Developmental and social psychologists have long been investigating the nature and nurture of parenting styles and behaviours. For most parents, that means developing a healthy balance in how demanding and responsive we are to our children’s development. Most children grow up to develop healthy relational attachments, demonstrate emotional and intellectual competence and self-regulatory behaviours because of these responsible efforts of parents.
For some parents, however, best intentions turn into unhealthy patterns of control, the extreme of which is described as intrusive parenting. Intrusive parents rely heavily on methods of manipulation, constraint, and even physical punishment. In their best attempts to keep children protected and relationally close, these parents use techniques that include excessive overtures of guilt, shame and withdrawal of love. The result, rather than producing children who develop healthy senses of self and autonomous identity, are children who push strongly against these misdirected attempts.
Parents use these patterns of control for a variety of reasons. Some use them because of external forces like economic or familial pressure, others in response to the difficult personalities of their children, and still others because they have their own personal issues of perfectionism or self-criticism. Whatever the origin, intrusive parenting can be overcome by strategies that encourage healthy autonomy-supportive relationships.
This paper explores how parents’ use of balanced behavioural control contributes to healthy development in their children but how psychological control can lead to undesirable outcomes for both the parent and the child.
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