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What Is Coercive Parenting And How Does It Affect Kids

What Is Coercive Parenting

Coercive parenting is using harsh parental behavior such as hitting, yelling, scolding, threatening, rejection and psychological control to enforce compliance of the child. These parents also use frequent negative commands, name calling, overt expressions of anger and physical aggression. Coercive parents are authoritarian parents. They are intrusive, over-controlling and assert higher power over the child. The coercion is usually arbitrary, peremptory, and domineering​1​.

Coercive parents are generally more concerned about retaining hierarchical status distinctions than regulating their children’s behavior.

This parenting style is different from authoritative parenting style which enforces compliance through reasoning, negotiation, and outcome-oriented approach. An authoritative parent focuses more on regulating a child’s behavior than establishing a hierarchy of statuses​2​.

Coercive parenting is rigid and inconsistent. It may seem contradictory, but rigidity and inconsistency are both characteristics of  coercive parents.

Coercive parents are inconsistent in responding to noncompliance from children, but once they do respond, they are more likely to repeat rigid commands  with power assertion​3​.

Mother threatens boy for misbehaving using coercive parenting

How Does Coercive Parenting Affect Kids

For many parents, compliance is one of their primary disciplinary goals. Parents shape compliance by teaching their children prosocial behaviors (i.e., telling them what to do and how to do it) and setting appropriate limits.

Parents employ different parenting approaches to reach this goal, but not all of them get the results they want.

Parents who are responsive, nurturing, and consistent foster cooperative behavior in their children. These parents are more likely to succeed in getting their children to comply​4​.

Coercive parents generate unnecessary resistance, resulting in defiant behavior instead of compliance​5​.

These early experiences in life can set the stage for later development, resulting in long-term changes in physiology, brain, and behavior.

Harsh parenting impedes children’s emotional regulation and prosocial development​6​.

Parental coaching and modeling help children learn how to inhibit negative emotions, self-soothe, and concentrate​7​. However, parents who frequently display negative, hurtful and hostile negative emotions may model dysregulated behavior for their children to imitate.

Coercion by parents is a strong predictor of aggression problems in preschoolers. When preschoolers exhibit aggressive behavior, they are at risk of future antisocial behavior, conduct disorder, and Oppositional Defiance Disorder​8​. Children who grew up with harsh parenting are also at risk for delinquency in adolescences and criminal behavior as adults​9​.

Coercion also leads to mental health problems later in life including depressive symptoms and alcoholism​10​.

One type of coercion, corporal punishment, has been found to be associated with many adverse long-term effects on children’s psychological development, such as depression and suicidal ideation in adulthood, later physical abuse of their own children​11​.

Coercive parenting is not only ineffective, but also detrimental to the child’s early brain development and later outcomes​12​. An adult who has grown up under coercive parenting is more likely to experience work-related difficulties, trouble maintaining an intimate relationship, social problems, and reduced chances to attain a higher-level occupation or income​13​.

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What Causes Coercive Parenting

Intergenerational Continuity

Our parenting styles are influenced by our experiences as children. We tend to parent the same way we were parented in childhood. Scientists have found this intergenerational continuity in parenting across many different mammals, including humans. 

Children who were harshly raised are more likely to repeat harsh parenting when they become parents themselves. In this way, coercive discipline and behavior are passed from generation to generation​14​.

Parent’s Characteristics

Parents who use coercive parenting often believe that when their children misbehave, they are wilfully defiant. 

To these parents, defiance is part of the child’s character that does not change regardless of the situation. Therefore, even positive behavior can lead to angry  reactions and coercion from such parents. Whenever the child’s behavior is unfamiliar, coercive parents automatically assume hostile intent and that the child is trying to annoy them on purpose​15,16​.

Coercive parents tend to lack emotional regulation skills. Harsh discipline usually arises when the parents experience anger and they cannot self-regulate. This lack of ability to regulate one’s emotions also tends to be passed down through the generations​17​.

Harsh parents tend to be less agreeable. They are less empathetic and more antagonistic in thoughts, feelings and actions​18​.

Coercive parents also engage in fewer positive verbal interactions with their children​19​.

In addition, mothers’ depression and their low sense of competence in childcare are associated with coercive parenting​20​.

Bidirectional reciprocities

Parent-child bidirectional reciprocities play a role in coercive parenting.

Early temperament refers to a child’s reactivity and ability to self-regulate. Kids who have a difficult temperament or negative emotionality tend to shape the parents’ affection and cause higher control from parents​21​.

A child’s difficult behavior can also lead to higher rejection and negativity from the parent​22​.

The use of physical punishment, in turn, may intensify the child’s difficult temperament and aggressive behaviors​23​.

When this pattern of bidirectional relations results in an escalating cycle of mutual influence, it becomes a Parent-Child Coercive Cycle​24​.

How To Change Coercive Parenting

Typically, parents do not intend to negatively reinforce misbehavior.

However, once they have done so, a pattern is initiated and that is difficult to correct.

Parent-training programs and early intervention are effective in reducing coercive parenting and improving positive parenting.

Parents can learn to address the following issues through parent-training programs.

Emotional Regulation

Parental emotional dysregulation is the hallmark of coercive parenting. Effective emotion regulation can serve as a buffer between the stress level imposed by parenting a difficult child and the parent’s emotional reactivity.

Parents who are harsh often employ avoidance-focused coping strategies such as denial  and mental disengagement to cope with negative emotions. Instead, use positive reframing to rethink the problem from a different angle​25​.

Parental Attribution

A parent’s interpretation of children’s behavior can influence the level of emotional arousal they experience in reaction.

Understanding age-appropriate behavior and having a capacity to consider alternative explanations for the child’s behavior helps parents remain curious and open minded instead of hostile or angry.

Positive Parenting Techniques

The use of positive parenting techniques helps parents manage their children’s  behavior more effectively and peacefully.

Better parenting skills also increase a parent’s sense of self-efficacy and decrease the need for harsh discipline​20​.


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