WHAT PARENTS SHOULD MAKE OF PARENTING STYLES
Parents don’t have to look far in the media for articles about different parenting styles and their effects on children’s development – ‘helicopter’ and ‘lawnmower’ parenting styles appear to be the styles du jour, but dig deeper and you’ll find references to attachment, tiger, permissive, authoritarian styles and more. As parents, what are we supposed to make of all of this?
Research on different parenting styles largely stems from work done in the 1960s by a psychologist called Diana Baumrind, who suggested that parents need to demonstrate a mix of warmth and control. This means balancing responding to children’s needs and providing them with love, support and care, with setting and maintaining boundaries and managing behaviour.
As part of this work, Baumrind identified 3 parenting styles – authoritarian, where parents tip more towards control and where obedience and adherence to rules are most important; permissive, where parents tip more towards responsiveness and where there are few boundaries or rules; and authoritative, where parents maintain a healthy balance between warmth and control. A fourth style was subsequently added – neglectful, where there is limited warmth and control.
Fast forward to today, and there is a plethora of research and media commentary on parenting styles – so much so it would be easy for parents to feel overwhelmed and confused. This is further compounded by the fact parenting has traditionally been viewed as something instinctive.
What to make of this:
The style parents adopt when parenting can have a significant impact on their child’s development.
Parents would benefit from critically appraising the research and media commentary they read about parenting styles. Whilst some styles are undoubtedly preferable, e.g. it is widely accepted that an authoritative trumps a neglectful style and that a helicopter style can prevent children learning critical skills, it is important to be wary of fads and to recognise that just because something is research based this doesn't mean it is right. It is also important to remember the techniques used by the media to sell a story.
In reality, parenting styles are influenced by a number of factors, and parents rarely display all the characteristics of one generalised style. It is never helpful to apply labels and whilst a parent’s approach may tend towards a particular style it will be influenced by a broader set of complex factors. These include the parent’s upbringing, core values and beliefs, lifestyle and culture; their partner’s preferred style, the nature of their children, any significant events that may have occurred, their learned skills and the current zeitgeist or ‘mood of the day’.
There is value in parents being aware of what these influences are for them so they can consciously decide what they would like their parenting style to be. When doing this, remember that it is possible to change! A core part of any change process will involve developing greater self-awareness. It will also involve recognising that parents may end up choosing a style that is counter cultural. This process doesn't have to be long and complex – it’s the kind of thing that can be pondered on a long walk, or discussed over dinner.
Parents should bear in mind that there is no one-size fits all parenting style and that styles should flex based on the unique needs of the child. As such, parents with more than one child may adopt a different style for each child and will likely adopt a different style to their friends. Styles are also influenced by the situation in hand, e.g. a different style will be adopted where children are tired, hungry or unwell.
Whichever style a parent chooses to adopt, they should ensure it includes a good dose of resilience coaching. This means proactively teaching children how to respond positively to challenges, e.g. teaching them how to manage their emotions and/or giving them more independence, to name just two. Bear in mind that resilience coaching aligns better with some parenting styles than others, e.g. it doesn’t align well with the lawnmower style as this advocates removing all obstacles from a child’s path which a resilience coach would say represents an important learning opportunity for children (within reason).
For the most part, the styles parents adopt come from a place of love. Remember this – everyone makes mistakes and no parent or child is perfect, despite what may be presented on Facebook or Instagram. Parents need to show themselves compassion and stop beating themselves up. Key to this is self-care – if parents have had enough sleep, have eaten well and exercised they will be more able to respond pragmatically to feelings of overwhelm and confusion.
Seek some feedback from someone close to you on how you parent your child. Reflect upon what you want your style to be and come up with a plan for putting any changes into effect.