Your Parenting Style

The primary approaches to child rearing are permissive, strict, and flexible:

  • Permissive parenting: Parents who rely on this approach are friends to their children. They trust them to make good decisions and believe that children need freedom and autonomy in order to flourish. An advantage of this approach is that the high level of parental acceptance promotes emotional closeness. A disadvantage is that some children have difficulty with the lack of clear structure and direction.

  • Strict parenting: Parents who prefer this approach believe that since children don't know what's good for them, adults need to make the decisions and children need to learn to obey. Such parents are careful to keep their world separate from their children's, set clear expectations, and provide a lot of structure. Although children may dislike having many rules, they benefit from knowing that an adult is in control. The danger is that unless parents consider their individual child's capabilities, their expectations may be overly demanding.

  • Flexible parenting: This approach focuses on using positive teaching methods to help children learn what they need to know so they can follow rules and make good decisions. Flexible parents know it is up to them to have the final say in matters of consequence, but they are careful to consider their children's personalities and solicit their opinions so that they can participate in decisions that affect them. The disadvantage is that considering individual needs can be more taxing.

  • No style is right or wrong. Each has its pluses and minuses. Ideally, parents will adopt a style that meets their child's needs. Unfortunately, instead of considering their individual child, many parents raise their youngsters the way they were raised. It is important to avoid the “if it was good enough for me, it's good enough for my child” mentality. What works for some children backfires with others. You and your child are two different people!

    Some parents believe in spanking younger children, but there is never a reason to hit a tween. He'll learn to handle frustrations similarly. Hitting at school is called “fighting,” and your child can be expelled. When a teenager or adult hits, it's called “assault,” and the punishment is jail.

    Permissive Pals

    Parents who adopt a laissez-faire or hands-off approach relate to their children more like friends than authority figures. This approach works well for youngsters who only need a bit of advice now and then to find the right path and stick to it, and some kids flourish with a lenient, anything-goes parent. However, some children need more structure and limits. When given a lot of freedom, they make bad decisions.

    Too much autonomy and independence can create a very insecure, spoiled, out-of-control youngster who begins looking to siblings, friends, teachers, and eventually police officers and judges to set limits and enforce consequences. If you are a permissive parent, expand your parenting skills by taking a parenting class or assertiveness training class to improve your ability to deal with conflict.

    Parents who choose permissive parenting may operate more like friends than authority figures. Their strength is their ability to enjoy their tweens as people in their own right, which can lead to exceptionally warm, joyful relationships.

    Whether or not you adopt a firmer approach, don't undermine teachers and other adults who impose rules and limits. If people complain about your child's behavior, don't rescue your “poor baby” or side with your tween against them!

    A Boot Camp Parent

    Very strict parents believe that teaching children to do the right thing and to obey are top priorities. They are conscientious about communicating expectations, providing structure, setting limits, and following through with consequences. While your tween may not like many of your rules and regulations, he has the security of knowing what is expected and the consequences for failing to comply. However, too much emphasis on respecting authority may make it difficult to step out of the parenting role long enough to engage in lighthearted play, which is important for relationship building.

    Although strict parents know what they want their youngsters to do and how they want them to act, they may not know how to enforce their rules. Being more comfortable in the role of police officer than teacher, parents may assume that tweens break rules because they are willful or lazy and fail to see that tweens need to be taught. This leads them to punish their children for misbehaving instead of teaching them how to behave correctly. Fearful children may develop an exaggerated sense of their own inadequacy as they fail in their efforts to please. Tweens with bolder personalities become increasingly defiant. To expand your parenting skills, read books on child development, ask others whether they think you're being too harsh and demanding, and accept what they tell you!

    Flexible Fixer-Uppers

    Authoritative parents believe in taking children's individual needs into account when making decisions. They solicit youngsters' opinions but are careful to have the final say. These parents are flexible, being strict or lenient as the situation dictates. Thus, they can engage in some playful silliness one minute and quickly call a halt to the shenanigans if their tween gets out of hand. They see themselves as teachers and are good at working on one issue at a time instead of trying to tackle everything at once, as strict parents often do, or never tackling anything, which is a problem for some permissive parents.

    Authoritative parents' willingness to consider many factors when making decisions can backfire, however, when tweens employ logic and advanced negotiating strategies to get their way. Some parents end up saying “yes” when their hearts tell them that their answer should be “no.” It can be easy for them to overlook their own needs, too, and they run the risk of becoming drained or burned out.

    To expand your parenting skills, learn to say “no.” When your child doesn't accept your reasons, end debates by saying, “because I said so.” Put yourself first sometimes. Join a parenting support group. Enlist others to baby-sit.

    Spouses with Different Styles

    Spouses can complement each other if they appreciate their differences. Otherwise, they may become more extreme and rigid as they try to compensate for what they consider to be their partner's flaws. Hence, an easygoing father may adopt an “anything goes” attitude to try to make up for an overly strict mother. This causes her to be even stricter to make up for his failure to set limits.

    When disagreements arise, don't argue in front of your child. Parent discord evokes anxiety under any circumstances; when a tween is the subject of the argument, the guilt is tremendous. Don't allow your child to play one parent off against the other. Discuss your differences in private. Agree to respect each other's decisions if you can and see a family counselor for help if you can't.

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