All mothers want to do the best for their child, but the secret to being a good mum could actually be to do less, a new study suggests.
Researchers into how parents’ behaviour affects children’s development found that less controlling mothers have the strongest relationships with their children.
The study from the University of Missouri found that the more mothers tried to control and direct their child’s play, the less engaged the children became and the more negative feeling they had towards their mums.
“Children flourish when they have opportunities to make choices about what they do, particularly in play situations,” Jean Ispa, lead author of the study and professor of human and family studies at the University of Missouri, said in a press statement.
As part of the study, which was published in Parenting: Science and Practice
, Ispa and her colleagues used pre-recorded videos to analyse mothers playing with their children under five.
The controlling or ‘directive’ mothers would do things such as tell their toddlers how to play with their toys, correct them by doing things such as telling them not to touch plastic stoves or burners, and try to tell them how quickly to play.
Of course, these mothers thought they were doing the right thing by showing them the correct way to play, said Ispa, but the study revealed they’re actually limiting the child’s creativity and even making their child enjoy being with them less.
The good news, however, is that being affectionate can help counteract some of these negative feelings a child may develop.
The research revealed that if mothers who were very controlling were also warm, then the children had less of a negative reaction – and alternatively mothers who were cold and unaffectionate while telling their child how to play made the child more negative towards the relationship.
"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.’,” says Ispa.
The researchers suggest that mothers who want to develop a strong relationship with their child need to be affectionate during play and try to limit how much they tell their children what to do – as far as self-improvement goes, being told to do less for once doesn’t sound too bad. Words by Fiona MacDonald
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