Coercive Control Takes Significant Toll on Children

Summary: When it comes to coercive control in parental relationships, the children aren’t just passive witnesses. Children exposed to coercive control experience problems with social-emotional and physical development, and broader family functioning outcomes such as strained relationships with their parents or experiencing harsher parenting. Children also often exhibit behavioral and psychological challenges.

Source: ANU

Children can often be overlooked in situations involving interparental coercive control, but the impact on them is significant, a new research review from The Australian National University (ANU) has found.

Coercive control is a pattern of controlling behaviors and asserting dominance within an intimate relationship. It can include limiting access to money, gaslighting or isolating the target from their support system.

Lead author, ANU graduate and clinical psychology registrar Nakiya Xyrakis, said traditionally a lot of the focus has understandably been on adult victim-survivors, but children can be profoundly affected even if they aren’t the direct target.

“We found unfortunately children are often used as tools to enact coercive control,” she said.

“There are also a host of negative outcomes for the victim-survivor that might impact their parenting capacity and their relationship with the child.”

The evidence suggests there are similar but distinct impacts on children exposed to coercive control as those exposed to other forms of intimate partner violence.

This can include things like impacts on social-emotional and physical development, broader family functioning outcomes, such as strained parent-child relationships and harsher parenting, as well as psychological and behavioral challenges.

This shows a sad little girl
Coercive control is a pattern of controlling behaviors and asserting dominance within an intimate relationship. Image is in the public domain

“The whole experience of children having to observe this dynamic can be highly traumatic and distressing for these children, so at times they might feel emotionally overwhelmed and their parents might not be well placed to respond sensitively,” co-author Dr. Dave Pasalich said.

“This comes at a time when kids really need that emotional support—it can have real implications on the quality of the parent-child relationship.

“It is something that can affect all different types of families—it doesn’t discriminate.”

The researchers said while coercive control has become a much talked about topic, less discussion has focused on children.

“Our aim was to review the impacts not just for the couple involved, but for the broader family system, especially children,” Ms. Xyrakis said.

“Kids are forgotten a lot of times in this space, but they suffer a lot. When something like this happens it shifts the whole family dynamic.

“There are situations when, for instance, kids might have to step up and take on the role of parent, or end up caught in the middle of complex, and often, scary relationship dynamics. Children aren’t just passive witnesses.”

About this coercive control and neurodevelopment research news

Author: Press Office
Source: ANU
Contact: Press Office – ANU
Image: The image is in the public domain

Original Research: Closed access.
Interparental Coercive Control and Child and Family Outcomes: A Systematic Review” by Nakiya Xyrakis et al. Trauma, Violence, and Abuse


Interparental Coercive Control and Child and Family Outcomes: A Systematic Review

Coercive control (CC) is a core facet of intimate partner violence (IPV) and involves asserting power, dominance, and control over another person. Although the adverse impacts of childhood exposure to interparental IPV have been well documented, the outcomes of childhood exposure to interparental CC have not been systematically examined.

This study aimed to address this gap by reviewing available empirical evidence on interparental CC and child and family outcomes. Articles were identified by searching electronic databases using keywords relating to CC, children and parents, and child wellbeing outcomes.

The final review included 51 studies that reported on adverse outcomes pertaining to parenting and family relationships (k = 29), child internalizing and externalizing problems (k = 7), social-emotional development (k = 5), and physical/health development (k = 17).

Specifically, studies reported that CC was associated with increased parental psychopathology, poorer family functioning, harsher parenting and higher levels of child abuse, strained parent–child relationships, children used as tools and co-victims of CC, increased risk of child internalizing and externalizing problems, limited socializing opportunities, increased bullying, poorer perinatal outcomes, limited access to healthcare, and increased risk of child mortality.

Evidence identified CC as a unique contributor to adverse child wellbeing outcomes, independent of exposure to IPV more broadly.

Results indicated that the impacts of childhood exposure to CC are complex, far reaching, and, in some cases, devastating. The limitations of the findings, as well as implications for practice, policy, and research are discussed.

Join our Newsletter
I agree to have my personal information transferred to AWeber for Neuroscience Newsletter ( more information )
Sign up to receive our recent neuroscience headlines and summaries sent to your email once a day, totally free.
We hate spam and only use your email to contact you about newsletters. You can cancel your subscription any time.
  1. Being a family implies you are a piece of something exceptionally brilliant. It implies you will cherish and be adored until the end of your life.

  2. Thank you for this article. For the other responders who are coming from a defense stance, please take a look at why the article seems to sit with you so profoundly.

    We have grandchildren being brought up with parents who belong to what many regard as a cult. Those children have little contact with the world outside of the small insular community. We are seemingly being cut off from them again. I knit slippers for them because our other gifts, we were told was us being ‘manipulative’. Not sure if the little guys will get their slippers and plan to send this week. Every stitch was knitted with love and care and concern.
    So other parents here; yes children need limits and boundaries, but those need to be healthy ones with their well-being in mind. Not, following the edict of some grifting charlatan who wants to keep families apart for control and financial gain.

    examples of the cult of which is referred here can be found at

    1. Thank you for sharing your story, and I am so sorry to hear about what your family is going through.

      Many cults utilize coercive control in order to manipulate and control their followers. It has a devastating effect, not only on the members directly, but also their families. Isolation, manipulation, brain washing, financial control, etc are all aspects of coercive control. Systematic abuse is being applied to these members.

      I am so sorry for the position you find yourself in. You must feel so helpless, and I can only begin to imagine the sense of loss you feel.

  3. Please define “coercive control” with concrete examples provided. Is it taking away a child’s phone? Not paying them their allowance this week? Grounding them so they can’t play with friends? Banning them from going to the school dance or friend’s sleepover? What exactly do you mean by “coercive control”…becuase it sounds like good parenting to me.

    1. I think most readers are misunderstanding what coercive control, especially in relation to this article means. Coercive control is a form of interpersonal or domestic violence. In this case, coercive control relates to domestic abuse within a parent’s relationship which the child is exposed to.

      The term “coercive control” is little understood and not generally used in the US, but in the UK, Australia, and other parts of the world, it’s considered a criminal act of interpersonal violence.

      This has nothing to do with how a child is punished or raised, as in taking away a cell for misbehaving. It’s related to a child’s exposure to coercive control in their home environment where one parent/parental figure utilizes controlling and abusive behaviors against the other parent.

  4. Coercive control is often making sure the child doesn’t kill itself, or shop lift and get you into expensive problems, or get raped by strangers.
    It is called caring for you child. If you are talking about teenagers then they do need to be give some self responsibily.

Comments are closed.