What style parenting do you subscribe to?

Posted by Barbara F. Meltz  August 24, 2009 06:00 AM

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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.

Hi Barbara:

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.

Any suggestions?

From: Joelle, Reading, Ma

Hi Joelle,

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.
http://www.aboutourkids.org/articles/parenting_styleschildren039s_temperaments_match

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!

I answer a question from a reader every weekday. If you want help with
some aspect of child-rearing, just write to me here.


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9 comments so far...
  1. One of the best parenting books I've encountered is "Beyond Time Out: From Chaos to Calm" by Beth Grosshans. It changed how I parent completely!

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=46vDV0lZDso

    Posted by E August 24, 09 11:10 AM
  1. Did you mean this:

    "tilt toward the authoritative (by far, the most preferred and recommended style.) "

    The prior descriptions almost made it sound like Authoritarian was preferred.

    Posted by curious August 24, 09 12:37 PM
  1. When you said, "tilt toward the authoritative (by far, the most preferred and recommended style.) , " did you mean to recommend "Authoritarian"? That style sounds more consistent with what you're recommending.

    Posted by nutella14 August 24, 09 12:54 PM
  1. You've got your definitions mixed up--authoritarian and authoritative should be switched.

    Posted by J August 24, 09 05:51 PM
  1. According to the usual presentation of this, you have Authoritative and Authoritarian mixed up throughout most of the article. Please check your reference.

    Posted by di August 24, 09 08:16 PM
  1. Yeah, you've just got your labels flipped on this page (Authoritarian and Authoritative). That happens all the time. I always wish they'd come up with another name for one of them.

    Posted by wg August 25, 09 11:04 AM
  1. My Bad!

    Dear Readers, I did indeed get my definitions mixed up as everyone of you suspected. I apologize for the confusion, and, for the record, it is Authoritative that is warm & affectionate, and Authoritarian that is stern & controlling.

    Sorry for any confusion and thanks to all of you for catching my error.

    Barbara Meltz

    Posted by Barbara Meltz August 25, 09 10:05 PM
  1. "Unconditional Parenting" by Alfie Kohn was the most helpful parenting book we've read. He reinforced our gut instincts that punitive discipline was the wrong approach for our child, and that solutions involving "working with" rather than "doing to" were the most effective ways to deal with behavioural issues.

    We also rely on the books by Louise Ames, most especially "Your Six Year Old". Much of what our son does is typical behaviour for 6, and we've adjusted our expectations accordingly. She has a lot of good techniques and sensible suggestions.

    Posted by green August 25, 09 11:59 PM
  1. I have wrestled with these kind of standoffs too which feel so unsatisfying even when you "win." Here are a couple recent takes:

    http://dadtoday.blogspot.com/2009/07/just-james.html

    and

    http://dadtoday.blogspot.com/2009/08/mad.html

    A big part of the equation, I think is to give it your best, try to be consistent, but also to give yourself a break, and try to laugh it off. Some of these really are just no-win situations. Hands down.

    Also, I am losing these these battles all the time, but find the losing so much easier to swallow when my wife and I are in agreement at least about how we're going to try to handle them, and when we back each other up on whatever we decide to do. Thanks for raising the question.

    Posted by Stefan August 27, 09 07:08 AM
 
9 comments so far...
  1. One of the best parenting books I've encountered is "Beyond Time Out: From Chaos to Calm" by Beth Grosshans. It changed how I parent completely!

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=46vDV0lZDso

    Posted by E August 24, 09 11:10 AM
  1. Did you mean this:

    "tilt toward the authoritative (by far, the most preferred and recommended style.) "

    The prior descriptions almost made it sound like Authoritarian was preferred.

    Posted by curious August 24, 09 12:37 PM
  1. When you said, "tilt toward the authoritative (by far, the most preferred and recommended style.) , " did you mean to recommend "Authoritarian"? That style sounds more consistent with what you're recommending.

    Posted by nutella14 August 24, 09 12:54 PM
  1. You've got your definitions mixed up--authoritarian and authoritative should be switched.

    Posted by J August 24, 09 05:51 PM
  1. According to the usual presentation of this, you have Authoritative and Authoritarian mixed up throughout most of the article. Please check your reference.

    Posted by di August 24, 09 08:16 PM
  1. Yeah, you've just got your labels flipped on this page (Authoritarian and Authoritative). That happens all the time. I always wish they'd come up with another name for one of them.

    Posted by wg August 25, 09 11:04 AM
  1. My Bad!

    Dear Readers, I did indeed get my definitions mixed up as everyone of you suspected. I apologize for the confusion, and, for the record, it is Authoritative that is warm & affectionate, and Authoritarian that is stern & controlling.

    Sorry for any confusion and thanks to all of you for catching my error.

    Barbara Meltz

    Posted by Barbara Meltz August 25, 09 10:05 PM
  1. "Unconditional Parenting" by Alfie Kohn was the most helpful parenting book we've read. He reinforced our gut instincts that punitive discipline was the wrong approach for our child, and that solutions involving "working with" rather than "doing to" were the most effective ways to deal with behavioural issues.

    We also rely on the books by Louise Ames, most especially "Your Six Year Old". Much of what our son does is typical behaviour for 6, and we've adjusted our expectations accordingly. She has a lot of good techniques and sensible suggestions.

    Posted by green August 25, 09 11:59 PM
  1. I have wrestled with these kind of standoffs too which feel so unsatisfying even when you "win." Here are a couple recent takes:

    http://dadtoday.blogspot.com/2009/07/just-james.html

    and

    http://dadtoday.blogspot.com/2009/08/mad.html

    A big part of the equation, I think is to give it your best, try to be consistent, but also to give yourself a break, and try to laugh it off. Some of these really are just no-win situations. Hands down.

    Also, I am losing these these battles all the time, but find the losing so much easier to swallow when my wife and I are in agreement at least about how we're going to try to handle them, and when we back each other up on whatever we decide to do. Thanks for raising the question.

    Posted by Stefan August 27, 09 07:08 AM
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About the author

Barbara F. Meltz is a freelance writer, parenting consultant, and author of "Put Yourself in Their Shoes: Understanding How Your Children See the World." She won several awards for her weekly "Child Caring" column in the Globe, including the 2008 American Psychological Association Print Excellence award. Barbara is available as a speaker for parent groups.

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