Parenting - it doesn’t come with a manual and most parents simply try to do the best they can. Personal experience, and learning through trial and error, is the typical means by which parents learn to raise their own children.
The point of parenting after all, is to nurture and equip children to be the best versions of themselves. To allow children to grow into young adults who can venture out into the world with the character and abilities to take care of themselves, and enjoy life.
With conflicting parenting advice and no sure ‘right’ way to parent, being a parent is one of the hardest jobs in the world. What then can we learn about parenting styles, and how they impact children's development?
What Is A Parenting Style?
A parenting style is simply that, the way you choose to parent your children; from how you communicate, the values you keep and pass on, your expectations for your own behaviour and that of your kids. The time you invest, your level of responsiveness, and the responsibilities you give.
Essentially, a parenting style is the typical way you behave with your children, and how you encourage and expect them to behave.
Through numerous studies, researchers have identified four main styles of parenting: Authoritarian, Authoritative, Permissive and Indifferent. They are based upon two dimensions - demandingness and responsiveness.
Authoritarian parents take authority over their child, and leave little to no room for negotiation. An authoritarian parent tends to believe that children should do as they’re told, no matter what. They do not believe they need to explain their rules, or offer any opportunity for the child to voice their opinions.
The main focus for authoritarian parents is obedience. Punishments rather than discipline are used to coerce a child into obedience. The child’s feelings and thoughts are hardly ever accounted for, and the children are rarely, if ever, involved in discussions about how to overcome problems and challenges. There is high-demand with little responsiveness.
Whilst on the surface the children of authoritarian parents may seem well-behaved and amenable, all is not usually well underneath the perfect behaviour. Children of authoritarian parents often develop self-esteem problems, because their individuality and voice is unheard and unvalued. This can also lead to a hostile or aggressive nature as the child develops.
Authoritative parents also ensure they have the authority within the family unit, but not at the expense of the child’s feelings and wellbeing.
Authoritative parents wish to instil good values and behaviour in their children, but do so in a collaborative manner. They have demands on their children, but also invest a lot of time and effort in creating a positive relationship with their children, providing a balanced approach.
Authoritative parents ask their children's thoughts and opinions on the issues they face. The child's feelings are taken into account when consequences are put in place. Reasons are explained for rules, and negotiations are considered. Positive discipline is at the forefront of handling poor decisions and behaviour of the children, such as praise and reward systems. Children are valued enough to be thoughtfully considered, and taught to make better choices through positive reinforcement and fair consequences.
Children of authoritative parents have been shown to be most likely to become responsible adults, who feel comfortable expressing their point of view. They tend to be happy, successful and capable of making good decisions.
Permissive parents tend to take on the role of friend rather than parent. Permissive parenting is highly responsive, but places little to no demands or expectations on the children. The parents tend to be very lenient, setting the odd rule or no rules, and hardly ever enforce them. Consequences for bad choices or poor behaviour are few and far between. Permissive parents typically believe that their children do best with as little interference from them as possible.
Children are encouraged to talk through problems, and the parents are extremely forgiving, understanding and validating. However, personal responsibility on the part of the child is absent. Any consequences are frequently taken back if the child protests enough.
Children of permissive parents usually have a hard time respecting authority figures or appreciating rules, and therefore their behaviour can be more problematic. Children also often have low levels of self-esteem and report a great deal of sadness. These children may also suffer with more health problems as the parents do not maintain boundaries for healthy eating and self-care.
An indifferent parenting style is uninvolved and disinterested. Parents rarely ask their children how they are, what they’ve been doing, or who they’ve been spending time with. Indifferent parents are usually too focused on their own problems to be present for their children. There are few expectations of the children and little responsiveness from the parents.
Children of indifferent parents tend to take care of most of their own physical and emotional needs. They cannot depend on their parents to nurture them, or provide the attention, support and guidance that’s so crucial for healthy child development. Whilst this style of parenting is neglectful, the parents are usually not equipped to properly care for their children.
Mental health problems, substance misuse, and lack of knowledge about good parenting and healthy relationships, are common amongst indifferent parents.
Children of parents with an indifferent style of parenting are likely to struggle in many areas of their lives. They have low self-esteem, perform poorly at school, suffer with frequent feelings of unhappiness and have difficulty managing their own behaviour.
The Importance Of Parenting Styles
It’s clear, the way we interact with our children has life-changing consequences for them. Parenting is one of the hardest jobs in the world, but it’s also one of the most important and rewarding.
The style we adopt when we communicate and care for our kids has a huge impact on their sense of self and their ability to enjoy and thrive in their personal lives. We love our children, and want what’s best for them, so understanding the different styles of parenting and their influence on child development is extremely valuable. We can learn better ways to cooperate and guide our children into healthy adulthood.
By investing the right amount of time, structure, teaching and support we can give our children the best possible chance to feel happy and achieve their goals. We can provide them with the nurture they need to be capable, responsible adults themselves one day.