Researchers at the University of Missouri say mothers who are excessively controlling and bossy during playtime stifle a child’s creativity. The study found, the more a mother was direct and structured over every aspect of playtime, including the content and pace, the less their children engaged and, over time, built up a negative emotional association.
No one is advocating a free-for-all childhood without boundaries. It’s been shown children without established guidelines often grow up to be fairly spoiled and unruly. However, moderate stress free playtime for a child is essential for healthy emotional and psychological development.
How can you mature artistically and experiment with ideas if someone is telling you how to do something all the time a certain way? Instructing your child on sharing and playing fair is understandable as children require rules with the essential cautioning of dangers. Interrupting a child’s make-believe to correct them on how you would play with a toy is what stifles their imaginative process necessary to build resourceful coping and problem solving skills.
The study, “Patterns of Maternal Directiveness by Ethnicity among Early Head Start Research Participants,” was published in Parenting: Science and Practice and co-authored by Jean Ispa and Duane Rudy. Researchers used pre-recorded videos to analyze pairs of mothers and children from varying ethnicities, interacting in play environments when the children were 1, 2, 3, and 5 years old.
The participates in the study also contributed in the Early Head Start Research and Evaluation project, a federal study of Early Head Start (EHS), a nationwide program designed to assist in the overall development of children from low-income families.
Ispa, a professor of Human Development and Family Studies with a PhD from Cornell University, urged:
“Children flourish when they have opportunities to make choices about what they do, particularly in play situations … 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.”
Along with reviewing how the role of an overbearing mother figure impacted a child’s imagination, researchers studied affection. It was determined, the warmer and more reassuring a mother was to her child, the less the negative effects of her domineering lingered.
“Even if mothers were very directive, if they were also warm, the negative effects of high directiveness lessened in every one of the ethnic groups we studied. If mothers were negative or seemed critical of their kids, then the negative effects of directiveness increased … 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 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.’”
Ispa points out that parents overlook that even children have a need to feel autonomous from time to time. This is their natural drive to experiment, calculate decisions, and problem solve. If they are unable to cultivate and practice these skills, it can predict a fairly stressful teen and adulthood.
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