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You and your Child : Your Parenting Style

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You will want to give your children the best direction and care, but at some point you are likely to slip into a style of parenting that is convenient and instinctive, rather than developed consciously. How do you find a way of parenting that works for you and your family, and what should you avoid?

“Parenting is about finding what works best for you and your child. There is no such thing as a ‘one size fits all’ approach.”

“The use of physical punishment should be avoided for all children and is never acceptable at any age. Hitting or using any form of punishment that leaves a mark is against the law in several countries.”

Your parenting style will develop from: your personal beliefs of what a good parent should be; from your own experiences of being parented; from your instinctive understanding of your child; and from personal results (that is, whether your approach works or not). As children develop, many parents become critical, and look at their children’s “problems” as a marker of lack of competence, rather than as a part of the process of growing up. Mistakes and challenges are an important aspect of learning and developing competence—for children as well as parents.

All parents of all children will encounter parenting challenges. If you can be realistic about the ups and downs of raising children and realize that you cannot get everything right all of the time, you are more likely to be able to deal realistically with the challenges. The important thing is to learn what works and what doesn’t for you and your child—so that she feels loved, happy, and secure. If you set yourself up as a “perfect parent” you are likely to feel disappointed or that you are a failure—and your child may come to feel that she has let you down in some way.

How you parent

Most of the ways in which we care for and bring up our children are instinctive, but it is worth taking a step back sometimes to figure out what lies behind your actions and responses.

What the psychologists say

Psychologists tend to look at two main aspects of care when looking at parenting styles: the level of control that parents exert, and the degree of warmth they show toward their children. A healthy combination of warmth and control results in assertive, or authoritative, parenting that will give your toddler clear and consistent boundaries. Guidelines need to be balanced with love and warmth so that your little one does not feel personally isolated or rejected by you, even when being disciplined.

Four styles of parenting

A = Authoritarian (high control/low warmth)

"“I’m totally against all this liberal parenting nonsense. Children need to learn how to behave. A slap around the ear never did me any harm.”" Parents who have an authoritarian approach to parenting tend to think that keeping children under control is the top priority and that showing them warmth when they have misbehaved is a weakness. The quote shows an obviously unacceptable and extreme example of this attitude. Using physical punishment fails to teach alternatives, and can set up a negative cycle between parent and child and lead to the child growing up to think that violence is an acceptable way to solve problems. Imagine how you would feel if your boss hit you every time you were late for a meeting!

Authoritarian parents will tend to tell children what to do and how to do it, without allowing the child much room for trial and error. They may give severe punishments and have expectations of their child’s behavior that are inappropriate for their child’s developmental age and stage. It can be a hard pattern to break without help or guidance. At the heart of this style of parenting may be a deep-rooted anxiety based on a fear that the child may not behave, or what may happen if the parent does not retain control at all times.

If this sounds like you, both you and your child will benefit from more playtime and affection. Your child needs to feel secure and to know that she is loved. Research suggests that there are no advantages to experiencing a persistently authoritarian upbringing. A lack of parental warmth can lead to a sense of being unloved. In the long term, this may lead to a person having problems with aggression, withdrawal, internalized distress, and low self-esteem.

B = Authoritative (high control/high warmth)

"“We have tried to put in place behavior guidelines and a daily routine. It doesn’t always work, but when it does, it helps life run more smoothly—and everyone in our household knows what is expected.”" Authoritative parents are eager to keep control in their household, and tend to partner behavior guidelines with a high level of warmth for their children. Clear rules and expectations help young children to feel safe, since they enjoy routine and knowing what to expect. Parents who are comfortable giving their children clear guidelines and showing affection will often adapt their response according to the level of need or distress of their child. These parents often show more awareness of what kinds of behavior are appropriate for the age and stage of the child than those who fall in the other categories.

High control partnered with high warmth is the ideal combination for parents to adopt. A big challenge for all parents is maintaining a consistent approach when under pressure. The more you can achieve this, the greater will be the rewards for both you and your children. In the long term, research has shown that children of parents who use an authoritative approach tend to have fewer behavioral problems and are better able to make friends and enjoy academic success.

The right balance

Being authoritative is a positive trait in a parent, and, as long as it’s coupled with love and warmth, your child will feel secure and know what is expected of him.

C = Neglectful (low control/low warmth)

"“The kids never seem to listen to me anyway so I have given up trying and let them manage themselves.”" A low level of parental warmth combined with few or no behavior guidelines (low control) is hard for children because it implies that the parent has no expectations of them, as well as a lack of interest in their development. This style usually develops if the parents themselves have been severely neglected, or if a severe trauma or period of separation interferes with the forming of an early bond between mother (or father) and baby. Neglectful parents are usually depressed. Children who have been neglected in terms of both their emotional welfare and behavior boundaries are vulnerable to developing difficulties later on in life. Having a warm and positive relationship with your toddler will reap huge dividends as she gets older.

D = Permissive (low control/high warmth)

"“It upsets me when I see my daughter crying. I don’t have the heart to put my foot down. It’s so much easier to give in to her and enjoy a hug.”" Permissive parents may believe that they are being very loving, showing a high degree of personal warmth toward their child and worrying little about having control. The difficulty for the child in this scenario is that she doesn’t know where her behavior boundaries are and so will keep pushing and pushing until she finds them.

With little structure or discipline, and very few demands or expectations of appropriate behavior, a child whose parents adopt this style predominantly are setting themselves up for trouble in later years. There is a risk that their children will be alienated socially because they have not learned how to regulate their own behavior and have trouble assessing what is acceptable. Research shows that children brought up in an overly permissive environment may have a tendency toward aggression, impulsiveness, lack of responsibility, and misbehaving at school.

Of course, there may be more than one style of parenting within a household, and you may adopt different styles at different times. Your style will depend on your own experience . The important thing is to find the right balance between warmth and control, and to keep it consistent, so that your child feels loved even in situations when you are being tough in your approach.

Being realistic

There are many different ways of parenting, and it is important to remember that perfect parents and perfect children simply do not exist.

Real life

My husband and I both had a strict upbringing. When we had children we found it hard to agree on a parenting style. I admired my parents and respected them. I wanted to put in place strict rules and was quite controlling of the children. My husband, on the other hand, had been spanked frequently and had less respect for the authoritarian parenting style. He hated conflict and was determined to compensate for his own upbringing by being more permissive and playful. He found it a challenge to discipline the children and constantly undermined me. Inevitably the differences caused tensions in our relationship and confusion in the children. We began to discuss the problem and generated a set of routines to follow together. As part of this, we agreed that there would be an antispanking agreement with space for the children to be themselves.

The basic rules of parenting

There are five basic rules of parenting that should be applied whenever possible, especially when you are feeling exasperated and the least likely to want to follow them:

  • Love your child unconditionally—love her for who she is, no matter what she does.

  • Remember every child is unique—so avoid comparing your child with another and don’t label her .

  • Cuddle and praise her whenever possible—you don’t need to wait for a reason to be affectionate to your child.

  • Respect her feelings at all times—treat your child as you would want to be treated yourself.

  • Follow the basic rules of behavior management —being clear and consistent in your parenting is one of the greatest gifts you can give to your child.

What’s your parenting style?

Q: Which reaction is closest to your response?
A: I shout at the children and threaten them with a spanking if they don’t behave.
A: I take a deep breath, separate them, and wait for the noise to subside. I then tell them that if they eat their dinner nicely they can have their favorite story at bedtime.
A: I ignore them. I’m too tired to deal with it. They will exhaust themselves eventually.
A: I stop what I’m doing and go and join them. As usual I am unlikely to get them to bed before 9 pm, anyway.
Q: Which of the following is closest to your response?
A: I tell him that a house has walls and a roof and suggest that I show him so he can copy my picture.
A: I encourage him to describe the picture to me and reflect back to him what he is saying. He will learn to draw in his own time.
A: It looks like a load of scribbles to me. I just let him get on with it.
A: I like to see him expressing himself. I wish he wouldn’t scribble on the walls, but I suppose we can always redecorate.
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