Kids of helicopter parents less able to control emotions, behaviour

Wednesday, July 25, 2018

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NEW research has found that over-controlling parents, also known as helicopter parents, can have a negative effect on their child's ability to manage his or her emotions and behaviour.

Carried out by researchers from the University of Minnesota and the University of North Carolina, United States, as well as the University of Zurich, Switzerland, the study followed 422 children over an eight-year period, assessing them at ages two, five and 10.

Researchers collected data from their own observations of parent-child interactions, in which parents and children were asked to play as they would at home, as well as teacher reports and self-reports from the children at age 10.

They found that an over-controlling style of parenting when a child was two years old was associated with a child showing poorer emotional and behavioural regulation at age five.

The researchers also found that a child who showed greater emotional regulation at age five was also less likely to have emotional problems and more likely to have better social skills and be more productive in school at age 10.

In addition, those with better impulse control were also less likely to experience emotional and social problems, and were more likely to do better in school at age 10.

“Helicopter parenting behaviour, we saw, included parents constantly guiding their child by telling him or her what to play with, how to play with a toy, how to clean up after playtime, and being too strict or demanding,” explained lead author Nicole B Perry.

“Our research showed that children with helicopter parents may be less able to deal with the challenging demands of growing up, especially with navigating the complex school environment. Children who cannot regulate their emotions and behaviour effectively are more likely to act out in the classroom, to have a harder time making friends and to struggle in school,” said Perry. “The kids reacted in a variety of ways. Some became defiant, others were apathetic and some showed frustration.”

Perry explained that managing emotions and behaviour are key skills that all children need to learn, and helicopter parenting can limit the opportunities children have to develop these skills and grow.

“Our findings underscore the importance of educating often well-intentioned parents about supporting children's autonomy with handling emotional challenges,” said Perry, who suggests that parents can help children learn to control their emotions and behaviour by talking with them about how to understand their feelings, by explaining what behaviours may result from certain emotions, the consequences of different responses, and by identifying and using positive coping strategies such as deep breathing, listening to music, colouring, or retreating to a quiet space.

“Parents can also set good examples for their children by using positive coping strategies to manage their own emotions and behaviour when upset,” she added.

The findings can be found published online in the journal Developmental Psychology.

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