Let’s begin with a role-play exercise. You are a level 78 paladin wearing the Helm of Justice… oh, wait. Not that kind of roleplaying? Okay. Let’s try again . . .
You arrive at a toy store with your four-year-old daughter. Before heading into the store, you set the expectation for the visit (note: setting expectations with your kids is just as important as remembering to wear pants before retrieving the mail).
“Inside, there are going to be a lot of things you want,” you say. “But we are here for just one thing. Not two or three or one hundred. Just one. Understand?”
Excited for her new toy, she nods so enthusiastically that you’re afraid she might have whiplash. When you get inside, she practically teleports to the doll section. She spends the next twenty minutes searching, inspecting, holding, and shaking every doll. It gets down to the final two and she simply cannot decide.
“Can I have . . . both?” She looks at you for the answer. You can see it in her eyes—she’s willing to go full tantrum on this one.
And your brain sets off the alarm:
***WARNING!!! PARENTING REQUIRED!!! WARNING!!!***
How do you respond?
Your answer indicates which of the three different types of parenting styles you naturally gravitate toward: Authoritative, Controlling (also called Strict or Authoritarian), or Permissive.
It will be tempting to want to give in or to threaten punishment . . . but it is in moments like this where great parents are made.
Each of the three styles would respond differently to this situation. As you read the examples below, consider which one you gravitate toward and which one you think is most effective. The two might be different.
“Can I have . . . both?”
You respond, “Remember what we talked about before we came inside, sweet pea? You can only have one. How can I help you decide?”
She asks again for both. But you hold your ground and shake your head no. She plops herself on the ground and starts yelling, “I want both!”
Calmly, you bend down to your crying daughter’s eye level. In a firm but friendly tone, you say, “Sweetheart, you have a choice. You can stop crying, put one of the dolls back, and be thankful for the one you’re getting. Or we can leave the store right now with nothing. What would you like to do?”
She looks at you defiantly. “Both!”
“It looks like you are choosing to leave.” You take the dolls out of your screaming daughter’s hands, pick her up, and calmly walk out of the store. You may or may not give the “kids, amiright?” shoulder shrug to a fellow parent watching sympathetically as you go.
You didn’t yell. Instead, you simply had a conversation, and there was no need to threaten her. You set clear expectations at the outset, reminded your daughter of her choice, clearly articulated the consequences for both decisions, let your daughter decide, and then followed through with the consequences.
If this sounds like what you would have done, you are an Authoritative Parent.
Parents who adopt this style pair high expectations with understanding and support to foster a healthy parent-child dynamic. This is style is all about a “parent first, friend second” philosophy.
Take the long view. Being an authoritative parent is about going to a place of strength to become a parent dedicated to helping your child live a great life.
Kids who grow up with authoritative parents generally become happy, confident, successful adults. Research has consistently demonstrated that they are more likely to be independent, self-reliant, and well-adjusted, and have a higher likelihood of experiencing academic success.
“Can I have . . . both?”
“I said only one.” There is an edge to your voice. Your tone warns your daughter: Do not cross the line.
“Both!” she screams.
“I said no!” You match your daughter’s volume and tone. “This is not how we behave! Keep crying and you don’t get any desserts for a week!”
Your daughter thinks for a moment before planting herself on the ground, continuing her tantrum, yelling, “I want them both!”
You rip the dolls out of her hands, pick her up, and walk out of the store. No doll. No desserts. No way!
In this example, you did yell. You set clear expectations at the outset, then demanded obedience by threatening punishment. You did not explain why she could not have the second toy, and then followed through with the punishment.
The lack of open communication of the why behind the rules often makes it difficult for the child to make decisions on her own in the future.
These are the strategies of the Controlling Parent(and, come to think of it, Lord Voldemort).
Parents who adopt this style rely on threats and punishment to elicit good behavior. The lack of open communication of the why behind the rules often makes it difficult for the child to make decisions on her own in the future. This tends to stifle independence, risk-taking, and expressiveness. Ultimately, over time, this causes a drop in self-esteem and often leads to resentment in adulthood.
“Can I have . . . both?”
“I’m sorry sweet pea, but you can only have one. Which one do you want?”
“Both!” she screams.
“Oh, please don’t get upset.” You drop to your knees to try to calm her down. “Remember how Mommy said just one?”
She clings to the dolls, squeezing them possessively against her chest. “I want them both!”
MUST RESIST PUPPY DOG EYES AND LIP POUT . . .
“Just one,” you say again.
“Both!” She starts yelling louder and louder, and people start to look at her.
“Okay, Okay. You can have both. Now, stop crying please!”
Your daughter immediately stops crying and leaps into your arms.
You didn’t yell. And you didn’t threaten punishment or offer consequences for misbehavior. You had set clear expectations at the outset, but then failed to keep those expectations. In the end, you rewarded your daughter’s bad behavior. And you established that your expectations are flexible and negotiable.
This type of parenting is called Permissive Parenting.
Parents who adopt this style pursue friendship at the expense of respect. Research has shown that permissive parenting can lead to a number of negative outcomes with children often lacking self-discipline, possessing poor social skills, and harboring insecurities due to lack of guidance.
“Clearly establishing a sense of purpose within the family makes that healthy conflict possible. And once we have established that we are here to help one another become the-best-version-of-ourselves, every conflict becomes an opportunity to affirm that purpose. ”
Building Better Families by Matthew Kelly
This lack of expectations and guidelines from parents often leads to low achievement and poor decision-making. Ultimately, this frequently results in a self-involved, demanding adult who struggles with self-control.
Authoritative parenting has been shown to be the most effective style for producing independent, well-adjusted adults. But it can also be the most difficult style to implement as well.
It is in moments like this where great parents are made.
Every parent will, at times, be in a similar described similar to the one above. It will be tempting to want to give in or to threaten punishment just to end the conversation as quickly as possible.
But it is in moments like this where great parents are made. You won’t get any medals from the people around you, and you certainly won’t receive any applause from your child. But the long-term gain of seeing your child become a confident, self-reliant adult far outweighs the short term pain of the current situation of conflict.
In that moment, it will take courage to ignore the looks of those around you (practice that shoulder shrug!). Take the long view. Being an authoritative parent is about going to a place of strength to become a parent dedicated to helping your child live a great life.