Families grow stronger when parents use good discipline practices and refuse to use physical coercion or psychological control to influence their children. According to Craig H. Hart, professor in the School of Family Life at Brigham Young University, psychology, “such psychologically coercive parenting approaches can be as harmful to a child’s psyche as physical coercion.” Professor Hart is assisted in his research by associate professors David A. Nelson, Clyde C. Robinson, and Larry J. Nelson. Most parents want their children to grow up to be “emotionally and socially competent adults” and therefore must watch their parenting efforts for any use of physical or psychological coercion.
“In child development literature `psychological control’ refers to discipline or attempted influence of a child that takes advantage of the child’s wish for love and approval from his or her parents. These manipulations include guilting, shaming, withdrawing love, wounding with sarcasm or condescending remarks, teasing in a way that belittles, and discounting feelings or ideas.”
Short term obedience or compliance might take place because of psychological or physical control, but there may also be long-term consequences such as rebellion, delinquency, etc. In order for children to learn proper self-control, they must be taught in ways that will help them to internalize the desired values.
Delinquency and bullying of others may result from severe forms of psychological control such as yelling, screaming, and harsh criticism. Girls who have manipulative parents may develop “mean girl” syndrome and punish or bully other girls while following the example of parents.
The practice of over-protection can be another form of psychological control and can cause a child to withdraw or feel anxiety. Children need opportunities and time to learn to interact socially with other children and to develop good social skills. The best place to learn these behaviors is in the home with loving parents.
All of us should remember that there are no perfect mortal parents and that all mortals, even parents, error. Most parents understand that physical coercion is wrong, but some fail to understand the problems and impact caused by psychological coercion.
All adults should realize and remember that every child is born with the gift of agency or the ability to make choices. Parents must understand the need to help children to learn how to use their agency wisely.
“The researchers say the antidote to both physical and psychological control is to practice `authoritative,’ gospel-centered parenting, which is a loving and supportive approach toward children, balanced with reasonable limits and accountability. The ultimate goal is autonomy, and children need small, increasing amounts of it as they gradually develop the ability to make their own good choices….”
Elder Boyd K. Packer taught that teaching correct principles improves behavior faster [and better] than teaching behavior improves behavior. Children need to be taught proper principles. As they understand a principle and why it is important, they will internalize it.
The professors suggested several ways that parents can learn to give autonomy to their children. 1) Give children opportunities to make choices. Parents can allow even toddlers to decide which cracker, fruit, or vegetable they want to eat, which book to read, or which outfit to wear. As children grow, the types of choices become bigger also: which sport to learn, which musical instrument to play, which family activities to join, which classes to take, or which college to attend. 2) Watch your body language as well as your words. Make sure that both express love and acceptance. 3) Give yourself time outs as needed. I remember numerous times when I locked myself in the bathroom or went to my bedroom until I could parent in a more positive manner.
I would add the following ideas that are based on the fact that all of our children are on loan to us from our Heavenly Father. He sent them to us for at least two reasons: 1) Children need someone to love them, care for them, and teach them properly. 2) Adults need the experience of being parents to learn Godlike characteristics. We can learn skills and virtues through parenting that are difficult or impossible to learn in any other experience. Knowing that Heavenly Father is interested in both us and our children, I find it very reasonable to believe that He will help us in our parenting efforts if we take the time and make the effort to discuss the situation with Him.
The second idea I would add is that parents must remember that children eventually grow up to be adults. If we want to have good relationships with our adult children, we need to develop good relationships with them as children and teenagers.
As we practice good parenting and teach correct principles, we must continually remind ourselves that our children are agents unto themselves. They will accept and learn according to their own time table and may take years – or never – achieve the outcome we desire for them.
Parents can strengthen their family by using good discipline practices and guarding against physical or psychological coercion.
Ideas and quotes are from article by Sue Bergin in BYU Magazine, Spring 2011, pp. 26-27.