How comfortable are we that parenting often relies upon ‘coercive control’

How comfortable are we that parenting often relies upon ‘coercive control’ 150 150 Jane Evans

Living with coercive control

Daily life with someone you fear upsetting is extremely stressful and can make you ill, irrational, rely on self-medication and diminishes you as a person. Having experienced coercive control in some of my adult relationships, and having worked with numerous women and children who have, I am glad to see a law coming in which aims to prosecute when:

(1) A person (A) commits an offence if:

(a) A repeatedly or continuously engages in behaviour towards another person (B) that is controlling or coercive,

(b) at the time of the behaviour, A and B are personally connected,

(c) the behaviour has a serious effect on B, and

(d) A knows or ought to know that the behaviour will have a serious effect on B.

(4) A’s behaviour has a “serious effect” on B if–

(a) it causes B to fear, on at least two occasions, that violence will be used against B, or

(b) it causes B serious alarm or distress which has a substantial adverse effect on B’s usual day-to-day activities.

New domestic abuse law for adults

It can only be a good thing that a message is sent out loudly and clearly that keeping someone in a state of unpredictability and fear of harm is cruel and causes mental and physical harm. Daily life which is about having to ‘second guess’ and comply with someone’s ever-changing wishes out of fear of what might happen, means existing in a state of physiological and psychological anxiety and stress which is traumatic and long lasting.

What about coercive control as ‘parenting’

Coercive control is entirely wrong on any level. Yet, all too often parenting relies on it to a lesser or greater extent and that’s seen as ‘normal’.

A glance at the Adverse Childhood Experiences Study brings in to sharp focus the harm that is done when a child grows up around adults who threaten their sense of safety and coerce them in to compliance/’good behaviour’ out of fear of the ‘consequences’. These can range from:

  • a smack/shove/being grabbed
  • time out
  • shaming
  • a ‘good telling off’
  • loss of a treat
  • being sent to a room
  • having a favourite toy or possession taken away and many more

Some consequences aren’t so frightening, depending on how they are delivered, but for a child the feeling that they are temporarily disliked by,and distant from, the person they rely upon for safety, love, security and their physical well-being is pretty scary and upsetting.

One of the questions from the ACE Study would be seen as coercive control and abuse under this new law to protect adults:

Prior to your 18th birthday:

  1. 1 Did a parent or other adult in the household often or very often… Swear at you, insult you, put you down, or humiliate you? or Act in a way that made you afraid that you might be physically hurt? (my emphasis)

No___If Yes, enter 1 __

Answering yes to this gives an ACE score of 1, the study of 17,500 people has found that alone increases the likelihood of absolutely everything we would NEVER wish for a child!

Think of all the times you have heard adults threaten children with a “smack”, or a “just wait ‘til I get you home”, “you better stop now or I’ll……” If that was an adult to adult exchange we would be seriously, and justifiably alarmed as its coercive control. Using the threat of physical harm IS as damaging as experiencing it. In a parent to child exchange it might make us concerned but it’s so common it feels ‘normal’, despite the adult being physically and psychologically much more developed and dominant, and the child being vulnerable and dependent upon them for their survival.

Children are NOT the same as adults!

People often get VERY upset with me when I make comparisons between what we consider as unacceptable between adults and yet allow between adults and children. It makes absolutely NO sense to offer more protection to an adult than it does to a child.

  • Children have under developed brains and are constantly learning from those around them.
  • Children are totally dependent upon the emotional and physical interactions and care those in control of them dispense.
  • Young children are trapped with those who raise them, powerless to ask for help or leave.
  • Children rely upon legislation and the protection of the State to safeguard their physical AND mental safety and well-being.

Is the law an ass?

It becomes even more confusing/ridiculous when you look at the recent law on emotional abuse of children, and the Children Act’s clause on ‘Reasonable punishment’.

Changes to the law

8. The effect of the changes made by section 66 is to:

(a) make it absolutely clear that cruelty which causes psychological suffering

or injury is covered under section 1 of the 1933 Act;

(b) make it clear that the behaviour necessary to establish the ill-treatment

limb of the offence can be non-physical;

Children Act 2004

58 Reasonable punishment

(1)In relation to any offence specified in subsection (2), battery of a child cannot be justified on the

ground that it constituted reasonable punishment.

(2)The offences referred to in subsection (1) are–

(a)an offence under section 18 or 20 of the Offences against the Person Act 1861 (c. 100) (wounding and causing grievous bodily harm);

(b)an offence under section 47 of that Act (assault occasioning actual bodily harm);

(c)an offence under section 1 of the Children and Young Persons Act 1933 (c. 12) (cruelty to persons under 16).

(3)Battery of a child causing actual bodily harm to the child cannot be justified in any civil proceedings on the ground that it constituted reasonable punishment.


Whichever way your shake it up we are NOT prioritising children’s well-being, which I feel ashamed about. Generally, apart from those courageously embracing gentle, emotionally attuned parenting, we rely upon bribery or threats to raise children in the 21ST CENTURY, in spite of robust and prolific scientific research which evidences up to the rooftops the harm this does!!!

In a report by the BBC News, New domestic abuse law comes into force:

Alison Saunders, the director of public prosecutions, said: “Controlling or coercive behaviour can limit victims’ basic human rights, such as their freedom of movement and their independence.

“This behaviour can be incredibly harmful in an abusive relationship where one person holds more power than the other, even if on the face of it this behaviour might seem playful, innocuous or loving.

“Victims can be frightened of the repercussions of not abiding by someone else’s rules. Often they fear that violence will be used against them, or suffer from extreme psychological and emotional abuse.

Imagine if this was used to protect children? Would we then have to look at how they are treated at home and in early years and school settings differently?

For a child fear of ‘upsetting’ the adults around them is often very real. Even when they haven’t been the cause of an adult’s bad temper, sadness or anxiety, a child will often believe that they have, and feel bad and anxious. Children want and need to get along with the key adults in their lives, they want to co-operate and work with them. What if parenting prioritised teaching through co-operation and sustaining emotional connection?!! Or we could just carry on predominantly relying upon coercion by using rewards or consequences. Both of which mean someone more powerful deciding how someone more vulnerable will be treated both emotionally and physically. Thus creating tensions, barriers and conditions that can be enforced by the one who is ‘in control’.

Clearing up any confusion

  • Don’t make any child or adult live in fear of upsetting you
  • Children enjoy their best mental health if they aren’t scared!
  • Children must always receive the greatest protection at home first
  • The Law must be clearer about protecting children – NO SMACKING!!
  • No one should live in fear so ALWAYS BE KIND, ESPECIALLY TO CHILDREN!!!!!!
Jane Evans

Jane is a ‘learn the hard way’ person. She has learnt from her personal experiences and her direct work with people who have often been in really bad places emotionally, relationally, practically and sometimes professionally.

All stories by: Jane Evans

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