It seems as if many parents lose sight of the fact that their goal is to raise an adult and not to simply raise a tall child. I say this because many parents adapt a reactive parenting model. They don't adopt any particular parenting style; they don't set any goals with regard to their children's development or growth; and they don't make plans to instill any particular values in their children. Instead, they wait for the next problem to come up or decision to be made and then do whatever seems right at the moment.
Before continuing, let's be clear on one thing. Parents who reactively parent, are not lazy. They care as much about their children as other parents but are often too overwhelmed by daily life to take the time to create a parenting plan, define goals, and select a parenting style that works for them. Many parents simply are not aware of the different parenting styles, the styles' benefits and drawbacks, and how to determine which style(s) are the best fit.
Let's start by reviewing some common parenting styles. This may help parents to determine where they are now and where they would like to be.
Standard parenting styles
This is a stern parenting style that focuses on rules and obedience. Authoritarian parents use punishment as the primary means to get children to behave. When children are praised, the praise usually focuses on compliance and performance.
Children raised by authoritarian parents tend to follow rules without question and rarely get in trouble outside of the home. Unfortunately, these children have higher levels of anxiety than other children, are often socially immature, and lack problem solving skills.
Permissive parents set very few guidelines for their children and rarely, if ever, use punishment as a parenting tool. These parents believe that children do best if they learn self-regulation, and they believe that kids should not receive external pressure to behave more maturely or to exercise self-discipline. Permissive parents are responsive to the emotional needs of their children. They are more likely to give feedback than direct orders. They do not place many limits on their children.
As children with permissive parents develop, they tend to have highly developed problem solving and social skills. However, they often underperform slightly in school and sometimes struggle to follow rules and guidelines.
Authoritative parents set limits, establish rules and standards, and enforce these rules using both punishments and rewards. They provide guidance to their children and take action to insure that children increase their level of maturity and self-discipline as they get older. Unlike authoritarian parents, the goal of authoritative parents is to develop independence and problem solving skills. Rules are usually established based on the best interests of the child and are often flexible.
Children from authoritative homes are usually socially mature, achieve well, and have good problem solving skills.
This parenting style is one adopted by parents who are completely detached from their children. Children from these homes are allowed to do as they wish, but they do not receive any emotional support or guidance. Uninvolved parents often meet the physical needs of their children but neglect or ignore their emotional needs.
Children from these families are most likely to struggle with mental health issues, struggle in school, and become delinquent.
When parenting styles are discussed, many people bring up the subject of helicopter parenting. This is not a recognized parenting style because parents opting to use any of the standard parenting styles-with the exception of uninvolved parenting-can have helicopter parenting tendencies. For example, permissive parents might constantly monitor their child's emotional needs and fix things for them without allowing the child to develop coping skills. An authoritative parent may spend homework time going over each and every problem with the child providing instruction as the child works rather than allowing the child to work things out for his or herself.
Finding the ideal parenting style
The first thing parents should recognize is uninvolved parenting is irresponsible and damaging to children. They should also know different children may benefit from different parenting styles and parents may develop their own parenting style based on their child's needs at any given time.
The parenting style parents use or create should be a part of an overall plan to help the child develop into a highly functioning, thoughtful, intelligent and capable adult.
Here are a few questions for parents who are trying to define their goals as parents.
Can you help your children find value in their mistakes? Or, do you believe in teaching them to avoid mistakes by following directives?
How important is it for your children to obey the principles of your religion?
Are your children more or less independent than you would like them to be?
What five things do you want your children to value as adults?
Do your children function better with more structure?
Do you believe that children should be expected to live up to high standards?
Do you believe that excessive rules result in dependence on authority?
Do you believe that stern but justified punishment serves as a deterrent against future misbehavior?
Do you believe that punishment only creates resentment and stops kids from developing the ability to self-regulate?
When parents answer these questions and take an honest assessment of their current parenting situation, they should be able to outline what they want to accomplish in raising their children. Knowing your parenting goals is the first step towards adopting the best parenting style for each child.
Once parents have developed their parenting style, the most important thing they can do is be willing to adapt and change that style as their children's needs adapt and change. They should also remember that no approach to parenting is perfect and no single change in parenting style is going to be successful overnight.