Parenting right for brighter futures: caring not controlling

We all know that parenting is the toughest job out there; now new research supports The Thrive Programme and helps us to do it right.


Caring and sensitivity

As far back as the Bowlby research in the 1960s a link was established between maternal responsiveness, sensitivity, and secure attachment, resulting in healthy and positive outcomes: this is now brought up to date with new research exploring a range of important factors such as independence, autonomy, self-esteem, identity and resilience, positive mental health and ultimately happiness.

The research carried out by University College London (UCL) focused on controlling vs caring parenting styles and asked participants to agree or disagree with such statements as “appeared to understand my problems and worries,” “tried to control everything I did,” “let me go out as often as I wanted”.

Dr Mai Stafford from the MRC Unit for Lifelong Health & Ageing at UCL, explains: “We found that people whose parents showed warmth and responsiveness had higher life satisfaction and better mental well-being throughout early, middle and late adulthood.”


So what is controlling parenting?

When parents are controlling they limit the amount of decisions the child can make, which also means they are less likely to learn from their own mistakes and conflicts. They may also invade their privacy, and not let the child have any psychological ‘space’.


And what are the effects of controlling parenting?

Children need to develop many psychological resources if they are to progress confidently and happily into adulthood. When parents are over controlling it limits the child’s opportunities to develop these, as they do not get to interact independently with their environment.


Controlling parenting and mental health

Without opportunities to practice self-directed, independent decision making, children are less likely to develop a sense of control. Without a sense of control they are more vulnerable to anxiety and other negative mental health outcomes.

Ballash et al. (2006) found that familial over involvement, and higher levels of behavioural control in childhood were related to college students’ perceived lack of control, which then was related to greater levels of anxiety symptoms.


So how do we do it right?

Caring not controlling

An internal locus of control is a psychological outlook where the child believes they are largely able to control what happens to them and in their lives. In other words, what they do, how they behave, the decisions they make matter, as they believe their own efforts will make a real difference in their lives.

To help children develop an internal locus of control, parents can allow children age-appropriate levels of autonomy to make safe decisions. Children will usually make good decisions when they have been taught about safe choices as well as consequences. A good place for parents to start would be to have open discussions and allow their children to express their own points of view.


Empowering your child

Building resilience

  • Developing resilience as a foundation to enable children to ‘bounce forward’ from set backs, learn from their mistakes, have a positive attitude to new and future challenges, and a belief that they will be able to cope with new demands.
  • Caring parenting involves recognising achievements with positive reinforcements so that children gain confidence and begin to develop positive self-esteem.
  • Listen to your child and allow them to express themselves fully as this will strengthen the bond between you giving your child the security to venture out and try new things, which in turn helps to develop independence and autonomy.
  • Help children solve their own problems by encouraging them to think about possible solutions and outcomes as this will help them develop independent thinking and increase self-efficacy.
  • Support and encourage your child when confronted with difficulties and obstacles helping them to find a positive way forward; this will not only enhance their problem solving skills, boost their self-esteem and raise their self-efficacy, it will also lead to them confronting problems with positivity and optimism.
  • Involve your children in family decision making and perhaps even involve them in discussions about rules and responsibilities so that they develop a sense of responsibility and control, as well as valuing their contributions.

You can help your child to Thrive!

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