Raising Competent Kids: The Authoritative Parenting Style
Ballantine, Jeanne, Childhood Education
It's the nightly battle! Our 4-year-old does NOT want to take a bath. She is busy with her toys and knows the routine--bath and then bed. She is moving toward a tantrum.
How can parents resolve such problems without risking full-blown conflict? Family researchers have identified four styles that parents use to interact with their children: authoritative, authoritarian, permissive, and neglectful. Although some families fall between the styles, most families use one of the following approaches:
* Authoritative parents are demanding and responsive, controlling but not restrictive. This child-centered pattern includes high parental involvement, interest, and active participation in the child's life; open communication; trust and acceptance; encouragement of psychological autonomy; and awareness of where children are, with whom, and what they are doing.
* Authoritarian parents are demanding, but not responsive. They show little trust toward their children, and their way of engagement is strictly adult-centered. These parents often fear losing control, and they discourage open communication.
* Permissive parents are responsive, warm, accepting, and child-centered, but non-demanding. They lack parental control.
* Neglectful parents are neither responsive nor demanding. They do not support or encourage their child's self-regulation, and they often fail to monitor or supervise the child's behavior. They are uninvolved.
How might each style of parent handle the child who does not want to take a bath? The authoritative parent might discuss the problem and come up with a solution acceptable to both parent and child--an incentive such as a bubble bath, cookies and milk after the bath, or reading a story during the bath. The authoritarian parent might use control, power, and corporal punishment, forcing the child into the tub. The permissive parent might not force the issue, and suggest a compromise instead-"We'll just sponge off." The neglectful parent might let the issue go--and would probably have a pretty dirty 4-year-old!
Different parenting styles yield different outcomes for children. Social scientists find that parenting styles affect children's psychological well-being, their school achievement, and other aspects of their social and psychological adjustment, including adolescent problem behaviors such as aggression and drug and alcohol abuse.
The Authoritative Parenting Style
Authoritative parenting without physical punishment produces the most positive results and the fewest problems for children in today's world. Children who have been raised in authoritative homes score higher on a variety of measures of competence, social development, self-perceptions, and mental health than those raised in authoritarian, permissive, or neglectful homes. This is true not only in childhood, but also during adolescence, as evidenced by higher academic achievement and psychosocial development, and fewer behavioral problems.
How can parents reduce reliance on physical punishment and adopt a more authoritative style? The following scenarios highlight some age-appropriate authoritative responses:
* Demanding and responsive: Jenny must clean her room; it's a mess! She wants to play baseball with her friends at 10:00 in the morning. Her authoritative parents adhere to the demand, but are responsive to her needs. They determine that Jenny must clean the room sometime today or stay in tomorrow until it is done. This approach gives the child some decision-making and time-management experience. The goal is achieved without bitterness, repression, or punishment.
* Controlling, but not restrictive: Giving 3-year-olds a choice between two alternatives allows them some autonomy, while the parents control the situation. "Shall we go swimming or for a hike in the woods?" "Would you like peas or carrots for dinner tonight?" "Shall we take your bath before or after dinner?"
* High parent involvement: Lyle's mother is a working single parent with little free time, but she includes Lyle in her chores. They go shopping together and make a game of it; they read the mail together; they even make dinner together, although it takes extra time and creates more of a mess. During these times, they talk about their days. Lyle also gets a bedtime story and songs. Parent involvement takes many forms--going on outings, celebrating holidays, and being available to talk. Lyle receives the message that his mother cares about him and that she will be there when needed.
* Interest and active participation in the child's life: Lynn and Chris are in the same class in school, but their achievement is very different. Because Lynn's mother is too busy to attend school events or check on homework, she sends an indirect message that she isn't very concerned. Chris's mother attends all of her daughter's events and supervises homework in the evenings. Lynn's report card reflects her lack of interest in school, whereas Chris's shows attentiveness to her studies.
Children raised in authoritative families generally do well in school, benefiting from parental interest and active involvement from an early age. These children are used to seeing their parents attending sports events, music recitals and school conferences. The parents offer support and help with school and other problems. They expect their children to work to their potential. These families discuss problems and find solutions together, whether it be limiting play time so that homework can get finished, or using a contract or school journal so that the parent can track assignments.
* Open communication: The dog, sick and old, needs to be put to sleep. Depending on the age of the child, this is a time to discuss death, mourning, and moving on, while not forgetting. Listening to children's viewpoints and letting them have some say in problem solving encourages them to become participants in decision making, not recipients of an already-made decision. If children disappoint, disobey, disgust, or discourage the parents, they can discuss the problem openly and find alternative acceptable behaviors.
* Trust, acceptance, and psychological autonomy: Kit wants to take dance lessons this fall; by spring it will be horseback riding, and then tennis will be the hot activity in the summer. The child is testing herself--where do her interests and talents lie? Does she always need to do what her friends do? Authoritative parents follow children's needs, encouraging those interests or talents the child wants to pursue. Children feel trusted and accepted, giving them the tools to make good decisions. They develop responsibility to themselves and to their family. They understand that they have the responsibility to behave in an acceptable manner.
* Knowing what the child is doing: Authoritative families set expectations for family members. Family members indicate where they will be, how they can be reached, and what time they are expected home. This gives everyone a sense of security, re-emphasizes the importance of the family, and provides a safety net should anything happen.
* Find alternatives to conflict: Two-year-old Kenny wants the toy--now! But the toy is broken and dangerous. To avoid the impending tantrum, Kenny's parent distracts the toddler with another attractive toy. All families experience conflict. That is the nature of living closely with others, especially as children try to establish their autonomy. How that conflict is handled is crucial to the child's development. Compromise and negotiation, for instance, can enhance the child's problem-solving skills and lead to mutually agreeable solutions. The irony and hypocrisy when father says, "You must not ever hit people," as he spanks his son, is not lost on many children. Setting a good example for problem solving helps children develop problem-solving skills.
The authoritative parenting style sends several messages to the child. It says: We trust you to make good decisions, we are behind you, we will be there if you need us, you can talk to us about difficult situations, we will help you as you learn, and we expect you to do your best. Although physical punishments will remain part of parenting for some, it is not necessary in raising a child. And it can have harmful side effects. Physical punishment appears to be more for the convenience or needs of the parent than for the good of the child. Parents, however, often know no alternative. As parents, we should strive to guide our children in age-appropriate ways. Mistakes are normal, and we need to give the child alternative ways of learning and handling problems. The bottom line is that an authoritative style of raising kids leads to competent kids, and is fun and rewarding for both parents and children.
Copyright [C] 2001 by the Association for Childhood Education International. Permission to reproduce this column intact is not required. It is hoped that readers will distribute copies to parents, colleagues, and others who work with children.
To contact the column editor: Write Helen Altman Klein, Professor of Psychology, Wright State University, Dayton, Ohio 45435; or send E-mail to: firstname.lastname@example.org
Jeanne Ballantine is Professor, Sociology, Wright State University, Dayton, Ohio.…
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Publication information: Article title: Raising Competent Kids: The Authoritative Parenting Style. Contributors: Ballantine, Jeanne - Author. Journal title: Childhood Education. Volume: 78. Issue: 1 Publication date: Fall 2001. Page number: 46. © 2009 Association for Childhood Education International. COPYRIGHT 2001 Gale Group.
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