Friday, February 25, 2011

What's Your Style?

The way you parent your child, your personal style of parenting, has a lot to do with how power is distributed in the relationship. There are indeed times when all the power needs to reside with the parent because of issues like safety, health or moral/ethical concerns. There are also times when children can be allowed to harbor much of the power and be counted on to make reasonable choices, such as what toys to play with or what shoes to wear, assuming that neither of these situations are presenting challenges.

But most times, parents and children can share power within their relationship, each having input and sharing their views freely and with respect.

Let’s say that you have a school-age child who comes home with a bag full of books for the night’s homework. A parent who employs an authoritarian style of parenting would most likely dictate when, how, and where the homework will get done. The child’s needs, feelings, and other considerations would not be taken into account. On the other hand, a permissive style of parenting would not build any expectations around the homework getting done. In most cases, a democratic style of parenting is the most effective tool for guiding children through the decisions they need to make to complete homework assignments. Parents who function within this style communicate with their child. They ask questions and they respond, not react. They engage the child in a creative discussion about how they feel they can get their work done. If the plan sounds reasonable, i.e.- child says he will do his homework after having a snack and talking to a friend for fifteen minutes- a democratic parent would support this but also hold the child accountable for following through. If the child does not do what he says he was going to do, a democratic parent might give a reminder and re-state the expectation.

If, however, the child begins to have incomplete homework assignments or poor preparation for tests, the parent may have to shift his/her style of parenting in regards to homework for a while. Again, the democratic parent would talk calmly to the child and explain that since he has trouble following through on doing the task, she will help him to become a better student by putting in place some groundrules about homework. Democratic parents reserve the use of rules and consequences for the “big” things like problem behaviors; they don’t have rules for everything. Instead, they parent by setting a few rules and many clearly communicated expectations.

Spending too much time as either a permissive or strict parent can yield poor outcomes for youth. Children who never have choices learn to be sneaky while children with too much freedom cannot appreciate limits and boundaries. Both end up lacking self-control, a much needed attribute for successful adult life.

The goal of parenting is to raise our children to be competent, responsible members of society. Our job is to provide them with the tools necessary to make good decisions and think through problems. A democratic family provides the best environment for that growth to happen!

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