How do you tell if your parents are controlling?

What's Covered

Parents’ goal is to make sure that their child is secure. They want to focus on their well-being by guiding and supporting them. However, there are instances where parents, unconsciously, take over the child’s right to make a decision, or not allowing them to solve problems on their own. Parents may see it as harmless but it could be a cause of stress for their children. It may not be their intention to take command, but controlling parents, also referred to as authoritarian parenting, can greatly affect their children’s development, confidence and self-worth. [1]

Your parents assume your responsibilities and interfering with almost all the aspects of the child’s life.

As a kid, it is normal for your parents to do almost everything for you. But as you grow up, you should be able to easily accomplish tasks on your own, like, cleaning your room, manage your time and schedule, or taking care your budget. You should be able to practice your decision-making skills and know the pros and cons of the situation. As an adult, you should be able to have control over your life. Yes, you need your parents for support and advise, but, ultimately, you should be the one to choose and decide what you want and how you want it done. Letting your parents control your every move is a sign of a helicopter parenting. Studies show that children who have over controlling parents can develop social anxiety and depression, with lower levels of psychological well-being. [2]

Sample scenarios on how parents are being controlling:

  1. Let me handle your finances before you make a mistake.
  2. I will pay for your tuition if you take a course in medicine, it is better than taking an art course.
  3. Do not hang out with that person, or else I will not give you any allowance.

The best thing to deal with them is to call them out. Tell them directly how they make you feel. They may have good intentions by directing you or doing things for you, truth might hurt them, and it can be offensive, but just be honest about how you want to be supported, how you feel and what you wanted to feel. Make them understand that by allowing you to be independent, it can make you a stronger, more confident person. [3]

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Your parents can be manipulative.

When we were young, we tend to just listen to what our parents are saying because, they know what is right. They want what is best for us. And this is a good thing. But as we grow older, our relationship with our parent changes. Adults are starting to have responsibilities. Somehow, we are capable of making our own choices. However, there are parents that cannot just let go of their children, which eventually leads to emotional pressure and stress. Manipulative parents do not consider their children’s personal decisions, as long as they meet their own expectations. They do not care how the child will feel causing low self-esteem, anger, indecisiveness and the need to comply. These relationships are usually one-sided, wherein the demanding parents are the only ones that are happy and satisfied. Manipulative parenting can cause a problem especially for adolescent development. [4]

Signs of Manipulative Parent

  1. It seems like your efforts are never good enough.
  2. You frequently feel guilt-ridden or confused.
  3. It seems as if everything you do is wrong.
  4. Prompting guilt thru emotional blackmail
  5. Forcing children to do things for them that they would not willingly do.
  6. Indirectly blaming their children.

How to deal with it:

You must first understand that most of the time, they are being manipulative subconsciously. However, this doesn’t give them the excuse to continuously behave this way because allowing it only make the situation worse.

  • Do not be afraid or be guilty by changing your behavior.

If you grow up believing that you are not good enough, try to change the way that you see yourself. Surround yourself with supportive friends and do not belittle your capabilities. Praise and reward yourself.

  • Learn how to say ‘No’

This may be hard at first because they might use personal attacks, and you will feel guilty in the long run. They are the masters of guilt and they can use it to make you back down. [5] But learning to say ‘No’ if they are being unreasonable, shows them that you are in control and that you are aware of what they are trying to do.

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Their love can be conditional.

Controlling parents expect you to follow and oblige without hesitations, no questions asked. They expect perfection at all times and if you fail, they get very disappointed and will see you as a failure. For example, they only hug and kiss you when you get the highest honor. Anything below that is not good enough and you will never be enough. They tend to hold it against you and blame you for it.

Signs that your parents love you conditionally:

  • They do not appreciate your achievements and successes.
  • They make you feel like you can do better, always.
  • They show lack of pride when you accomplish great things.
  • You dread talking to your parents because of judgments.
  • You do not feel confident as a child and even as an adult.

Studies show that parents who uses parental conditional parenting leads to their children having low self-esteem, self- depreciation and low self-worth and shame towards themselves. [6] When they say ‘I love you’ they mean ‘Do what I say’. Children naturally wanted their parent’s affection and approval. So

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They have unrealistic rules, unattainable standards and absurdly high expectations.

It is normal for parents to have a certain expectation of us. But setting the a very high expectation can lead to inefficiency and exhaustion and can be unbeneficial for the well-being of the child. Even though most likely, parents with high hopes lead to children’s good performance, it can also damage the children most especially if it is excessively high, almost unattainable. [7]Children can feel too much stress and pressure and could negatively affect their self-worth whenever they fail to meet the set expectations. [8]

How to deal with parents with high expectations?

  • Be honest about what you feel and set an attainable goal with them.
  • Let them know your action plans and check your own expectations.
  • Practice your communication skills.
  • Help them understand that people have different interests, strength and weaknesses.
  • Remind yourself that you are good enough.
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Since parents and their children every so often have different ideas of what success looks like to them, this can cause a harm to their relationship. Some parents consider their child successful if he or she graduated with honors and got accepted to a leading university. So, if the child is artistic or musically inclined, they find him or her a disappointment.

For parents, if you really know your child and your child’s capability, then you should be mindful of the realistic expectations and rules you set for them. Are you being too hard? Are you causing them stress? Allow your child to open up and tell you their goals and aspirations. Be there to support them. Afterall, childhood is not just about accomplishing, but about learning, discovering, growing, and understanding the world.

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They give you unreasonable harsh punishments.

How far is too far when it comes to punishing your child? There is nothing wrong with disciplining your child but when it gets to that point where you’re clearly harming and hurting the child, that’s when it becomes too much. When it gets to the point where the child is traumatized, get depressed or overly sad, then that is too much.

Punishment vs Discipline

Discipline means to teach. Teaching someone to behave by following the rules, manage their behavior then focusing in developing their good conduct. Whereas punishment, involves fear and inflicting suffering because their behavior.

Some common child punishments:

  1. Yelling and name calling
  2. Spanking, pinching or pulling
  3. Inflict physical pain (hitting with an object or have the child stand for hours)
  4. Embarrassment
  5. Taking away privileges (money, food, etc.)

 Negative effects of punishments:

  1. Bullying other children
  2. Aggressive behavior
  3. fearing parents
  4. poor self-esteem
  5. thinking that hitting is acceptable
  6. increased risk of depression, anxiety, and personality problems

It can be overwhelming as a parent to find an effective way to discipline your child. Controlling parents tend to be abusive and punish their child for misbehaviors. It is important that children feel safe and secure and parents should not instill fear just for them to take control of their child. Children need positive reinforcement and praises to encourage them to continue exhibiting good behavior. Studies show that punishments can cause unhappiness, anxiety, feelings of hopelessness, addiction and psychiatric disorders. [9]

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How to Talk So Little Kids Will Listen
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Positive Discipline for Teenagers, Revised 3rd Edition
Adolescence can be a stressful stage for parents too. This book gives you the right understanding on how to deal with teenagers, how to better understand them, how to encourage and support them without being the bad parent. This book will show us how to be effective by disciplining them and not by punishment.

They show lack of appreciation and gratitude

It is very important for a child to hear appreciation from their parents. It is very crucial from them to hear their validation and approval. They need to be accepted and loved. When parents show lack of appreciation, it hurts the child. It can break their heart. It will negatively affect their emotions, therefore, can lead to emotional and mental problems, feeling of unworthiness and rejection. This behavior can cause the child to feel insecure and unsure about themselves. The child will feel unloved and this can be traumatic for the child’s mental and psychological health.[10]

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Appreciate: Celebrating People, Inspiring Greatness
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Ways to show your children that you appreciate them:

Always say ‘Thank you’ even for small simple things.

Kids can be so thoughtful and sometimes, they chose to give you a very humble gift, example, a flower that they picked in the garden. Tell them you love them and the gift was wonderful. It is the thought that counts, right?

Tell them that you are proud of them.

Hearing your parents say they are proud of you, means a lot. Do not hesitate to tell them how amazing they are, if let us say, they danced in school, or they shared their toy with another kid. This will team to appreciate others too.

Give them simple rewards.

Token of appreciation is something that every child would love to receive from time to time. It doesn’t have to be expensive or grand. It can be a quick trip to the ice cream store. Or maybe buying them a good book.

Spend quality time with them.

Spending quality time with your child will make them feel important. They will not feel neglected or taken for granted. This builds confidence and trust. This will also allow them to easily communicate with you growing up.

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They tend to invalidate your feelings

One of the signs of having a controlling parent is the emotional invalidation. If they do not feel like your feelings matter, judge you, ignore you or just reject you completely, then they are definitely controlling you. This is a sign of manipulation and emotional abuse. [11] This is a very hurtful experience for anyone to go through. It is very damaging to a child’s psychological, mental and emotional state. They will develop self-doubt and confusion. Studies shows that children who has history of emotional invalidation results to depression and anxiety and eating disorders. [12]

Ways to validate someone and how not to invalidate.

  • Truly listen and understand what the other person is saying.

Understand where they are coming from. Do not tell them that they are wrong or that it is non sense. Hear their explanation why they are feeling such.

  • Know that their feelings are valid.

Feelings are neither right or wrong. Two people who went through the same experience, may or may not have the same perception. They might feel differently. You may not agree with what the other person is saying or feeling, but what is important is, you acknowledge and sympathize with them.

  • What and what not to tell:
  • You are over-reacting vs I see why you felt that way.
  • Get over it vs let’s try to figure it out.
  • You are so sensitive vs I see how concerning this must be.
  • You always make a big deal out of everything vs I see that you are upset.
  • Let it go vs let’s see what we can do.
  • You shouldn’t feel that way vs I understand why you are feeling this way.

If you have families, friends or workmates who continuously invalidate your feelings, and you feel like they do not respect you, then I think it is time to back out a bit and distance yourself. Don’t let them make you question your own feelings. They should make you feel safe about expressing your feelings and not the other way around. As a parent, it is our job to raise an emotionally and psychologically healthy child. And one way we can do that is to make sure they can communicate with us without judgement. [13]

Final Thoughts

Parents are supposed to love, support and guide their children from young to adulthood. Unfortunately, some parents control their children excessively to the point that they abuse and hurt them. They underestimate their children’s ability and competence. Therefore, children can slowly develop low self-esteem, difficulty with problem-solving, lack of self-confidence and generally affect them negatively. It is important that we do not tolerate it, set our boundaries, communicate and find support.


[1] Grolnick, Wendy S., and Nicholas H. Apostoleris. “What makes parents controlling.” Handbook of self-determination research 161 (2002).

[2] Schiffrin, Holly H., et al. “Helping or hovering? The effects of helicopter parenting on college students’ well-being.” Journal of Child and Family Studies 23.3 (2014): 548-557.

[3] Freier, Anne. “Overbearing Parents as an Adult–How to Deal?.”

[4] Romm, Katelyn F., Aaron Metzger, and Lauren M. Alvis. “Parental psychological control and adolescent problematic outcomes: A multidimensional approach.” Journal of Child and Family Studies 29.1 (2020): 195-207.

[5] Forward, Susan. Toxic parents: Overcoming their hurtful legacy and reclaiming your life. Bantam, 2009.

[6] Assor, Avi, and Karen Tal. “When parents’ affection depends on child’s achievement: Parental conditional positive regard, self-aggrandizement, shame and coping in adolescents.” Journal of adolescence 35.2 (2012): 249-260.

[7] Murayama, Kou, et al. “Don’t aim too high for your kids: Parental overaspiration undermines students’ learning in mathematics.” Journal of Personality and Social Psychology 111.5 (2016): 766.

[8] American Psychological Association. “Parents aiming too high can harm child’s academic performance: Aspiration can help academic achievement only if it is realistic.” ScienceDaily. ScienceDaily, 17 November 2015.

[9] Durrant, Joan, and Ron Ensom. “Physical punishment of children: lessons from 20 years of research.” CMAJ 184.12 (2012): 1373-1377.

[10] Bloch, Jon P. “What Happens When You Did Not Feel Loved as a Child?.”

[11] Krause, Elizabeth D., Tamar Mendelson, and Thomas R. Lynch. “Childhood emotional invalidation and adult psychological distress: The mediating role of emotional inhibition.” Child abuse & neglect 27.2 (2003): 199-213.

[12] Haslam, Michelle, et al. “Invalidating childhood environments in anorexia and bulimia nervosa.” Eating Behaviors 9.3 (2008): 313-318.

[13] Elzy, Meredith Brown. “Emotional invalidation: An investigation into its definition, measurement, and effects.” (2013).

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Author

Vivian Perry

Vivian Perry

Mother of 3 kids. Enjoy reading parenting books and studied child care degree. Vivian loves to learn and write about parenting tips and help her kids to grow positively with grit mindset.
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