How can we help our children to be happy, healthy and successful?
Most of the problems and symptoms that children and teenagers experience are underpinned by a perceived lack of control. Weisz, Weiss, Wasserman, and Rintoul (1987), for example, demonstrated a relationship between a sense of personal helplessness and perceived incompetency and depression in childhood. Nanda, Kotchick and Grover (2012) found links between a perceived lack of control and anxiety symptoms in children between the ages of 8 and 11 years old. Perceived control has, also, been linked to school achievement (e.g. Stipek and Gralinski, 1996).
So why do some children and adolescents feel helpless in their lives? How can parents or caregivers help their children to feel that they are capable, powerful and able to respond positively to challenges and difficulties?
Plenty of research has indicated that over-protective or over-controlling parenting can contribute to children’s perceived lack of control. Nanda, Kotchick and Grover (2012, p. 638) have highlighted that “overprotective parents may not see their child as capable or consider the world to be so unsafe that they need to protect their child. As a result, children of overprotective parents may develop a sense of themselves as vulnerable, and a sense of the world as dangerous.” They have stated that with parental over-control, “because parents are the ones who are controlling their children’s lives, their children do not believe they have any internal control themselves” (p. 643). They have, also, suggested that parental over-control may prevent children from learning age-appropriate skills and behaviours, so that when such children are faced with everyday challenges requiring independence, they feel incompetent and powerless.
Whilst research has suggested that it is important not to be over-controlling and over-protective, it has, also, demonstrated that it is still important for parents to provide children with consistent boundaries and rules. McClun and Merrell (1998) found that adolescents who perceived their parents as being authoritative (putting in place firm boundaries and rules, combined with listening to the child and allowing them to make choices) had a much more internal locus of control than children who
perceived their parents as either authoritarian (very restrictive and demanding) or permissive (non-restrictive and allowing the child to do whatever they like). A complete lack of structure and boundaries may, thus, be as damaging as over-control, as it can leave life seeming unpredictable and uncertain to a child.
Giving children and teenagers appropriate responsibilities, such as helping with household chores or caring for younger siblings, can, also, help them to develop independence and believe that they are competent and capable. Benard (1991) has suggested that, “when children are given responsibilities, the message is clearly communicated that they are worthy and capable of being contributing members of the family.”
With Thrive, we often find that taking parents through the programme is the most effective way to help children who are having problems, such as depression, anxiety, phobias, shyness, problems at school, anger problems and more! By teaching parents all about the psychology of symptoms and how to develop the skills needed to thrive in life, they are then able to implement positive changes within their family life and pass the vital knowledge and skills onto their child. Parents can be the best people to help their children, because they see them on a daily basis and can continually reinforce adaptive behaviours.
Benard, B. (1991) Fostering resiliency in kids: Protective factors in the family, school, and community.
McClun, L.A. and Merrell, K.W. (1998). Relationship of perceived parenting styles, locus of control orientation, and self-concept among junior high age students. Psychology in the Schools, 35(4), 381-390
Nanda, Kotchick and Grover (2012). Parental psychological control and childhood anxiety: The mediating role of perceived lack of control. Journal of Child & Family Studies, 21 637–645
Stipek, D. and Gralinski, J.H. (1996). Children's beliefs about intelligence and school performance. Journal of Educational Psychology, 88(3), 397-407
Weisz, J.R., Weiss, B., Wasserman, A.A. and Rintoul, B. (1987). Control-related beliefs and depression among clinic-referred children and adolescents. Journal of Abnormal Psychology, 96(1), 58-63