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How Should I Communicate with Controlling Parents?

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  • Written By: Tricia Ellis-Christensen
  • Edited By: O. Wallace
  • Last Modified Date: 20 March 2014
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Communicating with controlling parents is not easy, and how to accomplish it depends upon perspective. The answer to this question varies, depending on who is posing the question; an underage child will have to approach the situation differently than an adult child would.

In all cases, it helps to understand basic motivation for control: a need to keep oneself or children safe that may be wrapped up with other extremely complex and individual issues. The desire to stay safe is often fueled by extraordinary insecurity and anxiety. It is unlikely that either children or teachers will be able to convince these parents that they need mental health assistance. Trying this may shut down communication, and a critical and negative response to this parent may result in the parent’s greater efforts to control.

This situation is most difficult for the children in the middle of it. They really have only the choice of going along with, fighting against, or secretly defying parents, and if they have been truly controlled, they may lack resources to promote change. Some children begin to notice extraordinary restriction placed on their lives as they become adolescents.

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At this point they may have a few options. The first would be to speak to a helpful adult about the situation like a teacher, counselor, or pastor. Of most use would be to get counseling, which still may not greatly improve freedoms or communication. It may help in the respect that the child can gain greater insight into the parent’s motivations. Sometimes, a controlling parent becomes open to counseling if the child is going, but if not, counseling can help a child prepare to make decisions about adulthood.

Adult children of controlling parents may need therapy as well. Most likely, they have felt trapped their whole lives between fulfilling what their parents need and trying to discover that they’re allowed to fulfill their own needs. Therapy can begin the crucial work of mourning the fact that parents were not as good as they needed to be, and people can over time build resilience and self-esteem, deciding what level of communication they wish to maintain with their parents.

For the professional working with controlling parents, advice differs. It’s not a bad idea to chat with the school counselor about how to best approach these parents, but here the goal is to placate them and give them a feeling of safety so children can be most involved in school or other activities. For parents worried about child safety for instance, a detailed field trip itinerary or allowing a worried parent to chaperone may mean the child gets to attend.

Teachers can also sympathize with lack of control. A parent angry about curriculum could be referred to administrators if the curriculum is planned by the district or state and not part of the teachers’ own lesson plans. Bearing in mind the worry and insecurity of these parents is very useful.

With greater empathy toward controlling parents, teachers may be able to slightly ease concerns and give a child more freedom. It may sometimes be worth swallowing a little personal control that isn’t meaningful if it gives a child greater liberty. Ultimately, it really depends on the degree of parental control, and sometimes it may be very difficult to have meaningful dialogue with this type of parent.

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