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The Authoritarian Parent

By Dr. Margaret Paul
September 16, 2009

Authoritarian parenting comes from fears, false beliefs, expectations and ways of attempting to control children that may create negative consequences.

Authoritarian Parenting

When we are operating from our frightened ego wounded self, we generally either try to control our children or allow our children to control us. We are operating as an authoritarian wounded parent when we attempt to have control over our children, and are being a permissive wounded parent when we allow our children to have control over us.

Often we try to control our children in the ways our parents tried to control us or each other, or in ways we learned in childhood from other children or from TV.

Authoritarian Parenting: How Do You Try To Control Your Children?

As you read these ways of trying to control your children, please be very gentle with yourself. We have all learned to control in many ways, and judging yourself for the ways you control will cut off your ability to learn and understand what you are doing and the consequences of these choices.

  • Yelling
  • Getting angry
  • Criticizing, judging
  • Demanding
  • Saying "Tsk, tsk" and shaking my head
  • Getting annoyed, irritated, short, curt
  • Accusing
  • Blaming
  • Pouting, sulking
  • Becoming ill
  • Drama
  • Being sneaky/deceptive
  • Lying or withholding the truth
  • Therapizing, analyzing
  • Dismissing
  • Moralizing
  • Nagging, bitching
  • Lecturing, giving advise
  • Arguing
  • Explaining, convincing, selling
  • Becoming self-righteous
  • Complaining
  • Justifying
  • Interrogating
  • Denying
  • Talking others out of their feelings by telling them they are wrong
  • Asking leading questions to which only one answer is acceptable
  • Bribery
  • Scowling
  • Hitting, spanking
  • Changing the subject
  • Using sarcasm
  • Raising eyebrows
  • Whining
  • Shrugging shoulders
  • Making comparisons
  • Throwing things
  • Interrupting
  • Telling feelings as an accusation that your children are causing them
  • Silent angry withdrawal
  • Acting like a know-it-all
  • Interpreting
  • The silent treatment
  • Disapproving looks
  • Disapproving sighs
  • Blaming tears
  • "Poor me" tears
  • Put-downs
  • A superior attitude
  • Half-truths
  • Being a "nice guy"
  • Giving gifts with strings attached
  • Teaching, point things out without being asked
  • Flattery or giving false compliments
  • Giving in, giving myself up, going along
  • Caretaking - giving to get
  • People pleasing
  • Incessent talking
  • Rescuing
  • Using threats of:

    • Financial withdrawal
    • Emotional withdrawal
    • Exposure to others
    • Abandonment
    • Illness
    • Violence
    • Suicide

Beliefs about Controlling Children

Authoritarian parenting and the resulting need to have control over children comes from many fears and false beliefs. What are your beliefs about controlling your children?

  • I can have control over my children liking me, loving me, caring about what is important to me, respecting me.

The inability to control others' feelings applies to all people, including children. Do your children have control over how you feel about them, how you treat them, whether you like them, love them, care about them, respect them or reject them? You may have some influence on how they feel about you and treat you, but they each decide for themselves how they feel about you.

  • I can have control over the type of people they turn out to be.

Anyone who has ever had children know that they do not come into this world as blank slates. They come in with their own personalities, each one different. We can influence how they turn out by the environment we create and the role-modeling we provide, but we have no actual control over who they choose to be.

  • It is my job as a parent to control my children.

Your job as a parent is to provide a safe, loving environment and healthy role-modeling of personally responsible behavior. When you do your own inner work so that you can provide this, your children will not need to be controlled.

  • If I don't control my children, they will be totally out of control.

Your children will be out of control if:

  • You are out of control and role-model out of control behavior.
  • You are permissive and allow them to violate you and others.
  • They are fed poor diets with too much sugar and processed foods.
  • They are on medication that causes disruptive behavior.
  • They have inherited illnesses or other physical or developmental problems that may lead to out-of-control behavior.

Healthy children do not have to be controlled to behave. They need to see caring behavior modeled and they need you to set loving limits for yourself -- letting them know what you will and will not accept and following through with your own self-loving behavior when they behave in ways that are uncaring about themselves or you.

  • Controlling my children indicates that I care about them.

Children feel cared about when they are cared about, not when they are controlled. No one feels loved when someone is trying to control them.

  • My children will eventually appreciate my controlling them.

We have worked with thousands of people over the years and rarely has anyone said they appreciated being controlled.

  • Controlling children teaches them personal responsibility.

Children learn personal responsibility by seeing it role-modeled. If you do your inner work and become a personally-responsible person, it is likely that they will too. Children tend to do as you do. Controlling children just teaches them to be controlling of others, especially others younger or weaker than them.

Sometimes attempting to control a child can have the opposite effect: he or she may become resistant and rebellious against the control. Rarely, in today's society, do children passively accept being controlled. If they don't rebel as small children, it is very likely that they will rebel as adolescents when you can no longer control them.

  • There are times when hitting or yelling are necessary to get a child to behave.

Millions of children who were never hit or yelled at grow up to be responsible and successful adults. When you hit or yell at a child, you are role-modeling that it is acceptable to hit or yell at someone smaller than you. Do not be surprised if your children learn this from you and take it out on younger children.

  • Children are naturally unruly and need to be controlled.

Children naturally want to please their parents. They are unruly when they are unhappy, hurt, angry, sugared out, drugged out, or have no other way to communicate. They need love rather than control when they are acting out.

Authoritarian Parenting: Expectations for children

Some of the need to control comes from the expectations you may have for your children. Whenever you have expectations, you will feel upset when they are not met. Expectations have to do with what you believe your children will or should do if they love and care about you. Often, our expectations come from false beliefs about caring.

What are some of the expectations you have for your children?

If my children really loved me, cared about me, or if I were really important to them, they would:

  • Never do anything that upsets me.
  • Be ready on time.
  • Agree with me.
  • Lose or gain weight.
  • Go to college.
  • Do their homework.
  • Get good grades.
  • Eat what I cook.
  • Eat with the family.
  • Keep their rooms clean.
  • Eat right and take their vitamins.
  • Do their chores.
  • Dress the way I want them to.
  • Be affectionate.
  • Put their clothes away.
  • Make me proud of them.
  • Give in to me.
  • Do things my way.
  • Do things for me to prove their love for me, such as getting me gifts.
  • Stop drinking or taking drugs.
  • Spend more time me.
  • Stop watching so much TV.
  • Never lie to me.
  • Never argue with me.
  • Talk to me about their problems.
  • Take a shower every day.
  • Stop being friends with kids I don't like.
  • Become a doctor, lawyer, etc.
  • Not leave dirty dishes around.
  • Have good manners
  • Say "Please" and "Thank you."
  • Don't do anything that embarrasses me.
  • Be good in front of my friends.
  • Appreciate the things I buy for them.
  • Be who I want them to be

What Are The Negative Consequences To Your Child Of Attempting To Control Him Or Her?

Authoritarian parenting and the resulting choice to control always has negative consequences for children. It is important to connect your controlling behavior with the consequences that may result. While controlling might work in the short run, it can create many problems in the long run.

  • My child and I get into power struggles.
  • My child does what I want most of the time but becomes resistant in certain areas. My child resists:
    • Taking a bath or shower
    • Brushing teeth
    • Going to bed
    • Doing homework
    • Getting ready for school
    • Learning
    • Going to school
    • Reading
    • Keeping his or room clean
    • Doing chores
    • Telling the truth
    • Dressing appropriately for school
    • Using appropriate language
    • Looking nice
    • Being kind and considerate
    • Being on time
    • Talking with me
    • Having my values
    • Eating well
    • Calling when he or she is going to be late
    • Caring about what is important to me
    • Being loving to me
    • Listening to me
    • Getting a job
    • Caring about his or her health. Instead, he or she:
      • Smokes
      • Drinks alcohol
      • Smokes pot
      • Uses drugs
      • Eats junk
    • Caring about his or her safety. Instead, he or she:
      • Rides a motorcycle without a helmet
      • Drinks or uses drugs and drives
      • Drives recklessly
      • Has unprotected sex
      • Walks in dangerous areas
  • My child never does what I ask. He or she is always resistant.
  • My child suffers from low self-esteem.
  • My child is depressed.
  • My child feels unloved.
  • My child is bossy with other kids.
  • My child is tense, anxious, angry and/or unhappy.
  • My child beats up on younger kids.
  • My child does not take personal responsiblility.

What Are The Negative Consequences To You Of Controlling, Authoritarian Parenting?

Your controlling behavior also has negative consequences for you, especially in the long run.

  • Parenting is not fun. It feels like a burden.
  • I feel resentful toward my child.
  • I am tired of the power struggles.
  • I feel tense, anxious, angry or frustrated.
  • I feel like a failure as a parent.
  • My child and I do not have fun together.
  • I feel rageful and out of control.
  • I feel overwhelmed.

Parenting really can become a wonderfully fulfilling experience when you learn to parent as a loving adult with an intent to learn about yourself and your children, rather than as a controlling parent.

Become a wonderful role-model for your children. Join Dr. Margaret Paul for her 30-Day at-home Course: "Love Yourself: An Inner Bonding Experience to Heal Anxiety, Depression, Shame, Addictions and Relationships."

Join IBVillage and receive compassionate help and support for your healing journey.

Photo by Kari Fredrickson


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