When your child acts up, do you use threats and intimidation to get them to behave? If so, you might be what some experts call a megaphone parent.
Megaphone parents force their children to cooperate through shouting and threats of punishment. Undoubtedly, some situations call for a strong response. However, experts believe that resorting to these tactics too often can lead to issues like impaired decision-making.
Research has shown the negative effects of excessive disciplinary action or threatening. Dr. Susan Woodhouse, an infant attachment expert at Lehigh University, has said that even one negative encounter between baby and parent can have effects for years.
“If the mother did frightening things when the baby cried, like hard yelling or growling at the baby, or suddenly looming toward the baby’s face while [it] was upset, even if it only happened one time, the baby would be insecure,” said Woodhouse.
Megaphone parenting prevents behaviors between parent and child known as “mirroring.” As therapist Tom Bunn wrote in Psychology Today, “Mirroring refers to a set of behaviors that are intended to convey to the child that they are heard and that parents understand their emotional state.” According to Bunn, parents who rely too heavily on intimidation harm their child’s development. “Not being known, mirrored, and related to is a psychologically difficult form of isolation,” he wrote.
Frightening encounters can stop children from developing skills to make decisions under pressure. “We behave in ways that make our children feel anxious around us,” wrote author W.R. Cummings, “and then we expect them to make rational decisions.” Cummings pointed out that stressful situations trigger a fight/flight/freeze response in the brain. Since small children can’t fight or flee, they fall into a freeze response, unable to do anything. “When we talk to kids in ways that make them feel scared, we [rob them of] their ability to make rational decisions,” said Cummings.
Consistent stressful interactions only reinforce the inability to act under pressure, says Bunn. “A child trained to not think is unprepared to make good choices,” he wrote, “particularly when a choice must be made under stress.”
Often parents feel pressure to avoid being too permissive or too harsh with their children. Megaphone parenting happens when parents move too far in the latter direction.
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