As parents, most of us are happy to simply get through a day and know that we kept our children and small pets alive, never mind knowing our parenting style. But taking a moment to consider how we approach our children and situations not only can create a closer, better family experience, but more well-adjusted and prepared children.
Identify your main style. Though research brings us many options, parents typically draw from one of the four dominant parenting styles: authoritative, authoritarian, permissive and uninvolved.
*The ideal. Authoritative is leading and loving, being decisive yet involving your children. It’s having high expectations but reasonable and consistent consequences. With warmth and nurturing, children become independent but know they are loved and guided. (And though it isn’t technically stated, I thoroughly believe cold cereal for dinner once a week is part of this important approach). Generally, children from this style are happy, successful and capable.
*“My house, my rules.” Authoritarian is the opposite of the ideal as it tends toward telling children what to do and expecting complete obedience. It’s more punitive with less explanation; more about status and performance than about nurturing and development. A parent would likely ground first and ask questions later, maybe. Children from this parenting approach tend to be obedient and proficient but are less happy, with lower self-esteem and lower social competence.
*The BFF. Permissive is more about being a buddy or a close pal. It’s about few rules, little discipline, and what-the-hey, let’s-go-shopping. It’s not big on controlling behavior and comes with low expectations. Children ultimately rank lower in happiness and self-regulation with low performance in school and problems with authority.
*Basics Needs 101. Uninvolved parenting is also called neglectful because of it being hands-off and its dismissive nature, overall neglecting the child and disregarding children's opinions and emotions. Whether it’s due to parents making themselves first priority (“I’ve got my life”) or to trauma or addiction, children from this parenting style are low in all life areas across the board.
Adjust your style for the situation. Going for authoritative style aside, sometimes as parents we may find that adding in a little bit of permissive or authoritarian for a particular situation may be needed.
A few years back, one of my sons was a highly picky eater, eating only three to five things, period. Worried about his health, I talked with our pediatrician and received some of the best and guilt-relieving advice yet. He said to do nutrition by the week, not the day, add a great multi-vitamin, and that he would likely grow out of it. In the meantime, a family friend tersely told me I should let him starve and not be so permissive. But as it turns out, my pediatrician was right — my son is now 21, still healthy as a horse, and eats a variety of fabulous food.
Be sure love is the driver. In the heat of a frustrating experience with a child, sometimes we can go to a familiar parenting style out of reaction rather than what’s best for the child. For a time one of my girls experienced regular emotional outbursts. Although I helped her with awareness of what likely caused them and appropriate coping skills to deal with them, she didn’t always apply them as well as I hoped (I’ll say no more). At one point I had to get more hard-line and expressed that due to the repeat behavior she would be cleaning the house when she returned from school.
In a marvelous moment, not only did she clean but when I started to go soft and told her she could skip mopping the kitchen floor, she said, “Mom, don’t make it easy on me. I have to learn.” I knew right then that one, she was officially our Golden Child, and two, the approach was appropriate because she had learned something in the process.
Although authoritative is our ideal, it won’t be realistic every second of the day (a la pediatrician, parenting by the week?) But as we increase our awareness of our “go-to” parenting style, we can choose what to adjust or include to make the experience better for our children.
Connie Sokol is an author, presenter, TV contributor and mother of seven. Contact her at www.conniesokol.com.