At the Parenting Workshops that I conduct – I often get asked – “What is the best Parenting style?” And the answer is simple and straightforward. The best parenting style is the Authoritative Parenting Style.
“But, what is the authoritative parenting style?”
“How would you know if you are an authoritative parent?”
“What are the Dos and don’ts when you practice authoritative parenting?”
“And if it takes that much effort – is authoritative parenting really worth it?”
Are the questions that follow And in this article I answer those questions.
What are Parenting styles?
Parenting styles were first defined by Diane Baumrind who said that parents usually interact with their children in 4 different ways Authoritarian Parenting – This the age old style of parenting. In this style of Parenting – parents make rules and children are expected to obey whatever the parents say without questioning them. This is the easiest style of parenting because it involves giving in to our most basic instinct of getting what we want through brute force. Permissive Parenting – Permissive parenting is a style of parenting that has evolved as an attempt to parent in a way that is the stark opposite of authoritarian parenting. It is usually practiced by parents who were brought up by authoritarian parents, and have decided not to use the brute force used on them by their parents to make them obey rules. Because they are determined to do the opposite of what their authoritarian parents did with them, they make no rules. They think that giving children freedom implies that they allow their children to do exactly what they please without making any rules or correcting them in any way. Authoritative parenting – Authoritative parenting is the style of parenting that is embraced by those parents who decide to take the middle path. These are warm loving parents – who make reasonable rules – that they are willing to discuss with and explain to their children. These parents expect the best from their children, but are forgiving and supportive when their children make mistakes or fail to meet expectations. Negligent parenting – Negligent parenting is the parenting style employed by un-involved parents. These parents are preoccupied with various other aspects of their lives and do not care about what their children do. There are no rules, no expectations and no engagement. Research has proved over and over again that the best parenting style is the authoritative parenting style.
Difference between authoritative and authoritarian Parenting styles
Both authoritarian parents and authoritative parents have clear rules for their children But authoritarian parents do not accept being questioned about their rules. Their answer always is – “Because I say so” – if they are asked “Why?”. Authoritative parents on the other hand explain their rules and the consequences of not following those rules.
Difference between authoritative and permissive
Permissive parents shy away from making rules and enforcing them. They do not explain the importance of rules in civilized life and as a result their children do not understand the consequences of not following rules. Permissive parents express their love for their children by allowing their children to do whatever they want. And then stepping in to rescue them from the consequences of their actions by making excuses for them. Unlike permissive parents, authoritative parents don’t let their kids get away with bad behaviour and allow children to experience the consequences of their actions and learn from their mistakes.
Why is it difficult to implement authoritative parenting?
Authoritative parenting is not a parenting style that comes naturally to parents. This is because the authoritative style of parenting requires us to respond and not react.
In difficult situations – human beings are programmed to either fight or flee. Authoritarian parenting engages the fight response. Permissive parenting engages the flight response – and is a form of escape. Authoritative parenting requires thinking. It requires us to be completely present in the given situation. It requires us to assess and analyse every situation – engage fully with our children and explain and negotiate our way through the parenting experience. Authoritative parenting requires time and effort and must be learnt and perfected with practice.
How to practice authoritative parenting
The aim of authoritative parenting is to give children freedom and encourage independence. But alongside that it also involves fostering self-discipline and a respect for others. 5 steps on how you can implement authoritative parenting style
Step 1 – Have very high expectations
All of us want the best for our children. And if we want the best – we must expect the best. Because what you expect is what you get. The most important thing to remember when we expect the best however is – to not be rigid and unforgiving in deciding what that “best” is. Because when we are rigid and unforgiving with our expectations we are sure to be disappointed. A permissive parent – has no expectations An authoritarian parent – has rigid expectations. An example of a rigid expectation is – “My child will always get full marks in Maths and science” or “All boys must always be good at sports”. And because the expectation is so specific – an authoritarian parent gets extremely upset when what is expected is not delivered by the child. An authoritative parent – has high expectations. Such a parent expects the child to be attentive and well-behaved in school, to complete home-work and to study for the tests and to perform well in most subjects. If the child does not do well in some subjects the authoritative parent analyses and discusses the cause for the failure without getting upset. And formulates a strategy for improvement with the child. High expectations prompt children to rise to those expectations and increase the child’s self-esteem. Rigid expectations on the other hand – set children up for failure. And repeated failure leads to low self-esteem. Failure is inevitable in life. But when a child fails with his/her self-esteem intact – failure is not read as proof of personal inadequacy – but as an area for growth. Always expect the best – but tailor your expectations to build your child’s self- esteem. A child with positive self-esteem will exceed all your expectations.
Step 2 – Be reasonable about rules and obedience
Family rules are essential. They keep everyone safe, connected and productive. However it is essential to be reasonable and considerate when making rules. A permissive parent – has no rules and does not insist on any rule being followed. A permissive parent never says “No” to anything the child wants to do. As a result – children grow up without respect for rules. They break rules like traffic rules – endangering themselves. They also do not learn how to say “No” when they are in the danger of being bullied or abused because they have never seen their parents saying “No”. An authoritarian parent – has lots of rules for everything and always expects complete unquestioning obedience of those rules. Children who are brought up like this often do not realize that they have the right to speak when they do not like something. They are also unaware of how to put forward their views and opinions in a socially acceptable way. They are either totally submissive or resort to shouting and hitting – to get their point across. Because of these challenges – they often damage themselves – without achieving the change they desire. An authoritative parent – has a set of reasonable family rules that are made considering the child’s age, personality and abilities. It is expected that these rules will be obeyed and the child is corrected if this rule is broken. An authoritative parent makes rules that will benefit the child and keep her/him safe. But is also willing to argue the point with the child and defend the rule when the child wants something that the rule does not permit. Authoritative parenting teaches children that they have a right to have an opinion. That they have a right to speak up when they are not satisfied. Because they are allowed to express themselves – in the safe environment of their homes – these children learn how to think and negotiate in a socially acceptable way.to resolve unsatisfactory situations. There can be doubt about the fact that rules and discipline are important and everyone who wants to live in a civilized society must learn how to abide by rules. However, it can be dangerous and damaging to raise a child who cannot disagree and is unable to revolt and rebel when required. It is as important to help children learn how to stand up for themselves, for their thoughts ideas and principles as it is to teach them to obey.
Step 3 – Communicate
A key principle of authoritative parenting is communication. Communication involves both talking and listening An authoritarian parent – neither listens nor talks. Authoritarian parenting is practiced by closing down all channels of communication. A permissive parent – only listens and never talks. Permissive parenting hands over control to the child. The parent makes no attempt to emphasize the importance of rules – defend them or enforce them. The rules collapse as soon as the child says that he/she wants something that the rule does not allow. In permissive parenting – rules are practically non-existent An authoritative parent– leads the way for communication by explaining the reasons for making rules. An authoritative parent always answers the child’s “Why”. And asks and listens carefully when the child says “I won’t”. An authoritative parent is convinced that a rule needs to exist or a line needs to be drawn – and is willing to argue the point out until the child is convinced. Children who are parented by authoritative parents learn how to express themselves in words. And they learn how to use words effectively from their parents.
A two-year old who refuses to eat is expressing dissatisfaction and demanding change in a socially unacceptable way.
An authoritarian parent – will slap the child or pick him/her up and walk away A permissive parent – will allow a tantrum and then give in and allow what the child wants. Or offer a bribe or a distraction to make the child eat. An authoritative parent will calmly explain to the child why the meal is important and why the child needs to eat. Negotiation is an important life skill and every authoritative parent must grab every opportunity that presents itself in the form of a disagreement between parent and child – to teach negotiation skills. When we impose our will on our children by demanding compliance or using brute force, it saves us precious minutes on busy days but it also discourages thinking and the development of essential communication skills.
Step 4 – Help children develop thinking skills and responsibility
The purpose of Parenting is to let go. To slowly bring up children who are able to make responsible decisions by thinking carefully about the consequences Letting go however is so terrifying that many a times we find it easier to bind them in our rules and be authoritarian. We hide our fears for them under the easy garb of being rigid and non- communicative An authoritarian parent – sets inflexible boundaries that the child eventually always breaks. In many cases endangering himself/herself A permissive parent – is not able to define boundaries. Or defines boundaries that collapse as soon as the child protests against them. An authoritative parent – sets the child free by defining large but firm and inflexible boundaries (depending upon the age of the child) for them. Children will constantly push the boundaries that hold them in – but only to make sure that the boundaries are impossible to break. They need to know that the boundaries defined by their parents will keep them safe. That is when they feel free to confidently dream and create.
Step – 5 Allow your child to make some decisions
Good decision-making is learnt by practice. Authoritarian parents – will always tell the child what to do and insist on obedience – and mete out punishment when they are not obeyed Permissive parents – will allow the child do whatever he/she wants to do without giving their decisions the larger view that they as adults have of the situation. They will not guide their children’s decision by helping them see the pros and cons of a given behavior but jump in to rescue them when they are in trouble Authoritative parents – will help children decide what they want to do by helping them analyse the consequences of the decision. Unless something is dangerous – authoritative parents will allow children to do what they decide and allow them to experience the consequences of the decision
When a child is deciding how to spend his/her pocket-money
An authoritarian parent – will tell the child exactly what to do with the money. Such a child will never learn to make good decisions about money. A permissive parent – will allow the child to do whatever he/she likes with the money. And then supply more money if the child has spent all of it without any thought. Such a child will become spoilt and self- centered. An authoritative parent – will help the child think and decide how to split up the money so that some gets spent on useful things, some gets spent on pleasure and some can be saved. If the child does not agree – the authoritative parent will allow the money to be spent – but not step in with more money when the child falls short of it.
An authoritative parent will not compare and compete and therefore will not require a trophy child who never does anything wrong. Such a parent will be able to allow children the safe space to make mistakes and learn from them.
Are you an authoritative parent? Do share your parenting experience with me in comments below. Together let us try to parent better.
Dr Debmita Dutta MBBS, MD is a practicing clinician and a Parenting and Wellness Consultant in Bangalore. She conducts Parenting Workshops at schools and corporates. Her workshops and consultations are aimed at hand holding parents through their parenting journey. Contact - 9611739400 and firstname.lastname@example.org