Happy Children the Result of Warmer, Less Controlling Parents

First Posted: Sep 04, 2015 11:07 AM EDT

The University College London (UCL) in the UK, recently published a lifelong study in The Journal of Positive Psychology that unveiled predictors of happiness based in people's childhood environments.

The researchers took 5,362 British people, with ages ranging from 13-64, who were part of the Medical Research Council's National Survey of Health and Development. This survey has been tracking people since their births as far back as March of 1946. 

Since 2,800 of the participants are still participating in active followups, finished "well being" data was gathered for 3,699 participants, aged of 13-15, which reduced to about 2,000 participants by the time they hit ages 60-64.

The research team used a 25 question survey to measure three different concepts of care: parental bonding, psychological control, and behavioral control.

Statements like "appeared to understand my problems and worries" were used to assess parental bonding. Agreeing with phrases like "tried to control everything I did" assessed psychological control, while disagreeing with statements like "let me go out as often as I wanted" aimed to measure behavioral control, according to the study.

The study controlled for factors like participants' personality traits, childhood social class, parental separation, and maternal mental health.

"We found that people whose parents showed warmth and responsiveness had higher life satisfaction and better mental well being throughout early, middle and late adulthood," Dr. Mai Stafford, reader in social epidemiology in the MRC Unit for Lifelong Health & Aging at UCL, said.

Research concluded that individuals with parents who exerted greater psychological control had much lower mental well beings as adults. Interestingly, the effect was most pronounced from ages 60-64, with the team comparing the effects to the equivalent of experiencing death of a friend or family member.

"Parents [...] give us a stable base from which to explore the world, while warmth and responsiveness has been shown to promote social and emotional development. By contrast, psychological control can limit a child's independence and leave them less able to regulate their own behavior," Stafford said, according to Medical News Today.

Researchers found that children with less independence have a harder time regulating their own behavior. Parents who didn't allow their children to make their own decisions, invaded their children's privacy, and fostered dependence had negative effects on their children's adult lives. 

Other studies have shown that a secure emotional attachment to their parents can allow for better forming of emotional attachments later on in life.

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