There is no surprise that becoming a parent requires no special education.  In fact, there isn’t really any skill required to become a parent (although some wives might argue otherwise).  For some, the role came about by accident; for others, it was intentional; and other still, it was with significant effort and expense.  No matter what brought you to being a parent, we all start out with the same style – confusion.

For such a basic role, there doesn’t seem to be an agreed upon foundation to build a parenting style.  For most of us, our parenting style is based upon how we were raised.  Some of our actions come from our sub-conscious.  These are the “I sound just like my dad” moments.  They usually seem to come in “crisis” moments and happen before we have a moment to think.  Other actions we are consciously choosing to change.

For instance, my dad was very much a perfectionist.  I have memories of showing him pictures I had drawn or colored and his first comments were about staying in the lines or how to draw the wheels of the cars differently.  In response, when my four year old shows me her drawings I tell how much I like them and I point out the parts I think are exceptional.  At the same time, there is the critical voice inside my head pointing out where the crayon is outside the lines.  While that voice has served me in some situations, more often than not it has stopped me from proceeding with a project.  I do not want my daughters to have that as their initial thought as they learn and grow.

A quick review of parenting styles identifies five basic types:

Authoritarian Parenting

In this style of parenting, children are expected to follow the strict rules established by the parents. Failure to follow such rules usually results in punishment. Authoritarian parents fail to explain the reasoning behind these rules. If asked to explain, the parent might simply reply, “Because I said so.” These parents have high demands, but are not responsive to their children. Ironically this inflexible approach often creates kids who have little respect for authority.
Many kids raised under authoritarian rule can also face challenges with social situations, shyness and low self-esteem.

Authoritative Parenting

Like authoritarian parents, those with an authoritative parenting style establish rules and guidelines that their children are expected to follow. However, this parenting style is much more democratic. Authoritative parents are responsive to their children and willing to listen to questions. When children fail to meet the expectations, these parents are more nurturing and forgiving rather than punishing. They are assertive, but not intrusive and restrictive. Their disciplinary methods are supportive, rather than punitive. They want their children to be assertive as well as socially responsible, and self-regulated as well as cooperative.  Studies suggest a balanced approach creates the healthiest bond between parent and child and kids are typically happier, more confident, do better in school and are less likely to act violently or engage in risky behaviours such as drug and alcohol use or sex.

Helicopter Parenting

Also known as over-parenting, helicopter parents focus on keeping kids out of harm’s way, both emotionally and physically, so they never have to experience disappointment, fear or upset. A classic helicopter parent story is the doting mom who follows up after her (adult) child’s job interview to discuss why her son wasn’t selected for the job. This constant “hovering” can cause anxiety, self-consciousness and a resistance to trying new things.

Permissive Parenting

Permissive parents, sometimes referred to as indulgent parents, have very few demands to make of their children. These parents rarely discipline their children because they have relatively low expectations of maturity and self-control. Permissive parents are more responsive than they are demanding. They are nontraditional and lenient, do not require mature behavior, allow considerable self-regulation, and avoid confrontation. They are generally nurturing and communicative with their children, often taking on the status of a friend more than that of a parent.  Research suggests this style can create children and young adults who aren’t wellprepared to deal with life’s challenges. They tend to be more aggressive in their teen years, less physically active, can have trouble with impulse-control and are more likely to abuse alcohol.

Uninvolved Parenting

An uninvolved parenting style is characterized by few demands, low responsiveness and little communication. While these parents fulfill the child’s basic needs, they are generally detached from their child’s life. In extreme cases, these parents may even reject or neglect the needs of their children.  Studies show these children tend to lack self-control, have low self-esteem and are less competent than their peers.

And the Answer Is…

For the most part, each of the identified “styles” is driven by our sub-conscious.  I don’t know any parent who would say “I am using the “Insert Type Here” Parenting Model to raise my kid”.  However, it’s fairly easy to watch someone else for a short while and then be able to apply one of the style labels.  I can hear you now saying this is all great, and I’ve heard most of it before, what do I do with the info?

You’re right, none of this is front page news.  Even the “helicopter parenting” term has been around for nearly a quarter century.  My message is we need to make conscious parenting decisions based on the situation.  A child wandering into traffic will not do well with permissive parenting.  A child exploring a new art medium will never pick up another crayon with an authoritarian parent.  Ultimately, to be a good parent, you simply need to be consciously present for your offspring (much easier said than done – but that’s for another day); have thought about why you’re doing what you’re doing (cause you will be asked – guaranteed) and the rest is all learning (and adjusting) on the fly.