Updated: Oct 12, 2022
You may be thinking, sure, I saw that or maybe you only saw a trailer and then passed, but hear me out....it's important...have you considered who is really "the boss" at your house?
My primary message is: it is time to take a step back and observe objectively about the day to day moments, routines, conversations and interactions that are taking place in your house between the adults and the children.
Who decides what is being served for dinner? Who decides when your child's bedtime is? Who decides what activities you will do today? At first you may say, "well, me of course; I'm the parent." Without judgement consider what you might do or say in the following scenarios:
Your child chooses not to eat what is on their dinner plate...
Do you force them to stay at the table until they are done eating everything?
Do you think ahead and involve your child in meal planning and preparation to ensure there is something they might like at each meal?
Do you remind them, this is dinner and there will be no more food offered tonight?
Do you hand feed your child the food on their plate?
Do you jump up and offer an alternative dinner?
Do you bargain with them about if you eat this then you can have...?
Do you not make dinner and just have a fend for yourself policy?
Your child procrastinates through every step of the bedtime routine...
Do you get mad and yell about how they don't ever listen to you?
Do you provide a clear set of steps the child could follow and a stated consequence such as you will not have time for stories if you are not ready in 5min and then follow through?
Do you move yourself closer to the action to support your child as they move from one step to the next?
Do you shout from the kitchen, you better be getting ready for bed, as you continue to hear them playing?
Do you let them stay up later because they didn't seem tired?
Do you offer a show or other reward if they stop fooling around and finish up?
Do you not actually have a bedtime routine?
Your child throws a tantrum about having to take the dog for a walk...
Do you tell your child it would be their fault if the dog peed in the house?
Do you offer a song or game to the child that could be played while walking to make it seem a little more fun to be out?
Do you explain that the dog can't use the inside potty like us and it is our job as its family to make sure we meet the dog's needs?
Do you push your four year old in the stroller?
Do you just let the dog out back and hope that would be enough for today?
Do you tell your child they could have a cookie when you return from the walk if they would come along without whining?
Do you throw your hands up and let your small child stay home so they wouldn't have to go?
How did you do? Do you have any more insights into who might really be in charge? The responses above fall into four main parenting styles, authoritarian, authoritative, permissive or uninvolved.
What are the pillars of good parenting these days? What are these styles and why do they matter? It can be pretty confusing, between the plethora of information quickly and easily accessible in soundbite chunks on social media (including the very words you are reading here), the sometimes vastly contrasting views of the current generation of parents and our own parents, and the shear number of parenting books available in all formats, we could easily ask a simple question and get a 100 different answers.
There is good news though, ongoing research on the overall well-being of individuals as they grow from children to adolescents to adults is shown to be linked to only one of the parenting styles: authoritative parenting.
Authoritative Parenting, as defined by the American Pyschological Association ACT project is a parenting style where, "the parents are nurturing, responsive, and supportive, yet set firm limits for their children. They attempt to control children's behavior by explaining rules, discussing, and reasoning. They listen to a child's viewpoint but don't always accept it."
"Children raised with this style tend to be friendly, energetic, cheerful, self-reliant, self-controlled, curious, cooperative and achievement-oriented."
In her extremely well researched article The authoritative parenting style: An evidence-based guide, Gwen Dewer from Parenting Science, highlights how research in countries across the globe confirm that authoritative parenting has the best overall outcomes even when adjusting for differences in cultural values.
Maria Montessori herself would have advocated for this model of parenting as her observations of children were some of the first to recognize the will of the child from birth. She designed her classroom spaces for small bodies, hands, and minds. She taught grace and courtesy lessons before they were needed to ensure a child could maintain their dignity when a situation was to arise. A short section of her writing in, The Secret of Childhood, about educating a child how to discretely blow their own nose, and the great pride and satisfaction that the child took in that action speaks volumes about the way we might all look at how we parent.
The authoritative style of parenting uses respect for the child and your relationship with that child as a paramount feature. It includes using empathy to show your child how to understand their own emotions and those of others. It is a system where you provide clear expectations and age appropriate choices helping your child develop autonomy. It means that you follow up mistakes and infractions with natural consequences for behaviors, but stay away from shame and punishments. It implies that your child is someone who is their own independent being, but needs clear guidance and support as they learn to navigate the world.
If you refer back to the scenarios above you will find that the first answer always falls under the authoritarian style of parenting, a situation where we expect children to simply obey and ignore their own sensibilities, which does not allow them to become their own critical thinkers who can trust their instincts. Answers 2 and 3 are authoritative methods that respect the child's free will and provide clear expectations and consequences appropriate to the child's age. Responses 4, 5 and 6 are all versions of permissive parenting that do not set clear boundaries for your child and/or replace intrinsic motivation to be a helpful team player with someone who is more motivated by extrinsic rewards ultimately making it more difficult for your child to establish a sense of security and self-confidence. Answer 7 pertains to the uninvolved parenting style and should not be considered as it doesn't provide enough support for your child as they enter the complicated world.
My hands down favorite set of resources that support authoritative parenting as well as great teaching practices are the "Positive Discipline" books and resources by Jane Nelson. Her work lays out the best known information about child development and how we should see, understand and parent or teach the child in front of us.
Parenting isn't easy and we all make mistakes along the way, but if we access high quality resources when we get stuck we have a much greater chance of success. Joyful children, harmonious communities, and a more peaceful world are just around the corner if we support each other more and judge each other less.
Take a moment for yourself to breathe when you feel the most frustrated or angry with your child (Demonstrate a breathing technique for your child.)
Give your child a safe space to go and activities to do when they need a moment to regroup during big feelings (A peace corner or bedroom works well)
Use clear statements when you want your child to do something rather than asking a question (We need to go now, please put on your shoes.)
Only offer choices that you can live with (Do you want cheese and crackers or a PB sandwich for lunch?)
When you need your child to complete an action or behave in a certain way, phrase it using positive language and move toward your child (I see you have a need to jump right now, let's go outside on the trampoline.)
Call out your own emotions (I am feeling sad because you hit me with the block and it hurt my arm.)
Call out what you observe in your child and then listen/hold them (I see you are very upset can you tell me why? can you show me what happened?)
Set up clear expectations, use lists and or charts as needed to support your child (Bedtime routine visual chart)
Follow-up unmet expectations with natural consequences (You have taken too long on your routine and now it is very late, we only have time for a song.)
Provide grace and courtesy lessons on how to act in social situations before you have to be in them, provide time for practice and role play
Ask yourself, would I treat a friend, partner, colleague the way I am treating my child right now? If not, take a moment to readjust your own behavior.
Remember it is okay to make mistakes and say you're sorry.
Other Interesting Related Articles:
How Parenting Advice Has Changed: https://www.psychologytoday.com/us/blog/freedom-learn/202203/how-magazines-advice-parents-has-changed-over-century
Helicopter Parenting: https://www.cnbc.com/2022/09/17/i-raised-2-successful-ceos-and-a-doctor-here-is-the-worst-parenting-style-that-harms-kids.html