Parenting with Style

2 min read

by Dr. Damon Korb

Child development experts are often asked, “Which parenting style works best?” As you might expect, there is simply not a one-size fits all answer to this question.

Children are different. Their temperaments are different. Temperament is a term used to describe a child’s innate and enduring behavioral and emotional tendencies. It includes traits like adaptability, activity level, mood, and responsiveness to environmental stimuli. Temperament drives a child’s interactions with the world and shapes their personality. Given the diversity of children and their behaviors, one would expect that a variety of parenting styles would be needed.

Meanwhile, the ongoing brain development during childhood makes selecting the best parenting response a moving target. As children age, their needs are in flux. A two-year-old needs to be kept safe, a four-year-old is learning to manage emotions, and an eight-year-old is gaining independence. Throughout these different changes, children depend on adults to flexibly teach them right from wrong and how they should interact with others.

Finally, complicating the question is the fact that parents are also different and have their own unique temperamental characteristics. How should an extroverted adult parent an introverted child and would it be different than if both the parent and child were introverted? Would an anxious or a calm adult more effectively parent a nervous child? The good news is that parents can have a wildly different temperament and personality than their child, yet still provide effective care and room for growth.

There are generally considered to be four primary approaches to parenting and we know that an “Authoritative” style provides the best long-term outcomes. Here is an overview of typical parenting approaches.

Authoritative Parenting: Authoritative parents set clear expectations and rules for their children, but also provide warmth and support. In doing so, they encourage independence, foster a positive environment, and are open to communication. Their children tend to be more self-reliant, socially competent and feel better about themselves.

Authoritarian Parenting: Authoritarian parents are highly demanding, but less responsive. The set strict rules and expect unquestioning obedience from their children. This rigid approach can yield children with poor social skills and lower self-esteem.

Permissive Parenting: Permissive parents are highly attentive and less demanding. Their nurturing style overshadows their lack of limit-setting. Although this approach can result in a warm and supporting environment, children of these parents lack self-discipline and struggle with authority figures.

Uninvolved Parenting: These parents are neither demanding nor responsive. They can neglect their children’s physical and emotional needs, offering minimal guidance or support. When parents utilize this style, their children often suffer. They are more likely to act out and demonstrate a lack of emotional regulation and low self-esteem.

What experienced clinicians know is that a caregiving approach that balances components of authoritative direction, along with emotional support and flexibility, allows parents to navigate the intricacies of their child’s temperament and evolving developmental needs every step of the way. Recognizing and respecting the unique qualities of each child allows parents to tailor their responses accordingly.

If your family would like to transition toward a more authoritative parenting style, parents can start by actively fostering open communication with their children. This involves listening to their thoughts and feelings, without judgement, and encouraging them to express themselves. Setting clear expectations and consistent boundaries is crucial, but it is equally important to explain the reasoning behind the rules, promoting a sense of understanding and cooperation.

Offering guidance rather than imposing strict control also helps children develop their own decision-making skills. This approach allows children to learn from their experiences, which will in turn contribute to their development as responsible and competent individuals.

Cultivating an authoritative parenting style involves a continuous process of self-reflection and adjustment. Acknowledging areas for improvement and being open to refining one’s approach, based on the child’s needs and developmental stage, is key. If this all sounds overwhelming, there are many resources and experts that can help you adapt. Child psychologists, pediatricians, and parenting coaches can all guide parents in putting a new parenting style in place.

By prioritizing a balance of constructive advice, emotional support, and flexibility, parents can create a nurturing environment where a child feels understood, valued, and encouraged to explore their individuality. In addition, carve out some moments to be truly present with your child each day, along with enjoying time to play, and ultimately you will create a positive parent-child relationship that lasts a lifetime!

Damon Korb, MD, FAAP is one of the country’s leading behavioral and developmental pediatricians, founder of the Center for Developing Minds (and dad to five children!), and author of the best-selling, sanity-saving book with The American Academy of Pediatrics: Raising an Organized Child: 5 Steps to Boost Independence, Ease Frustration, and Promote Confidence.

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