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What Kind of Parenting Style Do I Have?

By Dr. Philip Fitch Vincent, Director of the Character Development Group

How many of us as parents have wondered whether we were doing a good job as parents? Sure it is easy to make an assessment when everything is going well, when the family has had a wonderful day without conflicts or major issues to contend with. But what about those days when things do not go quite as well? What about those days when you are convinced the behavior of your child clearly indicates that this child is possessed with something far beyond the parental wisdom that you have so lavished upon your child? Those are the days that make us question whether we are having any positive influence on our children. They are also the days, or at least the moments, that we understand why some animals do, on occasion, eat their young.

First of all, parenting is not easy. We are not born with magic wands or with divine wisdom as we attempt to raise good boys and girls. And to add insult to injury, I have failed to find good courses in the high school or college curriculum that we can take that will provide for us the insights into the “holy grail” of parenting. Therefore based on some experience as a parent I have concluded that good parenting involves: trial and error, dumb luck, and hopefully a few insights we have gleaned through our experiences and our conversations with parents who appear to be doing a wonderful job. Perhaps the work of Diane Baumrind might offer us some insights into how we are parenting our children.

Based on her extensive research, Diane Baumrind established three basic styles of parenting. In authoritarian families, the parents are very strict and controlling towards their children. The parent has a standard of conduct and the child will follow this standard or face punitive consequences. There is little discussion of ideas and issues. There is a great deal of emphasis on respect for authority with authority being clearly defined with little wiggle room. For the most part, authoritarian parenting styles leave little room for discussion or growth on the part of the child and also on the part of the parent. Permissive parents are just the opposite of authoritarian parents. There are few demands placed on children for the completion of chores or for orderly behavior. The parent does not seek to shape or alter the behavior of a child, for this might damage the child’s natural creativity. The child has a great deal of freedom to explore and manipulate his world. The parent is there if the child needs her.

The authoritative parent attempts to blend the previous noted styles. The authoritative parent establishes firm boundaries and high expectations for appropriate behavior from their child. However, this parent also values discussions with their child. The child’s opinion and insights matter, but so do the long-term social and emotion goals that the parent has established for the child. Guidelines are established and rules within the house as well as community are followed. A child has chores to do that complement the efforts of the other family members in developing a caring and orderly household. The effort is not on controlling the child but on developing the child. Through discussions and modeling as well as the establishment of rules that are designed to help a child pursue his or her interests within a supportive but structured home, the child raised in an authoritative home is more self assured, has better developed social skills and generally possesses a more happy disposition than children raised in an authoritarian or permissive home.

Look at the advantages of the parents and child who are raised in an authoritative home. The child is not being controlled but is being developed. The child has chores to do to contribute to the well-being of the home. There are rules as well as expectations of appropriate behavior both within and outside the home. Social skills are modeled, practiced and expected of all within the home. And yet, the views and ideas of the child are valued and shared within the family structure. There are many aspects of a home that is open to input from children of all ages. For example, asking a child where he would like to eat dinner or whether the child would prefer peas or corn as one of the dinner vegetables. One could also solicit points of view from older children regarding political or social issues within the community or the nation. The child’s point of view is valued. Discussion can then occur so that the child hears the point of view of the parent. Perhaps this is a time of learning for both the child as well as the parent. What is important is that the child is growing intellectually and socially within a structured and ordered environment that is based on love as well as expectations for appropriate behavior. To put it simply, the child as a person matters, but so do the goals and habits the parents want to inculcate in the child. There is a balance between freedom and control that provides security for the developing child.

Authoritarian parent styles may inculcate in the child a sense of right and wrong, but it is often done with overt control. This can’t be good for the child who will need to develop social competencies that may be beyond the present understanding or experiences of the family. The permissive parenting style fails to develop in a child behavior based on acceptable norms of conduct. This child may be far more focused on his needs than considering the needs of others whether in the home or in the school or community. If it is all about me then there is little incentive in concerning myself with the needs of others. The authoritative style of parenting offers far more positive strategies to both the parent as well as the child in helping the child develop the habits and attitudes that will contribute to a civil and productive life.

Take the time to evaluate how you are doing in relation to these three parenting styles. Perhaps you will find that through trial and error, dumb luck, and perhaps a little insight you are utilizing strategies that will prove beneficial in raising the good child.


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