A study has found that 2-year-old children with strict and demanding mothers are worse at controlling their emotions and impulses by the age of 5.
Children who struggle to contain their behaviour at that age in turn have fewer social skills and do worse in school at 10.
US psychologists, who studied 422 children over eight years, suggest those with overbearing mothers may develop worse self-control because they cannot practise this independently.
Dr Nicole Perry, who led the study at the University of Minnesota, said: “Our research showed that children with helicopter parents may be less able to deal with the challenging demands of growing up, especially with navigating the complex school environment.”
The study judged helicopter mothers, so-named for their habit of looming above their children, using a four-minute play task and two minutes cleaning up toys afterwards. Over-control was graded from one to four based on instances where women were too strict or demanding over their child’s behaviour.
Commands which they repeated frequently, especially when gesturing to or physically moving their toddlers, were graded particularly highly.
Three years later, researchers found the children of the helicopter mothers were worse at controlling their behaviour.
In an experiment in which a researcher refused to share sweets with them and took the child’s sweets to eat too, 5-year-olds whose mothers had previously been controlling were less able to distract themselves from their distress. In a test of impulse control, which involved naming small shapes instead of large ones, these children also did worse. These children with poor control over their behaviour had fewer social skills and were less productive at school, according to their teachers, by the age of 10.
Perry said: “Our findings underscore the importance of educating often well-intentioned parents about supporting children’s autonomy with handling emotional challenges.”
The psychologist said parents can help children learn to control emotions and behaviour by helping them identify positive coping strategies, such as listening to music, colouring or retreating to a quiet space.
Parents using such strategies themselves to manage their own emotions and behaviour also helped.
The study is published in the Developmental Psychology journal.