(NaturalNews) Children feel more negative toward parents who try to exercise control over their games, according to a study published in the journal Parenting: Science and Practice. Even more importantly, the researchers noted, such controlling behavior can stifle children's creative development.
"Children flourish when they have opportunities to make choices about what they do, particularly in play situations," lead author Jean Ispa said. "Mothers who are highly directive do not allow that kind of choice.
The researchers studied variation in children's attitudes toward their mothers in relation to how "directive" the mother behaved. A less directive mother is one who interferes less in her child's play, while a highly directive mother regularly instructs the child in what she perceives as more appropriate behavior.
"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," Ispa said.
For example, a highly directive mother might "correct" a child who tried to move a plastic cow into a toy barn via a window rather than a door, or tell a child not to touch the "burners" on a toy stove.
Directive parenting is often driven by a perception that children need to be educated during play time, but the researchers warned that such a practice can stifle children's creativity and cause them to feel distance from their parents.
To measure the influence of directive and less-directive parenting styles, the researchers analyzed prerecorded videos of low income mother-child pairs interacting during the child's play at ages one through five. All participants were enrolled in the Early Head Start Research and Evaluation project, a federal review of the Early Head Start program.
Early Head Start is designed to help improve the cognitive, emotional and social development of low-income children so that they do not start school at a disadvantage.
Loving direction has better effects
The researchers found that in general, children whose mothers were more directive during playtime expressed less positive regard and more negative feeling for their mothers.
This effect was not seen; however, in mothers who exhibited high levels of warmth while behaving directively. This suggests that directive parenting is not in itself a problem, but rather that many parents are harsh and judgmental when giving direction.
"We know that children, regardless of culture, need to feel loved," Ispa said. "Children take in the meaning of what their mothers are trying to do, so if a mom is being very directive and is generally a very warm person, I think the child feels, 'My mom 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 mom is trying to control me, and I don't like it.'"
The study was conducted by researchers from the University of Missouri, Arizona State University, the University of California-Los Angeles, the University of Connecticut, the University of Maryland and the University of North Carolina-Greensboro.