Dear Readers: Thank you to those who recognized and commented on the mistake I made in transposing the labels of Authoritarian and Authoritative parenting. (I agree, WG, I wish someone would rename the styles!). If you are reading this post for the first time, the information is now correct.
What can I do about a child who constantly disagrees, argues and questions everything I ask him to do?
My 6-year-old son is constantly second-guessing everything I tell him. If I say up, he says down. Everything is a fight. No matter what I ask him to do, his immediate response is NO. Then we go through the whole routine of fighting about it. In which I eventually win, but its so frustrating that day in, day out this is how we function.
From: Joelle, Reading, Ma
Most likely, your son is always pushing the limit because: (1) he's confused about when you are going to set the limit because your limit-setting has been inconsistent; (2) he's become used to having an inappropriate amount of power.
So I'm gonna go out on a limb here and say that this is a combination of your style of parenting and his personality & temperament.
A quick lesson in parenting styles.
There are four of them:
Authoritative. This parent is warm & affectionate. Limit-setting is reasoned & reasonable, based on the belief that what children need from their parents is guidance and training. This parent validates a child’s feelings: “It’s OK to feel sad about this.” For a good example of this in action, watch a rerun of “The Cosby Show.”
Authoritarian. This parent is stern and controlling and subscribes to a “because I said so” belief that if parents don’t maintain power over children, children will be spoiled brats. Limit-setting is maintained through lots of rules and punitive measures, including spanking. This parents devalues feelings: “Don’t be a wimp.”
Permissive (aka indulgent). This parent is loving & warm but also inconsistent, subscribing to laissez-faire thinking that children are basically good and able to modulate themselves best when parents are mostly hands off. Limit-setting is flexible, inconsistent, and sometimes non-existent. This parent is most likely to smother a child: “How can I take the hurt away?”
Disengaged. This parent is cold & uninvolved, not necessarily abusive but neglectful & scattered. Limit-setting is inconsistent, often not well thought-out (“If your teacher says so…” “If that’s what Jane’s mother does..”)
Here’s how this might play out. In any given situation, the authoritative parent says, “Let’s talk;” the authoritarian parent says, “NO!”; the indulgent parent says, “Sure, honey;” and the disengaged parents doesn’t say much of anything.
Important: these styles are influences only. The child’s personality and temperament are huge factors, too. What’s really important is how the parenting style mixes with what the child brings to the table. So in your family, it sounds like your child is verbal & vocal & self-confident. It sounds like you most naturally fall into the permissive/indulgent style.
That combination? Not a great mix.
You need some corrections.
Since you’ve been bending over too far on the indulgent side, tilt toward the authoritarian (by far, the most preferred and recommended style.) Meaning, there are times when it’s appropriate to allow him to argue & disagree, and times when you simply need to set the limit. “You know what? I’m the parent. It’s my job to decide about this and my decision is X, not Y.”
Start off gently with this; like a sailboat, too much correction too fast can be a disaster!
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