There is no doubt that parenting can be an incredibly challenging task. As children develop and grow so must our parenting skills if we want to ensure they become healthy, balanced adults. Regardless of the stage we are at, however, there are three main styles of parenting: authoritarian, authoritative, and permissive. While our own parenting approach can change depending on what is going on in our lives, we tend to have one main style that characterises our interactions with our children.
As you’ll learn below, the most effective parenting style that we should strive for is authoritative. Often our parenting approach is heavily influenced by our own childhood experiences and we can find ourselves automatically replicating our parents style whether we want to or not, especially when under pressure. The good news is that we can break these patterns if we want to, but consultation and support may be needed in order to leave learned unhelpful behaviours in the past.
An authoritarian parenting style is very directive and not tolerant of bad behaviour. Authoritarian parents believe that they should be listened to and obeyed without question and children that do not behave well are responded to with anger and punishment. Typically, these types of parents expect children to do well without the need for praise or to be shown approval.
While this style of parenting may appear on the outside to be effective, it does not model respectful and caring behaviour to the child. The child may learn to become obedient but the relationship is often tense and distant and may result in an unhappy, inhibited or fearful child that has self-esteem problems. Without ever having had the opportunity to learn for themselves what is right and what is wrong, these children rely constantly on others to tell them. This leads to an adolescent that is able to be influenced by others as they haven’t developed confidence in their own judgement skills. These children may also lack spontaneity, be reluctant to take the initiative and have poor social and communication skills, traits they may carry into adulthood.
Alternatively, this style of parenting can result in an oppositional and defiant child that ultimately struggles to work co-operatively in adult relationship as they may be reactive at any suggestion of being told what to do or that they are not right. Unaddressed, this behaviour may adversely impact both the professional and personal aspects of the adult's life.
Parents with a permissive style tend to have low tolerance of uncomfortable situations and feelings and believe that their children similarly should not have to tolerate discomfort. They tend to see conflict as wrong and punishment as bad. These types of parents often feel it is easier to give in than to argue or stand by their consequences to see them through to the end, resulting in inconsistency for the child. Children naturally test boundaries as part of their learning and need structure and boundary limits in order to feel secure, even if outwardly they rebel against it.
Under this style of parenting children learn that bad behaviour is often overlooked, and that even when consequences are handed out they are not likely to last long. This tends to result in a child that lacks self-control, may have difficulty accepting responsibility for their actions and can be immature.
Parents that practice an authoritative style know that children will test boundaries and make mistakes and accept it as a normal part of learning and growing. As a result they tend to not react with anger and are able to reason with their child and assign appropriate consequences that they follow through on, regardless of any discomfort to themselves or their child during that process. These adults set clear expectations in terms of limits and rules but know that children need to be allowed to make mistakes in order to become independent adults that are confident in their own judgement.
Children that grow up with authoritative parenting are more likely to become confident, competent, self-reliant and responsible. They have experienced consequences for poor choices and have learnt to think before they act. They are less likely to be rebellious and self-destructive because they are treated with respect and know they are cared for, even when they have made mistakes.
If you struggle with your parenting style it is perfectly acceptable to seek advice and help. Sometimes, in creating a warming, loving and effective relationship with our children we can also heal wounds of our own upbringing. Remember that parenting is tough, sometimes behavioural issues have a biological cause that creates even further challenges, and life will inevitably continue to throw obstacles in our way regardless. It is unreasonable to expect to get it right all of the time. Be forgiving of yourself and remember that to seek support when it’s needed is a sign of strength, not weakness.