Saint Patrick’s Day is just around the corner, a day when we think about our luck. It may look like luck when parents have well-behaved children, but luck is not the most important factor. It is true that children are born with distinct personality traits but their behavior is more directly a reflection of the parents’ child-rearing practices than of luck. There are three primary styles of parenting and each style produces a different type of child behaviors.
Autocratic parents believe that a child should be “seen and not heard”. They use power and physical force to gain unquestioning obedience to their rules which are set without explanations or consideration for the child’s needs or abilities. Children from autocratic families learn to obey rules to avoid punishment. Unfortunately, since they focus on learning behaviors necessary to avoid punishment rather than upon developing the positive behaviors that enable society to operate, they conform to expected behaviors only when the threat of punishment is present. At school, these children are withdrawn, easily upset, moody, mistrustful, and apprehensive. In times of stress they frequently settle disputes with fists or harsh words.
Indulgent parents, on the other hand, believe that their child is in some way more special than others and deserves a “perfect” childhood with no pain, frustration, or disappointments. When society expects mature, responsible or independent behaviors of the child, the parents make excuses for failures and misbehavior – “He’s just a baby”, or “. . .all boy”, or “. . .too tired”. Indulgent parents frequently brag that they don’t punish because they just can’t stand to make their child unhappy. Because children of indulgent parents do not learn internal controls, they throw temper tantrums, won’t go to bed, and can’t seem to behave in public. When their behavior pushes parents beyond endurance they sometimes resort to using harsh words, sarcasm, ridicule, and physical punishment. Parental guilt over their own behavior leads to further indulgences and a destructive cycle of relationships results. Indulged children have trouble separating from parents, are dependent, cry easily, and lack self-control when things don’t go their way.
No one fits exactly into either of these extreme roles, but if you can see some reflection of yourself or your child in these descriptions, it’s time to change your family interactions. This is not easy especially if you have already established other patterns. A move to the more democratic parenting techniques of the authoritative parent, while difficult, is well worth the effort since it results in the kind of children we all like to be with.
Authoritative parents set high standards for mature and responsible behavior which are based upon the needs and abilities of their children. They set reasonable rules, and consequences for breaking those rules. They make sure that children understand the reasons for restrictions, then they firmly, consistently, and lovingly enforce the rules. They do not give in to whining, tears, tantrums, or pleas. These parents are confident in their ability and in their responsibility to set and maintain standards of appropriate childhood behavior. They are generous with praise and physical affection as they make sure that their children do not avoid the consequences of their behaviors. They help children to realize that these consequences are not forced upon them by parents or teachers, but rather they are the result of the child’s own actions and choices.
Change your parenting style to authoritative and maybe soon you’ll hear others tell you how “lucky” you are to have active, curious, independent, and self-controlled children who have mature standards of behavior and who choose to do what is right – because it is right – not just to avoid punishment. Good Luck!