Many parents don’t try or want to control their kids or think that what they are doing is actually a good deed. But, these common parenting strategies that we are all familiar with are actually doing more bad than good, and we are becoming toxic parents. As a parent, many of us strive to be good parents, to make sure we are raising our kids right, and to give them a healthy environment to live in.
All we want is for them to be happy, but a lot of the time it’s not always an easy task because it’s not realistic to make them happy all the time, but what we need to do is help them navigate through the tough times, and not judge them. Being a parent isn’t about having control over your child, but help them venture into this huge world, and know that they aren’t alone in it.
It can become difficult to keep your cool and not show your frustration when things get overwhelming or you’re trying to teach your child a lesson. But, we need to be aware of how we are handling the situation and how it will affect them, because our toxic and controlling actions can lead to unhealthy behavior that will affect your child years to come.
I’m not talking about just physical but emotional trauma whether you mean to or not.
We all have grown up in pretty much the same mindset as far as punishments, rewards, criticizing, threats, etc. Most of these aren’t intended to hurt our children but to “teach” them a lesson, but in reality, it damages them, their mind, and their spirit, and showing them that we have control over them. But, that is not what we want to teach them.
I’m not here to tell you that you’re a bad parent or that your child is forever ruined, but to help you navigate through the hardships of parenting without the lifelong trauma to your child that can cause severe issues down the road. This will help you be more of a conscious parent to ensure that your child grows up to have self-compassion, self-esteem, empathy, and be an over-all happy, caring and healthy child.
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Conditional Parenting vs Unconditionally Parenting
Before we get into the common parenting misuses that make us controlling parents, we should talk about what conditional parenting and unconditional parenting is and what the differences are.
Most of us have grown up with conditioned parents, this isn’t necessarily bad or good or your parents fault, it’s just what has been passed down through generations. We’ve adapted to this and this was the only way we knew or know how to parent. The goal as a parent as a conditional parent is to teach kids right from wrong, get them to listen to them and obey them, so they can be prepared for the world.
As conditional parents or controlling parents, we teach them things so they will be successful people and that will reflect on us. We show our kids love, but only when they are doing the right thing. If they are doing the wrong thing we need to teach them a lesson so they will be too scared to do the same thing again, which often leads to love withdrawn.
We praise them for things that we see as perfect or the right thing to do, which leads them to do things only to please us or the person that is giving them praise, instead of doing something for themselves to please themselves and make themselves feel fulfilled.
Conditional parenting is about making it easier for us, and more convenient for us not thinking about the child and their needs, feelings, or thoughts. They are just supposed to be there to be seen and not heard. What is that teaching them? That they don’t have a voice, they are too young and ignorant to know what they need or want and how they feel is not important.
That is not a way to raise a child. It’s a harsh truth, but just listening to this. no wonder why some kids turn into adults that have a lot of hurt and confusion about life, but this is what they were taught and how they end up as controlling parents also.
But, there is so much more involved to parenting than this.
As an unconditional parent, we help our kids navigate through life without judgment, criticism, and accepting them for who they are. We love them unconditionally whether they made mistakes, did the “wrong” thing, we show them love not only when they accomplished something or did something good, but also at their trying moments as well.
How Punishments and Threats Make Controlling Parents
Threats are threats, no one likes to be threatened to do something or behave a certain way because that is what YOU want. So, why would we do that to our child? Threatening to take something away because they hit their sibling doesn’t really make sense, and will only anger the child. Threats make every one of any age feel diminished and weak like they don’t have control over the situation- if they don’t do what they are told to do then something bad will happen to them. Picture a child hearing that from their parents “if you don’t stop doing that, then I’m going to spank you”, how small that must make them feel. All it does is install fear into them, not reasoning and logic.
There is a lot of controversy about punishing a child, to spank or not to spank, but punishment whether it’s physical or simply a time out does nothing positive to a child, and it is damaging to them. It might seem like it’s working in the moment, but the long term it’s not working at all.
There are a lot of scientific studies that back up everything that we are talking about in this article. Spanking and yelling, has shown that it causes a lot of harm to them psychologically, emotionally, and to their actual brain.
Punishment teaches them in order to get someone to do what they want they need to use their power to make that person unhappy so they will cease to resist.
When parents punish their kids it can break the relationship they have. The child will have a hard time looking at us as safe and caring allies and be confused about who they can trust. They start to wonder why the person that gives them the big hugs and kisses also seems to go out of their way to hurt me or take things I like away. If you are trying to “teach them a lesson” they don’t see it that way. They see this person they thought they could trust as a person that dismisses their feelings, needs, making them feel unworthy. They will start to feel that they need to keep their distances from you.
The point parents hope to make with time-outs is for the child to reflect on what they have done and know that what they did wasn’t right. In reality, they aren’t doing that at all. They are sitting in their time-out thinking how mean their parents are, how sad they are because they feel like they aren’t wanted around. Their actual thoughts being in time-outs is distracting them from the real “lesson” that you are trying to teach.
When giving a time-out it is showing love withdrawal, it is telling your child that you only want them to be around if they listen to you and do what you say, and not displease you. This can lead to feeling emotionally abandoned, unloved and unwanted. Psychologist Herbert Lovett put it this way when he observed when kids are being ignored when they are misbehaving, “We don’t know why you do this and we don’t care.”
Instead of ignoring their behavior and thinking that they are acting this way “just because they want attention” maybe we should be giving them the attention. Ask them how they are feeling, what they are needing. Ask them more questions and stop doing all the talking, let them be heard. If they are getting more upset when you ask them questions, then give them that space, let them be upset, angry whatever they are feeling, don’t try to fix it, just let them accept their feelings and emotions.
There may be instances where you say “no” and you explain why you said “no” like them wanting to go outside after a bath. It is frustrating having to repeat yourself over and over, at that time it’s ok to stop telling them why and let them have that space to be upset, let them know you understand their frustration and together you’ll figure something out that sounds fun that can fulfill their need, let them think of the solution. If that still doesn’t work then let them be upset, but let them know you notice them and hear them, your child may still be upset, but won’t feel unloved or unwanted.
You and your child can talk in advance not during an upsetting moment, about a safe place they can go to calm down, maybe read a book or play with toys, just to take a breather. It is completely in their control so they can feel safe, not isolated against their will, and not fearing of any repercussions.
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How Rewards, Bribes and Praise Make Controlling Parents
This is a very common practice for parents and teachers, and pretty much anyone is your child’s life. As good as rewards and praise seem to be, they actually send a different message to your child then intended and often subconsciously.
I know what you are thinking because when I heard this I was like what?! How is my child supposed to feel good about themselves after accomplishing something, or feeling like they were noticed for their hard work.
There are ways for your child to feel good about themselves and their accomplishments without rewards and praise. Rewards take away from the meaning of whatever they are doing. They are doing something just to get something back in return, instead of wanting to do something for the simple act of doing it. As they get older they will only do something if it benefits them, or if they get something in return.
Studies have shown the kids that have been rewarded for doing something nice don’t think of themselves as nice people. Instead they tend to attribute their behavior to the reward. Resource: Unconditional Parenting
We tend to look at rewards to motivate kids or people to do something. But the problem is that there are two different types of motivation- intrinsic and extrinsic motivation according to psychologists.
Intrinsic motivations means you like doing something for its own sake, and extrinsic motivation means you do something to get a reward or avoid punishment. Study after study has shown that the more a child of any age, gender, culture is given a reward for doing something, the less interested they are in the actual task and once they are rewarded they stop doing that task, vs a child that isn’t rewarded they tend to still enjoy the task at their own doing.
We wouldn’t want kids to only be motivated to do something and stop just to receive a reward, but for them to have a genuine interest that lasts long after the rewards are gone.
It’s so hard not to praise your child. I am not in any way saying don’t be proud of your child or let them know you are proud, there are ways to let them know you are proud and for them to feel proud of themselves. For instance, studies have shown if you say “good job” for a creative task well done, the person will often stumble at performing the next task because it creates pressure to keep up the good work. Kind of along with the rewards it could be because they are lacking the interest of what they are doing, but only looking for the praise again.
Avoiding rewards and praise can really teach kids about empathy. How so? Well, take for example a child isn’t sharing a toy and you tell them that they need to, then when they do you say great job. They share again and they are looking around for that praise again, if it’s not there then they are more likely to stop sharing.
But, if a child shares simply because they wanted to, and not look around to see if mom or dad approves they learn how good it feels and see how happy the other child is, they appreciate the experience rather than doing something just because they are getting approval from someone.
Positive reinforcement illustrates conditional parenting or controlling parenting, just like negative reinforcement. It shows that if they behave or do what WE like then they are shown love and acceptance from us. And if they don’t behave how we want them to behave or if they did something bad then we withdraw our love and we don’t accept who they are. We are pretty much saying that we want them to jump through hoops in order to get our acceptance and approval, and love.
Rewards, bribes, and praise is a practice of conditional love vs unconditional love- “If you do these good deeds then I will be happy, and I will show you love and my acceptance.” A lot like punishments and treats- “If you keep being bad and disappointing me then I won’t show you my love or acceptance.”
As your child grows older in every aspect of their life they will feel like the only way they will belong and feel accepted is if they behave the way everyone else wants them to behave or else. Also, they will only do something good only if they get something for it. The same can go for punishment and threats, they will find a way to get away with something they did that was bad by lying or being sneaky to avoid the punishment.
When we show punishments, rewards, bribes or praise we are manipulating them into behaving the way we want them to behave, rather than letting them be their own person, and accepting them for who they are. By manipulating them we are being controlling parents and showing approval or disapproval only whether they meet our expectations or not.
Books I highly recommend reading to help you learn how to become an unconditional parent and improve your communication with your child and everyone in your life.
How Criticizing Is A Toxic Parenting Practice
As humans it is really hard not to criticize, we are always around it and it’s a defense mechanism in away. As being a parent it is very important to not criticize your child whether it be their behavior, their style, their interests, hobby, anything. We are here to be their encourager, their support system, the one that they can rely on to ensure them they can be who they are and we will love them NO matter what. Criticizing leads a child to feel unworthy.
If your child at any age is doing something that is wrong or hurting someone or just disrespectful, really focus on the problem in the situation. You can say something like, “Taking that toy away from your brother when he was playing with it really hurt his feelings” instead of “Don’t be a bully, you better be nice and share.”
How we present ourselves when there is a heated moment or something we don’t agree with is just as important if not more important than just reacting and what we say. It’s important to be gentle, (it’s hard but it’s a practice) in the frustrating times. Our body language, tone of voice, facial expressions leave a huge impact on our child more than we think. When we are standing there pointing our fingers, having a mean face on, and talking down to them that’s what they are focusing on and will remember. Being gentle and calm will leave a big impact and a more positive unconditional loving impact on them.
Instead of lecturing and getting frustrated with your child about a situation that just happened, take this time to teach them. Instead of saying “Why won’t you just listen to me, I told you not to hit him!” You can help them realize the effects of their acts it has on other people. If your child just hit another child you can point out what you have observed and say, “I know you got frustrated with him, but what could you have done instead of hitting him?” If they don’t know the answer help them navigate to the answer. This will all take practice, it might not fix things right away, but it is training their brain to think about how they are feeling, and how they want to handle the situation.
Why saying “No” can make you a controlling parent
Saying “no” is such an easy thing to say to your child, perhaps too easy. Take note throughout the day on how many times you say no to your child or anyone in a day. Then reflect on exactly why you are saying “no.” Are you saying no because what they are doing can hurt someone or that themselves, or are you saying no just because it’s convenient to you, really think about why you are saying “no”.
Parenting is exhausting, and it’s so easy to say no just because it’s the easier thing to do, like when your child wants you to get them something, or when they want you to play with them for the 50th time that day, or open something for them. If you are saying no just because it’s something you don’t want to do, or it’s an inconvenience to you then there is a chance that there will be friction. If we constantly say “no”, then that person will start to feel heavy, pushed down, unimportant.
I’m not saying we shouldn’t have structure or boundaries with our kids, but there is a way to set structure while saying yes, or saying “no” in a more positive way. I’m not saying to never ever say no to kids, because it’s still important for them to hear no, but when it’s really necessary. Kids need reasoning, if you are always saying no, and not explain why you are saying no, they will feel like they have no voice, have no control, and their needs won’t be met.
Use communication to for them to understand, when they are young or even teens stating your reasoning to them will let both sides have the chance to express your thoughts. If you just say “because I said so,” when they ask why, leaves them questioning, confused, and pissed off. It also gives you a chance to really think about why you are really saying no. If it’s because you just don’t want to play with them, then be honest with them and say, “you know, I’m really tired and just need a break, I’ll play with you in a little bit.”
If we use the negative language over and over like no, don’t, or stop it starts to mean nothing to them. If we limit how often we use these words, the better they will listen and the more powerful the words are when they are needed to be used.
What this comes down to is using negative language often gives the person the power of control, and makes the other person feel diminished. There are ways to say “no” in a positive way to still have structure and teach your child. Like I said the less we use the words “no”, “stop”, “don’t”, “can’t” etc. the more useful they will come when they are really needed like in really dangerous situations.
Down below are some ways you can rephrase the way you are saying no and the other negative language, but still get the point across and teaching them structure without making them feel belittled. You can fill out your email address and the list will be sent straight to your email.
Since most of us have grown up with either being rewarded, bribed, being told no and so on, it’s so hard to break these habits. However, it’s so important the kids of all ages feel like they have control over their lives. That they have a voice and know that their thoughts, beliefs, and feelings are completely valid, and we appreciate them, this will do a number on creating an extremely strong bond between you and your child, and having a healthy relationship with you and anyone else they encounter throughout their life.