Having some measure of control is important for any parent. But a controlling parent oversteps the boundaries of how much control is reasonable and necessary to exert over their children's lives. As Dr. J. Brien O'Callaghan of Balanced Parenting explains, controlling parents often apply the same perfectionist tendencies toward raising their children as they do to their own lives. The problem, of course, is that this creates a very rigid and, in many cases, unrealistic structure for their child.
Many controlling parents are also classic perfectionists, which leads to over-controlling and over-protective parents who expect their children to fall within a narrow window of success. For example, an over-protective, over-controlling parent might believe her children should never have accidents or illness, and therefore never allows them to climb on the jungle gym or play in the dirt. As a result, the child is protected from ever taking responsibility or assuming risk, while adhering to iron-clad rules in every other area of their life.
Anyone who has spent time with several children from different families knows there's more than one way to raise a kind, well-behaved, inquisitive little one. A controlling parent believes there is only one correct way to raise children. At every junction, whether it's how much television the kids watch, the exact portions they eat, or when they begin potty training, a controlling parent maintains a non-negotiable set of guidelines, regardless of whether they're realistic or necessary for that particular child.
Many parents respond in a controlling way when they fear for their child's safety, such as sharply grabbing a toddler who tries to run out in the parking lot. A controlling parent has have a similarly fearful attitude about their child's independence, reports Kansas State Counseling Services. A controlling parent, for example, may not allow a preschooler to take gymnastics for fear of injury, just as she won't allow a conscientious and responsible teenager to drive. She may also justify her controlling and fear-inspired rules as necessary for the safety of her child.
A controlling parent, regardless of whether she's over-protective, often uses intimidation and force to ensure obedience. When the kids are younger, yelling and punishment, or the threat thereof, are usually enough to maintain control. As the children grow up, a controlling parent may resort to monetary control or emotional support, or the potential loss thereof, to control their children.