Annie Keeling: Your parenting style matters
June 20, 2018
If patience is a rope, most parents have experienced the end of theirs. A child's small off-track behavior can often trigger a big reaction in the parent, especially if the parent is low on resources like sleep, nutrition, downtime or self-care.
The observable repetition of parenting behaviors can be looked at in terms of "Styles."
Six parenting styles
You may have heard parenting styles discussed in terms of permissive, authoritarian, or the popular term, "helicopter parent."
Most parents use parts of each of the following six styles. What seems most familiar to you from the list below?
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The disciplinarian and ultimate authority. Boundaries and limits are non-negotiable. Discipline, intimidation, threat and punishment are used to get the child to change their behavior.
Immediate results are obtained using the element of fear. This style also includes the modern-day yeller. This parent might be heard to say, "Children need limits. If they step over the line, the consequence is punishment."
One challenge is that when behavior escalates, often so does the punishment.
The Best Friend
This style is the opposite swing of The Czar. The emphasis is on good times together. Pleasing the child may be the parent's main agenda. There are loose boundaries.
The parent doesn't want to cause any discomfort. If the parent were to set limits, the child might not like them.
With the child as confidante, the parent defers to him or her for decision-making. This parent may say, "We're best friends."
One challenge is that the parent in this style may not ever model meeting his or her own needs — thus, children may take on the message that their needs come first.
In this style, parents ignore off-track behaviors. Inaction on the part of the parent can feel better than punishment. They may be unsure of the best action to take, so instead they wait and see — hoping the child will outgrow the behavior.
Also, they hope someone else — like a teacher, pastor, another parent or coach — will provide limits. This parent may be heard to say, "Oh, she'll grow out of it."
One challenge is that if no adult seems in charge, the child — even though they lack maturity and experience — will be in charge by default.
This style is the opposite swing of The Bystander. These parents want to be involved in every aspect of their child's life.
In the act of being engaged and attentive, this parent is in close proximity whenever possible. Awareness of risk and expression of concern is common. This parent may be heard to say, "I'm worried that…" This parent may be a rescuer, rushing in to help or fix — even problem-solving for their child and preventing pain and disappointment when possible.
One challenge is a tendency to use instant gratification to keep the child happy. This may include external motivation of punishment/reward to get the child to reach toward the perfection the parent seeks.
A main directive of this parenting style is to impart knowledge and skills. By sharing information, the parent believes he or she is teaching the child about the world. A lecture format may be used to instill learning.
The parent sees most experiences as opportunities for lessons. This can even lead to, "I will teach you a lesson." Like in school, positive behavior is rewarded, and the absence of a reward is punishment.
Due to the logical nature of this style, the door is left open for negotiation. This parent may be heard to say, "My child is going to be a lawyer with all those negotiation skills."
One challenge is that there is less opportunity for children to experience their own consequence or discovery.
In this style, parents guide the direction of the family, leading with the three R's (Respectful, Responsible, Reliable) behavior. Practice opportunities are created and encouraged for desired behaviors and learning.
These parents continually work on improving their own emotional and behavioral self-regulation, teaching through modeling. They have fun with their children yet set limits. They teach by sharing information and coach their children, helping them achieve goals.
The child is allowed, even encouraged, to make mistakes with a safety net. The parent is a curious detective. This parent might say "I wonder … What happens if … Let's try … What's another idea?"
One challenge is that this is difficult to do, especially in a society where positive guidance is not often modeled.
As you read over these six different styles, you might observe similarities or nod your head in agreement over certain characteristics. With some attributes, you might say, "No way. I never do that."
Consider what parenting styles your parents used. Are you very different or similar to your parents or caregivers?
When under stress or at a low point of patience, most people fall back into what they saw modeled as a child. If this works well for you, that's wonderful. Many people find, though, that they would like to interrupt a cycle from the past.
The purpose here is not to pigeonhole any parent into one style, but to increase observation and awareness of one's own behaviors. Many parenting behaviors are habitual.
How might you change an ingrained parenting style? Awareness is the first place to start.
Let's take an example. You ask your child to brush his teeth and he refuses. Here are some possible parenting style solutions:
The Czar: Yells at the child, escalating the amount of volume or even force to get the child to brush; threatens to stay home from the park the next day to get child to brush teeth that night.
The Best Friend: Uses humor, plays games, allows the child to jump on the bed, reads five books, ignores lateness of evening, hoping child will finally want to brush his teeth. If parent eventually feels bad enough, may also use guilt to get child to comply, threatening the child with the removal of "best friend" status.
The Bystander: Ignores the situation. Parent goes into the other room when child won't brush his teeth. Might even be okay with the child not brushing his teeth that night.
The Hovercraft: Parent expresses concern and worry over child not brushing his teeth. Tries to brush teeth for the child. Offers a treat or sticker if child does brush, upping the reward each time the child refuses.
The Teacher: Teaches child about cavities, discusses ways to brush teeth, reads a book on teeth brushing, negotiates with child on when and how teeth brushing will occur, and provides a reward as incentive.
The Guide: Understands that bedtime can be a challenge when the child (and parent) are tired or spent. Anticipates the denial of the toothbrush request based on recent experience. Creates a Routine Chart (visual representation of bedtime routine) with the child that clearly shows the agreed upon sequence and helps the child be in charge of following it. Then the parent encourages the child's independence, acts as a resource, and helps the child practice the expected behaviors at other times when not so tired.
The three R's
Whatever styles fits your personality and your family, practice bringing more awareness to the choices you make as a parent. Run them through the three R's litmus test by asking: What is the most respectful, responsible, reliable choice I can make as a parent in this moment?
Regardless of your parenting style, preparing your kids to become three R's adults is the most important job you have.
Annie Keeling, MFA, of Grass Valley provides parent coaching and teaches parenting classes at The Nest. Connect with Keeling at firstname.lastname@example.org or 530-210-1100.
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