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Of the 3 Major Parenting Styles, This One Pays Off

Photograph by Twenty20

A mom of three is on the other end of the phone, fighting back tears as she describes feeling overwhelmed, like she’s doing it wrong. She struggles to find the balance between loving and firm. She knows that routines are helpful, and she thinks she has high, but appropriate, expectations.

And yet she feels like she’s failing.

Her daughter recently started talking back to her when she’s frustrated. She feels like the other two don’t listen, or don’t hear her or some combination of the two. She wants to have a positive connection with her kids, but she fears that she isn’t doing enough when it comes to rules and follow through. I listen and empathize.

I ask her one question before we move forward: “What is your biggest fear in all of this?” Her answer comes as no surprise, as I hear it fairly regularly. “I don’t want to be like my mom. I don’t want them to be afraid of me. I don’t want be so focused on rules that I forget that they’re just kids.”

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As it turns out, her mom was an authoritarian parent. She ruled with an iron fist, as they say. When rules were broken, the consequences were swift and severe. Yelling was the norm. Expectations were higher than high. To this day, this mom feels like her mom robbed her of a childhood, and she doesn’t want to repeat it.

Kids are individuals. What works for one won’t necessarily work for another.

All families are different, and all parents have their own parenting styles. You can read all the books you want and come up with an endless list of animal names to attach to those parenting styles, but the truth is that one-size-fits-all parenting doesn’t work. Kids are individuals. What works for one won’t necessarily work for another.

Research shows that the most effective parenting style falls under the heading “authoritative parenting.” Authoritative parents have high expectations for their kids, but they also give their kids the resources and support they need to succeed and meet those expectations. They are loving, empathic and meet the emotional needs of their kids, but they also set limits and expect cooperation. Authoritative parenting is the sweet spot of parenting, sandwiched between permissive parents (who are generally reluctant to impose rules and standards) and authoritarian parents (who seem to expect a blind obedience). Kids raised by authoritative parents are more likely to become independent, enjoy healthy social relationships and have greater academic success. They also report less anxiety and depression and are less likely to engage in negative behaviors like drug and alcohol use.

No matter what style you’ve used in the past, it’s never too late to start something new. I always caution parents to remember that change doesn’t happen in a day. If you’re a yeller by nature, that can be a hard habit to break. If you haven’t set a single rule in nine years, you’ll get some pushback. You can do it, though. One day at a time.

Take these three small steps to overhaul your parenting style, and enjoy the benefits of a nurturing relationship with your child.

No matter what style you’ve used in the past, it’s never too late to start something new.

1. Talk about the changes

Parents are often afraid to admit to their own mistakes, but talking through our missteps with our kids actually teaches them that mistakes happen and change is possible.

Have a family meeting to talk about what’s not working and why. Ask your kids for their input. Discuss the new plan, including any new limits (bedtime, screen time, etc.).

2. Deal with emotions

While authoritarian parents have a tendency to dismiss emotions, and permissive parents try to keep things positive at all costs, authoritative parents know that emotions happen and that’s OK.

Have regular check-ins when it comes to feelings. When your kids mess up, empathize with them and help them figure out how their emotions impact their behavior.

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3. Be consistent

It can be difficult to overhaul your parenting, but consistency is the key to seeing results. When limits and expectations are consistent, and parents are nurturing and in tune with emotions, kids thrive.

Will there be mistakes and slips along the way? Yes, we all make them. Pointing out those mistakes and talking about ways to improve family communication makes the whole family accountable.

Drop the mean mom act or the fun mom façade, and watch your relationships with your children soar a little bit higher each day.

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