Tuesday, October 22, 2013

Parenting Styles and You

"Silas, now," says Daddy sternly.

"We need to brush our teeth every day so that they don't hurt," explains Mommy.
As a psychologist and professor I have taught about parenting styles to my students in my child psychology class for more years than I want to count. Our style of parenting is influenced by what we expect from the child, how we communicate with them, and how we show affection and nurturing.

Parenting Styles and You
Ah parenting
How we combine these three things (expectations, communication, and nurturing) create our parenting "style." Some parents have high expectations for their children and expect them to obey and "behave" without questioning us, while others will ask a child to behave a certain way and act more like a coach when they don't do exactly as asked. Some parents communicate expectations multiple times, while others communicate once (or not at all) and expect the child to behave as requested at a future time (as well as now). Some parents nurture/show affection often while others do not. How do these look when combined?

Authoritarian parents have high expectations, low communication, and low nurturance. They have expectations, and they need to be met. If they are not, there will be consequences (sometimes physical consequences such as a spanking). They are less likely to explain why the consequence is occurring than other types of parents. This can be seen as the "I say, you do" form of parenting. It reminds me of the saying, "Children should be seen and not heard." It also reminds me of a parent saying to a child, "Why are you crying? Do you want me to give you something to cry about?"

Authoritative or democratic parents have high expectations, high communication, and high nurturance. They set the bar high in terms of behaviors, but they tell you how to get over the bar and they cheer you on as you're doing it. You can hear them say things such as, "I understand it must be frustrating to be so tired and to have to brush our teeth. I would be frustrated too. But it's something we need to do. Let's get this done so that we can get to sleep as quickly as possible."

Permissive or indulgent parents are low in expectations, high in communication, and high in nurturance. I tell my students that these are the parents who may tell their teen child that they can have a party with friends over and alcohol as long as nobody drives. Many times I think these parents really want to be their child's friend and make sure their child likes them. The line between parent and peer can be blurred in this instance, especially when we're giving in to a child's wishes rather than putting expectations on them.

Uninvolved or neglectful parents are low in expectations, low in communication, and low in nurturance. These parents may not behave as we would expect a "parent" would at all. Many times when I hear about this type of parenting, the parent may be experiencing high levels of stress (from work, money, housing, etc.) or may be experiencing something that's causing them to have difficulty connecting with their child (such as a major mental disorder).

One may wonder where the "style" of parenting we call "helicopter" parenting comes into play - helicopter parents are seen to "swoop in" and save their child from experiences that they feel may be detrimental to them. So they may save them from feeling badly about not being picked for the soccer team by petitioning the school. How could this influence the child over time? Well, if someone always came in and fixed your problems, how would you behave?

Students ask me often if it's possible to change parenting style and my answer is a definitive YES. I would even venture to say that it's necessary. At each stage of our child's life they need different levels of support from us. They need different expectations based upon their current abilities. If we don't change how we interact with them based upon their needs as they're maturing, then we'd be "stuck" as parents. Also, I would think it would be rather difficult to be an authoritarian parent to a newborn. Yelling, "Stop crying!" hasn't typically worked out well for anyone I'm willing to bet. And being permissive with a toddler can get you into a frustration spiral where you feel walked all over, try to initiate control, they push back (figuratively or physically), and we're locked in this frustrating experience with...our child.

How are you as a parent right now? How do you think your levels of expectation, communication, and nurturing are influencing your child's development?

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