Want to know the secret to being the best, most-effective parent? Read on….
Those first few weeks and months of being a parent are etched into my memory.
Arriving home from the birth center after my eldest was born felt like entering a new world.
Suddenly, what I did mattered. My life was no longer about me, but also about this tiny human. Questions filled my mind.
First, there were the sleep issues – after spending many nights holding and rocking our infant to sleep, my husband and I wondered if we were spoiling her with this constant attention.
Then as she began to crawl – and get into anything and everything – we questioned how to respond to her misdeeds.
Months later when the tantrums came – like all parents, we weren’t sure what to do – hold our line with what was right or comfort her as she began to melt down?
Finding answers to these questions was difficult – which techniques were best and which would have the most positive impact on our daughter and our relationship?
Parenting styles and why they matter
Parenting challenges like these aren’t easy, but according to research, one parenting style is better than others and results in kids who have better emotional health, social skills, more resiliency, and more secure attachments with their parents.
The two factors that distinguish how parents parent – according to developmental psychologists – is how responsive and how demanding parents are with their kids. Or in other words – how well a parent responds to their child’s needs and wants and how much structure or guidance the parent provides.
These different parenting styles can be defined by:
Permissive/Indulgent: Permissive parents make very few demands of their children and tend to attend to their child’s every need and want. There are few established rules or expectations made by permissive parents so therefore discipline rarely occurs, or when it does occur it is applied inconsistently. These parents are often very loving and often play the role of a friend rather than a parental figure.
Authoritative: Authoritative parents are warm and loving with their kids but also have high expectations for them. Kids are seen as individual rational beings with thoughts and ideas of their own but who still need parental guidance and boundaries. Authoritative parents enforce rules, but also explain them. These parents are active in their kids’ lives but don’t let their kids get away with bad behavior.
Neglectful: At best, these parents are indifferent to their kids but at worst, they are negligent. Kids are often left with little supervision and low expectations.
Authoritarian: is a style characterized by high demands and low responsiveness. Authoritarian parents have very high expectations of their children, but usually provide very little feedback and nurturance. Any mistake made by the child tends to be punished harshly. There is little emotional warmth between parent and child. Children are expected to obey their parents no matter what.
The best way to parent, according to science
Of all four parenting styles, researchers generally agree that the authoritative hybrid blend of being responsive to kids needs while also providing boundaries is the best approach.
Here’s why it works: When parents are emotionally available and warm to kids, they form a bond. Since authoritative parents listen to their kids’ needs and respond when necessary, a trust is formed between parent and child.
But authoritative parents also know that even though there is a loving bond between them and their kids, their kids still need parental support and structure to develop self-regulatory skills and competence.
While culture and the temperament of the child can also play a role in the effectiveness of authoritative parenting, researchers generally find that children raised by authoritative parents tend to:
- Be independent, responsible, and make good decisions on their own (because their parents have given them the structure and freedom to do so)
- Have respect for adults, other people, and rules but don’t equate obedience with love (as is the case with kids raised by authoritarian parents)
- Trust that their parents have their best interests at heart
- Are more empathetic, kind, and warm
- May be more resistant to peer pressure
What this means in the real world
Striking a balance between being responsive to kids’ needs while also providing structure sounds simple enough in writing – but in practice? Here’s the honest truth – it’s not always easy.
Let’s say your daughter is frustrated with her math homework, so she refuses to do it. How to respond?
On the one hand, she needs loving support to build confidence in her math abilities, on the other, she needs to know that skipping math homework isn’t an option.
So what should an authoritative parent do?
In most situations, you’ll find that striking the balance between responsiveness and being demanding comes down to answering these two questions in the affirmative:
- Does my child feel like their worries/fears/concerns are being heard and acknowledged?
- Will my action support my child while also making sure they’re practicing the skills (both life skills and critical thinking skills) they’ll need as an adult? (i.e. grow in independence)
The first action is to let your child know you’re there, listening to them and being respectful of their feelings. “It sounds like you really don’t like math.” “What is it about math you don’t like?”
Once that bond is in place, it’s time to discuss the reasons why they must do their homework. To get more buy-in from your child, ask them to come up with solutions for how to make that happen.
But let’s be honest…
Things don’t always go as smoothly as we’d hope.
Even if we’ve listened carefully to our kids while at the same time tried to provide structure, sometimes kids still push back.
In which case, even as tempting as it is to just simply put your foot down or throw up your hands, the best practice is to stay the course and keep at it.
Sticking to the “first things, first” rule also tends to get kids attention: “OK, but you can’t watch a video or play with your friends until we find a solution.”
And while we’re on the topic of honesty – there will be times when all this balance is forgotten in the spur of the moment and instead the authoritative parent comes out: “Skipping homework is not an option! Get to work now!”
But that’s just life as a parent – aim for perfection but know realistically there will be times (sometimes many) you’ll miss the mark entirely.
The goal is to try to get it right most of the time – not all the time.
Because this parenting gig we’ve signed up for? It will change your world forever – even if it isn’t always easy.
Books that provide guidance in authoritative parenting:
How to Talk so Kids Will Listen, Listen So That Kids Will Talk, by Adele Faber & Elaine Mazlish
How to Raise an Adult, by Julie Lythcott-Haims
The Successful Child: What Parents Can Do to Help Kids Turn Out Well, by William Sears
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