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FRIDAY, Feb. 6, 2015 (HealthDay News) -- Helicopter parents, take note: A mother has a better relationship with her child if she respects the youngster's need for independence at a young age, a new study suggests.
Mothers who allowed children more freedom at age 2 were viewed more positively by their children later in childhood, according to the University of Missouri study.
The study included more than 2,000 mothers and their children. The researchers observed how much the mothers controlled the children's play at age 2 and then interviewed the children at fifth grade to assess how they felt about their mothers.
"When mothers are highly controlling of small children's play, those children are less likely to want to engage with them," Jean Ispa, co-chair of the department of human development and family studies, said in a university news release.
Respect for independence is important both for children's growth and for creating positive parent-child relationships, she said. "We found that mothers who supported their children's autonomy were regarded more positively by their children than mothers who were highly directive," she said.
"Mothers who are very directive when their children are toddlers often tend to still be controlling when their children enter adolescence," Ispa noted.
Mothers with small children mostly use physical controls, she said, but when children are older these directives become more verbal and psychological -- not allowing kids to speak their mind, for instance. "It's not surprising that their children begin to view them in a negative light," Ispa said.
The findings, published online recently in the journal Social Development, don't mean that parents should not establish and enforce rules or offer advice, Ispa said. She noted that behavioral rules -- such as teaching children to check for cars before crossing the street -- did not have a negative impact on mother-child relationships.
It was psychological control -- such as inducing guilt or telling children what to think and feel, or to play in certain ways -- that damaged mother-child relationships, the study found.
"Many times, parents think that employing these controlling behaviors is the 'right way' to raise children, but our research shows that really does not work," Ispa said.
"Allowing children age-appropriate levels of autonomy to make safe decisions is very good for kids, and they usually will make wise decisions when they have been taught about safe choices as well as consequences," she added.
"A good place for parents to start would be to have open discussions and allow their children to express their own points of view," she suggested. "When giving children instructions, explain reasons for decisions rather than simply saying, 'Because I said so.' "
-- Robert Preidt
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