One of the parent’s crucial tasks is to prepare their children for life outside the family in the wider world. At first, this might be the extended family, then grade-school, and later school. As they grow they increasingly need to make decisions and take control of aspects of their own lives. Teaching our children to become independent is an essential part of good parenting – and that means relinquishing control as they grow older and more capable. Over-control inhibits their development as well as making their childhood a time of anxiety and stress.
Of course, we must instill in our children a sense of responsibility and socially acceptable behavior. They need guidance and structure to understand our complicated world, but this can be done with love and respect for the child’s individuality. Mistakes will be made, by you and by your growing child – but we can all learn from them and change our behavior accordingly. Giving the right amount of control can be a difficult balance, and we all get it wrong from time to time. But being willing to look at our own ways of behaving might be hard but it can also lead to the changes that need to be made for the sake of our children.
What does it mean to be a controlling parent?
Controlling parents may control in an open and obvious way. They tend to be physical, shouting and smacking their children, rewarding and punishing them. They demand instant obedience, rules must be obeyed and children are not permitted to make choices or decisions themselves.
Equally damaging is the parent who controls psychologically. Parents can make their children feel guilty when they try to be more independent. Parents might assume the role of victim, laying the blame on the child when it’s not their fault. Their behavior can be erratic – loving one moment and icy-cold the next. The child never feels safe, criticism or drama can come at the slightest “misdemeanor” or none at all.
Of course, some degree of control is necessary when you are raising children – but the degree of control is crucial. How restrictive the amount of control determines to some extent how damaged the children become.
Sometimes we can see an almost military discipline in a home. Typically the father has a military career that suited him and he tries to implement a military lifestyle in the home. It doesn’t work very well!
Some of the ways parents control their children include intimidation and physical force. They may include isolating the children, forbidding friendships, and keeping score. Constantly asking them about their day at school, expecting homework assignments to be perfect and limiting opportunities for the child to make any decisions about their lives.
How do you know if you are a controlling parent?
We all want the best for our children – but we have to let them grow and develop – make mistakes and learn from them. It can be hard to let go, and it can be hard to realize and accept that we are over-controlling. Look at the following list, does any of it apply to you? Be honest for your child’s sake.
- Do you make decisions concerning your child without asking them for their opinion?
- Do you demand unquestioning obedience?
- Must your child conform to all your rules?
- Do you like to know everything your child is doing? Are your children allowed any privacy?
- Do you “help” when perhaps our child could work things out for themselves?
- Are all or most of your child’s choices made for them?
- Do you believe “children should be seen but not heard”?
- Are there times you shame your child, show disappointment or anger when he fails?
- Do you try to make your child feel guilty if they fail to meet your expectations?
- Do you punish frequently?
- Are you in the habit of withdrawing love and affection as a form of control?
These are all ways in which parents try to control their children – and they slow down the acquisition of skills needed for a child to become independent. Don’t be too hard on yourself, when you care and when you want your children to grow up into responsible and fulfilled adults it can be hard to draw the line between over control and not enough. But let’s look at the impact on children when their parents try to be too controlling.
What impact do controlling parents have on children?
Physical signs may be subtle
Direct physical signs resulting from over-controlling parents are usually not present. However, signs of stress may be apparent. These might show in over-eating or not eating enough, in tired, apathetic children if their sleeping is affected. They may show as a child who appears timid, afraid to put themselves forward, and reserved in manner, perhaps a target for bullying. Alternatively, some of these children who have to conform at home can be aggressive and bullying when the brakes are off.
The emotional impact on children
While some degree of regulation is necessary for the developing child and teaches them the boundaries of acceptable behavior, too much can lead to emotional problems. Children need guidance as they grow, and when the boundaries are clear it gives them a feeling of security. Academic progress is better, and when they trust their parent to be fair, then they are less likely to rebel.
Different controlling mechanisms cause different outcomes. Psychological over-control can lead to feelings of incompetence and that their opinions are worthless. Psychological control can be particularly damaging since that directly affects the children’s emotions. Very often the children become very loyal to their parents, even when a little more independent thinking would be a better option. They have low self-esteem, they are less adventurous and sometimes the world just passes them by.
When parents control their children and make decisions for them – then it is hardly surprising that the children grow up finding it hard to think things out for themselves. They become too emotionally attached to their parents – or sometimes too frightened to hurt them or to be chastised.
The miracle of brain development
What could be more miraculous than the way the brain develops in a child? There are so many things to learn – from lifting his head to running and jumping, from baby babble to speaking, and from complete dependence to full independence. It’s an exciting journey, helped by the child’s innate curiosity, and fertilized by the small, loving interactions with their parents that happen in everyday life.
Eventually, our children have to leave the nest and venture out not the wider world. Our awesome task is to prepare them for this. They need to develop the ability to make decisions and judgments. While they are very young they will be guided by you but as they grow they need to have many, many opportunities to practice making choices – and understanding that there are consequences to our actions.
When parents try to control too many aspects of the developing child’s life then the natural brain development can be stunted and slow. But as their brain develops the essential skills are gradually acquired. They will eventually be competent to take over the reins of their lives themselves.
The withholding of love
Children are totally reliant on their parents in their early years. They need to be loved and children will appease them if they feel they have displeased their parents. They feel desperately sad when they feel rejected by the person they love and need above all else. Withholding love and affection is one weapon the psychologically controlling parents use and that causes enormous suffering to the child. Children become depressed and anxious and feel they are worthless. They are more likely to exhibit anti-social behavior as they become older.
The children of parents who control by physical means model their behavior on that of their parent. They are more likely to violent towards others and become the classroom bully. Sadly, they will probably bring up their own children in a similar manner.
How can you change your controlling parenting style?
If you have recognized yourself as a controlling parent then you have already taken the first steps towards a changing parenting style. And it can be hard to accept that you are not the perfect parent, (but none of us are).
Once you have seen how your parenting is too controlling, look at how it is. Are you physical or do you use psychological control?
When you resort to physical violence you might have issues with anger management. Professional advice can help, there are anger management programs that are very effective.
Once you realize the problem is yours, you can try holding back, taking a deep breath, and counting to 10 before lashing out. This gives you a chance to stop your primitive reflex action. The brain is designed to react with super-fast reflexes at the primitive level, which can be overridden when the cerebral cortex, the thinking part of our brain, takes over. But the reflex is so fast that the cerebral cortex cannot always catch up. That is why the small amount of time you can gain by counting to 10 works. It gives the more intelligent part of your brain time to override the primitive reflex.
Psychological control can be harder to recognize. You will need to put yourself in your children’s shoes. You need to ask them what they are finding hardest to cope with, and even young children can contribute their ideas. Together with your child, you can agree on “rules” and make a plan that gives more responsibility to your child. Letting your child take on a task he is fully capable of will give him self-confidence and a sense of achievement. Praise him but if he finds it hard encourage him, give him hope for the future, “I know you will soon be able to do this when you have grown a little stronger”.
Facing up is hard
It can be tough to recognize that the fault when things go wrong is yours. Facing up to your own responsibility may not be easy – but it’s so much better than laying the guilt on your child. Take the time to think about times when perhaps you failed to do this. If you can learn from past mistakes you can move forward. It’s pointless to beat yourself up. Just look at it as a learning experience and see how you might have handled it differently. Then the next time you will find it easier to control your own behavior.
Do you take pleasure in seeing your child becoming more independent? You should be proud of your own achievements when your little one makes a choice, decides what to do and how to sort out a problem. These are signs you are doing your job as a parent, that it fitting your child for the wider world out there.
It is quite possible that you yourself are depressed or have feelings of worthlessness – it’s not uncommon – and again, seeking the advice of a professional may be invaluable for you and for your parenting styles.
Some control is necessary when we are bringing up children. But overdoing the control is detrimental to our children. Parents may use overt physical means to be in control – which is really a way of showing they are not in control of themselves or parents may use psychological tactics that can be very damaging to the child.
Looking at yourself can be instructive – and it can be hard to be honest. But knowing your style of parenting is the first essential step to changing it for the better. None of us is perfect, you may not be able to change overnight, but small changes can have long-standing results. Ask your children, they may have ideas to help the family be more united. Listen to what they say and implement one change at a time. The results will encourage you to continue to make other changes as your children grow more capable.
As parents, our task is to bring up children who can go out into the works as responsible adults when the time comes. It’s no small task but is incredibly rewarding.
University of New Hampshire. (2012, February 10). Controlling parents more likely to have delinquent children. ScienceDaily. Retrieved February 1, 2021 from www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2012/02/120210105901.htm