Kind AND Firm – The Secret To Parenting Success

What kind of parent are you? Have you thought about it? You probably have noticed that different parents interact with their kids in different ways and you’ve probably also noticed that some families seem to produce children who are happier, more cooperative, and better behaved than others.

For many parents though, it remains a puzzle as to why. “Is it just genes?” they might ask. “Is it luck? Or, do I just suck at being a parent?” Most likely none of the above. Anyone can be a good and effective parent if they really want to be. But they must be willing to take the time to learn and practice the skills that will get them there. Good parenting, after all, is a knowledge-based art.

For years, researchers have worked to discover which parenting style creates the most positive effects in children. The results are in and have become crystal clear. In all, there are four dominant styles of parenting: authoritarian, permissive, authoritative, and uninvolved. Only one contains the secret formula for parenting success.

The authoritarian model (think Joan Crawford in Mommy Dearest) features the bad-ass parent — the one who is demanding, strict, rigid and emotionally distant. “Do it because I said so,” is the strategy they use to get things done — not once-in-awhile when they’ve hit the wall but pretty much all of the time. They place a high value on rules and obedience but don’t tend to explain why the rules are there or why particular behaviors are expected.

And their kids are not allowed much of a say. When children of authoritarian parents don’t follow the rules they are scolded harshly and punished. Period. There is not much room for mistakes or excuses. These parents do not show much warmth or affection towards their children and are intrusive and controlling.

Although this style of parenting can produce obedient children who perform pretty well they are unhappy, have low self-esteem and poor social skills. They are often overly submissive and have a hard time standing up for themselves or taking an “I” position. Many of the children that I have seen from this kind of family grow up to resent their parents and distance themselves from them as soon as they get the chance.

The permissive model (think Sharon and Ozzy Osbourne) features parents who overindulge their child and set few, if any, rules, limits, routines or expectations for behavior. These parents want their children to like them. As a result, they tend to be overly nurturing and try to get their child to see them as a friend.

They offer their child many choices and much power, even when the child is incapable of choosing due to her age or developmental level. “Where should we have dinner tonight?” they might ask their three-year-old and then happily follow her suggestion even if her choice is that fancy, expensive restaurant 20 miles away.

They have low expectations regarding behavior and rescue or make excuses for their child when he is in trouble. Permissive parents make no demands and provide little guidance or structure. In a way, these parents seem to see their child as a mini-adult capable of operating competently in the adult world without the benefit of having been taught how to do so.

Permissive parents produce children who also score low when it comes to happiness and self-esteem. They often act-out in school or social settings and many demonstrate a high level of aggression. They have difficulties with self-regulation and perform poorly in school. As adults they are often very resentful towards their parents and express anger that they weren’t taught the life skills they needed in order to succeed.

The uninvolved model (think the mother in the movie “Precious”) features parents who are pretty much checked-out when it comes to their children. The kids are expected to fend for themselves and the parents do not provide warmth, structure, safety, discipline or reasonable expectations. The basic necessities like food and shelter are provided in some fashion, but communication is extremely limited and the parents are not responsive to the child’s needs. In the worst cases this style of parenting (or non-parenting) results in serious neglect.

Children from these families fare the worst across the board. They have low self-esteem, little self-control and few social skills. They often end up in trouble and have a hard time finding success of any kind in life.

The authoritative model (think The Cosbys) features parents who help their children to become independent and responsible by setting clear and reasonable expectations for their behavior. They work on reinforcing behaviors they like by noticing and commenting on them when they see them. Instead of relying on punishment and threats, they teach appropriate behavior through discussion, example, and follow-through.

Authoritative parents establish rules and structure but take the time to explain why the rules are needed and allow their children to ask questions. At the same time, their children are shown that the family has a hierarchy and that the parents are in charge. They make and enforce the rules, but as the child grows and becomes capable of handling more freedom and responsibility, the rules change to match his new level of competence.

When children break the rules or get in trouble, they may get punished but they will also get a clear explanation for why the parents are upset and a chance to talk about why the behavior was wrong and how they can make a better choice in the future.

The tone that authoritative parents take with their children is firm but also warm and nurturing. They are involved in their child’s life but not in a way that is intrusive or overly controlling. They spend quality time with their children and treat them with kindness and respect. As a result, their children feel loved and supported by them.

Their children learn that they are important and have a valuable contribution to make to the family by being expected to help out with assigned chores that match their age and ability.

The children of authoritative parents are happy and competent and capable of solid relationships with peers and other adults. They are the ones who thrive in every way — socially, academically and emotionally.

So, that’s it. As you can see, the style to shoot for is the authoritative one. Look for good role models in the families you know and read about how to develop the skills that lead to parenting success. A good book to start with is called Positive Discipline by Jane Nelson, Ed.D.

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Ellen W. Schrier, LCSW, is a family therapist and the mother of three adolescent/young adult kids.


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3 responses to “Kind AND Firm – The Secret To Parenting Success”

  1. Jan Murray

    Yes, great coverage of parenting styles. It makes a huge difference to a child when consistent parenting starts at an early age.

  2. Kind AND Firm – The Secret To Parenting Success | Best Parent Links

    […] Link: Kind AND Firm – The Secret To Parenting Success […]

  3. Recipe For The Anti-Bully

    […] Hone your parenting approach to be more “authoritative” which emphasizes having clearly stated rules and realistic behavioral expectations. This approach features lots of discussion about why the rules are there and what the effects of misbehavior are on others. Kids will internalize moral principles when treated like this but not so much when punishment is heavy handed or arbitrary. If they are consistently treated unfairly at home, they will be more likely to abuse power and mistreat others themselves. […]

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