You love your kids and want to protect them from making mistakes, getting hurt and failing. When you do this in a manner that’s controlling and paranoid, your results may be less than optimal. ''Uber-strict parents who rule with a controlling, iron fist -- while not giving their children a chance to speak their mind -- are more likely to raise children who are disrespectful and engage in delinquent behaviors such as stealing, hurting others, and/or substance abuse," states Denise Mann, in her article,“Overly Strict, Controlling Parents Risk Raising Delinquent Kids” as cited on WebMD. By loosening your grip over your children -- and being responsive to your children's needs, you're more likely to establish trust and respect, and to get the results you seek.
Types of Controlling Parents
There are eight controlling parenting styles: perfectionist, smothering, using, abusive, depriving, chaotic, cult-like and childlike, according to the psychotherapist and clinical member of the American Association for Marriage and Family Therapy Dan Neuhart, Ph.D., on his website ControllingParents.com. A parent who is paranoid may have a cult-like controlling style, where he feels anxiety about uncertainty and uses rigid rules to compensate. A child with a parent like this may feel as if he has to perfectly follow the rules to receive affection from his parent. A paranoid parent with a smothering style may be afraid of feeling alone, which, according to Neuhart, may make a child less independent and autonomous. A parent with a perfectionist parenting style might be afraid of flaws, thereby driving a child to possibly fixate on outward appearances. By knowing what type of controlling parenting style you have, you can have a better understanding of your behavior toward your children, and how you can begin to change. Since changing isn’t easy, you may find value in working with a family therapist.
Examining Parenting Style Origins
An overbearing parent can start to change her parenting style to one that’s more positive by examining her past according to Steven Richfield, Ph.D, in the article “Parenting Help: Controlling the Controlling Parent” on the HealthyPlace website. Richfield suggests that controlling and paranoid parents often had a parent with a similar parenting style. By determining the reasons or influences behind your parenting style, you can begin to change your parenting and have a healthier relationship with your child. In the parenting magazine “Your Teen Mag,” Deborah Gilboa, MD, says in an online article, “Helicopter Parent: Advice from an Expert,” that it may be difficult to change your parenting style, because it’s hard to change how you feel -- but change isn’t impossible. Gilboa adds that how you feel isn’t as important as your actions -- you can still change your actions without changing your feelings or letting go of your values.
Engage Instead of Control
Gilboa recommends that controlling parents should engage with their children instead of try to control them. When you listen more than offer advice or tell your child what to do, you loosen the reins, give your child some autonomy and allow him to learn from his successes and failures. For example, if your child tells you about a problem that she's having with a friend, ask her what she thinks might help, instead of offering unsolicited advice or telling her what she should do to fix the situation. After your child tells you her solution, tell her that you'd like to know the results. By doing this, you engage in a conversation where you talk with, not at, your child. While it’s important to be there for your child, there are several ways to offer support. Plus, allowing your child to experience failure and disappointment in a healthy manner, is a natural part of life that will help him improve his problem-solving skills, build resilience and learn about natural, logical consequences.
Authoritative Instead of Authoritarian
In the University of New Hampshire online news release, “Controlling Parents More Likely to Have Delinquent Children, UNH Research Shows,” researcher Rick Trinker explains that a study that he and New Hampshire University professors conducted revealed that authoritative parenting styles have the most positive outcomes. An authoritative parent is one who is controlling and has standards regarding discipline, but is receptive and warm to the needs of her child. On the other hand, an authoritarian parent is highly controlling, demanding, unreceptive and undetached to the needs of her child. An authoritarian parent practices unilateral communication with her children and expects them to obey rules without questions or complaints. Consequently, children with authoritarian parents are more likely to be withdrawn, unhappy and distrustful. By opening up the lines of communication with your child and allowing him to express his opinions about rules, even if you don’t change them, your child is more likely to feel happy, have better self-control, be more self-reliant and view you as an authority figure.