Why children resent their hovering helicopter mums: Pushy mothers create negative feelings in their children

by on February 21, 2013

in Weekly

  • Bossy mothers risk stifling children’s creativity
  • Mothers urged to allow toddlers to have fun

By Fiona Macrae

Their children may be fluent in Mandarin and accomplished violinists, but pushy mums can expect little thanks.

A study found that ‘helicopter mothers’ who hover over and control their children’s lives are resented.

And the bossier they are, the more the discontent builds.

Resentment: ‘Helicopter mothers’ who hover over and control their children’s lives can expect little thanks in the future, a study suggests
Researcher Professor Jean Ispa, from the University of Missouri, said: ‘Children flourish when they have opportunities to make choices about what they do, particularly in play situations.’ The University of Missouri team studied videos of children playing with their mothers.

‘Mothers who are highly directive do not allow that kind of choice. In our study, the children were playing with some toys, and the very directive mothers were making the decisions about how to play, what to play and how quickly to play,’ the professor said.

‘Children flourish when they have opportunities to make choices about what they do’

Professor Jean Ispa, University of Missouri

More than 2,000 children were taped when they were aged one, two and three and again before they started school.

The pushy mothers tended to correct their children, rather than simply allowing them to have fun.

For instance, when a child tried to put a plastic cow into a toy barn through the window, the mother would show them how to put it through the door instead.

And if a child was playing with a pretend kitchen set, the controlling mother might not let the child touch the fake burners on the stove.

Professor Ispa, an expert in human development, said that while mothers might think they are helping the their children by correcting them, they may instead be stifling their creativity.

Their interference may also mean their children find spending time with them less enjoyable.

However, warm and caring parenting cancels out some of the negative effects of bossiness, according to the report published in the journal Parenting: Science and Practice.

Professor Ispa said: ‘Even if mothers were very directive, if they were also warm, the negative effects of high directiveness lessened.

‘We know that children, regardless of culture, need to feel loved.

‘Children take in the meaning of what their mothers are trying to do, so if a mum is being very directive and is generally a very warm person, I think the child feels, “My mum is doing this because she cares about me, and she’s trying to do the best for me.”
‘If that warmth is missing, then the child might feel, “My mum is trying to control me, and I don’t like it.”‘
She added that as the children got older, the mothers tended to become less bossy, perhaps because they trusted them more.

British head teachers have warned of the peril of ‘helicopter parents’, saying that ambitious mothers and fathers are condemning middle-class children to years of stress and anxiety.

And some parents are still hovering over their children when they leave school.

Universities have complained about parents joining their sons and daughters for freshers’ week, with some even sleeping in their children’s dorms.

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