Who’s Afraid of Authoritative Parenting?
How to set limits and rules that stick.
Based on the work of Diana Baumrind, a developmental psychologist, there are four primary parenting styles: authoritarian, permissive, neglectful and authoritative parents.
Authoritarian parents expect children to follow a strict set of rules and expectations. They usually rely on punishment to demand obedience or teach a lesson. Children of these parents tend to be timid and have low self-esteem.
Permissive parents tend to be lenient. They try to avoid confrontation at all costs. Few rules are set and if there are rules they are rarely enforced. This lack of structure causes children to grow up with little self-discipline and self-control.
Neglectful parents don't care for their child’s emotional or physical needs. They may spend long periods away from home. They do not provide a safe space for the child where they feel that they have an adult that they can count on. This is the most destructive type of parenting.
Authoritative parents strike a balance between high expectations and support, love and understanding. Children feel comfortable voicing their fears, thoughts and opinions to their parents. However, routines and structure are maintained. Parents impose limits and rules, and enforce consistent and loving consequences when rules are broken. Children from this type of parenting generally become emotionally healthy and stable adults.
Many parents would like to embrace this authoritative parenting style but are uncomfortable with imposing any types of rules and limits. They feel like they’re being mean or too tough.
Modern parents do have trouble being assertive. Our generation has been ingrained with the democratic principles that everyone should be treated equally. We therefore have a much harder time than our parents did in enforcing authority.
And children today don’t instinctively obey their parents. The human rights movement of the 1960s shifted traditional mores. Duty and obedience were basic, universal values in earlier eras and people were expected to be submissive to higher authorities. Today, submissiveness and obedience are seen as outdated. Everyone is fighting for equal rights, even children.
The fact that many adults are uncomfortable with asserting their authority and that children are unable to accept it has created an unhealthy balance in the parent/child relationship.
Children need limits and rules, as well as love support and understanding. Without them, children are unhappy,
stressed, anxious, and depressed. Underneath all their bluster, kids really want to learn how to listen to their parents. They want parents to stick to their limits and enforce their rules. It helps them feel safe and secure. Parents need to parent.
Parents today may find it easier to embrace the authoritative parenting method by couching rules and limits with empathy. We can enforce our rules while at the same time show children that we understand that it is difficult to acquiesce. Children are better able to accept rules and limits when we show them that we understand that it is tough for them.
For example, instead of giving in:
“Okay fine, you can play on the computer before homework! But never again!”
“I see how frustrated you are that computer time comes after homework. The rule is homework needs to be completed before computer time.”
“Sara, its time to go! It’s getting late. Okay fine, you can play for a little bit more, but then it’s really time to go!”
“You are so sad you have to leave the park. You wish you could play here all day. It is time to go.”
“I don't know when I am going to go to the grocery store, but I guess if you want the car you can have the car!”
“I hear how angry you are that the car is not available to you now. When I come back from grocery shopping it will be available.”
These empathetic phrases will probably need to be repeated many times when you are in the throes of a conflict with your child. They also have the added bonus of keeping us calm; it is hard for both sides to get angry when one is using empathy and neutral language. Most importantly, they evoke love along with the firmness that is required of an authoritative parent.