Parenting, or child-rearing, is an ongoing process that shapes a child’s character and personality and has long-lasting effects ranging from survival to becoming parents themselves. Parenting practices have four primary goals:
- Ensure a child’s health, safety, and basic needs.
- Facilitate biological, social, and psychological growth.
- Prepare them for an independent life as constructive adults.
- Transmit values (cultural, moral, ethical, way-of-life).
Environmental and genetic factors affect children’s behavioral outcomes too. However, parenting plays a critical role, and that’s why a healthy parent-child relationship is necessary.
This post will help you understand how a parent’s approach affects a child’s growth and how certain parenting behaviors affect children when they grow up. Some parenting approaches can create strong, resilient children and some can set the groundwork for mental health and adjustment issues.
If you want to also learn about how your childhood experiences have affected your current relationships and attachments, you might want to read this as well. Parenting styles affect a child’s future attachment styles. So knowledge of both might give you a good perspective.
Disclaimer: This article is for informational purposes only. Please consult a child-psychologist or child-psychiatrist for any special circumstances. Insights from this article are not a substitute for a professional’s recommendation for your specific case.
Types of Parenting Styles
In the section, we’ll do a quick overview of the basic styles of parenting and how they affect children in the short term and long term.
Authoritarian parenting style
Have you heard people say that you should look after children, but what children have to say doesn’t matter? A parent who follows the authoritarian style of parenting believes that it’s “my way or the highway.” They don’t take into consideration their children’s opinions. They usually play the parent card – “Because I said so” or “Because I’m your mother/father.” They’re more inclined to punish rather than helping children adjust and learn from their mistakes.
Children of authoritarian parents grow up to follow most rules strictly. But, their obedience comes at a price. They develop a high risk of self-esteem problems because their opinions aren’t (or weren’t) valued and may also become hostile or aggressive. They are often preoccupied with anger directed at parents because of frustration. Anger is used as an attempt to change how parents behave with them (that’s the function of anger). Since authoritarian parents are often strict, their children could grow up to become good liars to avoid punishment.
Authoritative parenting style
Authoritative parents aim to create a positive relationship with their kids by enforcing rules with consequences after considering the child’s feelings. They always validate their children’s feelings; however, they still imply that they are indeed, in charge. They are quite action-oriented and usually aim to prevent behavioral problems before they start becoming problematic. Authoritative parents also believe in reinforcement systems like reward systems and praises – a positive, healthy disciplining system.
Children of such parents become responsible adults who are quite comfortable with expressing what they want and feel. They’re sufficiently independent and tend to be happy and successful. A majority of them become confident in their abilities and decisions.
Permissive parenting style (Indulgent parenting)
Permissive parenting involves setting rules that are not enforced with consequences. This parenting style is very laid-back and involves minimal interference. Permissive parenting is primarily associated with the term “leniency.” Permissive parents only step in when the child is facing a major problem. The parent is more of a friend rather than a parent. Children don’t usually face the consequences of their actions because these parents don’t highlight them. And, parents rarely discourage poor choices.
Kids who have permissive parents are more likely to struggle academically and may exhibit more behavioral problems as they don’t respect authority and rules. They may act out or get into trouble to grab their parents’ attention, hoping to get a stricter response to their actions. They often have low self-esteem, high sadness, and physical problems like obesity because permissive parents struggle to limit junk/unhealthy food intake. These children are even more likely to have medical problems since permissive parents don’t adequately enforce/encourage good habits like eating nourishing food, brushing, bathing, and toilet hygiene.
Uninvolved parenting style (Neglectful parenting)
As the term suggests, uninvolved parenting implies that parents usually do not know their kids’ whereabouts, thoughts, feelings, or habits. Rules are rarely enforced or even made. Children may not get parental attention or the nurturing they require. Uninvolved parenting is neglectful parenting; however, the parents don’t always intentionally neglect – circumstances and crises could make parents transform into neglectful parents.
Children with uninvolved parents are quite likely to struggle with self-esteem issues and perform poorly in school. They also exhibit frequent behavioral problems and report low happiness.
The first four – Authoritarian, Authoritative, Permissive, and Indulgent styles are based on Baumrind’s work. Here is a review.
Attachment parenting style (8 principles of healthy parenting)
Attachment Parenting International (API) has identified eight principles, or parenting practices, that it believes will help the child develop secure bonds between children and their parents:
- Preparing for pregnancy, birth, and parenthood
- Feeding with love and respect
- Responding with sensitivity (especially when a parent hears the baby cry)
- Using nurturing touch and physical contact (including baby-wearing)
- Ensuring safe sleep, physically and emotionally
- Providing consistent love and care
- Practicing positive discipline
- Striving for a balance between personal and family life
They claim that babies of attachment-parents cry less and have fewer behavior problems, freeing up more time to grow, learn, and develop.
Helicopter parenting describes parents who focus too much on their children. Helicopter parents are overprotective. They typically take excess responsibility for their children’s experiences and, specifically, their successes or failures. Some might also refer to it as ‘smothering a child’ or ‘hovering.’ These parents are afraid of being judged as bad parents if they don’t 24/7 keep an eye on them. Helicopter parenting results in kids having decreased confidence and self-esteem, undeveloped coping skills, increased anxiety, a sense of entitlement, and under-developed life skills. Helicopter parenting may cause children to have high anxiety and depression with compromised self-efficacy, which negatively affects their college performance.
Free-range parenting is about allowing freedom, but it isn’t like a permissive or uninvolved parenting style. Free-range parents offer their kids the freedom to experience the natural consequences of their behavior, but only when it is safe for the kids. Its main aim is ensuring kids have the skills they need to become responsible adults. Free-range parents allow for plenty of unscheduled activities and believe playing in nature is essential. Kids earn their independence, and free-range parents don’t parent out of fear like helicopter parents who may overreact to minor problems like surface bruises, which frequently occur while playing.
The Lighthouse parenting strategy is a healthy parenting style described by Dr. Kenneth Ginsburg in his book “Raising Kids to Thrive“Affiliate link. According to him, parents should be lighthouses for their children, visible from the shoreline as a stable light or beacon. There are two core principles of lighthouse parenting:
- Giving unconditional love: A parent must love their kids without any conditions or boundaries to give them the required security and confidence to face difficulties life throws at them. They still set high standards for behavior, which helps kids form strong character and morals.
- Letting children fail: Failure is part and parcel of life, and children too need to experience it as it’s a stepping stone to successful behavioral outcomes and teaches resilience. Like “lighthouses,” parents should protect them against challenges that are not age-appropriate or potentially cause serious harm.
Bulldozer parents are extremely involved in their children’s lives. But unlike helicopter parents who only keep a close eye on their children, bulldozer parents directly intervene and remove obstacles for their kids. They do their children’s homework and projects too. Children of such parents, however, face problems in effectively dealing with stress. These children grow to expect spoon-feeding and entitlement for other’s help without offering their own. This type of parenting produces a fragile child – fearful and avoidant of failure – with weak coping strategies and low resilience. Like helicopter parents, bulldozer parents want to feel like great parents by doing the kid’s job for them.
The parent’s tendency and mindset to encourage children to use their strengths is strength-based parenting. It goes hand-in-hand with lower stress and higher life satisfaction in adolescents. Parents who show their strengths to children tend to raise children who focus on their own strengths. Research also suggests that they are likely to have higher subjective well-being.
Quick tips on parenting choices
Studies suggest that authoritarian and permissive disciplinary styles are most associated with disruptive behavioral problems. Authoritative, Lighthouse, and Free-range strategies, on the other hand, cultivate emotional wellbeing.
Parental-child acceptance (accepting a child’s feelings and experiences) and supporting autonomy/independence is related to a child developing a creative identity and establishing faith in that creative side.
Is there a single best parenting style?
Not every parenting style is universally better than every other style. However, some parenting styles such as the Lighthouse or Free-range tend to have many benefits over others like the neglectful (uninvolved) or permissive (indulgent) style. Before you can conclusively decide which parenting style is ideal for your family, it’s vital to know a few more factors.
Adolescents with authoritative parents usually have good behavioral outcomes, and those with uninvolved parents tend to be poorly adjusted. Permissive and Authoritarian styles often produce intermediate results in coping, well-being, resilience, skills, independence, and personal growth. Research suggests that authoritative parenting helps prevent juvenile delinquency and crime victimization. High prosocial behavior from children can improve the mother-child relationship quality, so cultivating a prosocial awareness (gratitude, social mindfulness, altruism, community health) early in childhood is a good idea. Family environment in early childhood significantly predicts self-esteem as the children grow up and are key during development with lifelong effects. Since mental health issues are partly genetic, the importance of a relatively safe, nurturing, growth-oriented family environment is high as it can buffer a child against future mental health or adjustment problems.
Punishing & Rewarding your child
Many studies have shown that punishing your child physically like spanking, hitting them, and other means of causing pain can lead to increased antisocial behavior, aggression, physical injury, and mental health problems for children. Internationally, physically harming your child is seen as a human rights violation backed up by the United Nations Committee on the Rights of the Child. Harsh corporal punishment is associated with problems in brain development.
Most research on rewards recommends that only good behavior must be reinforced. Token reinforcement – exchanging multiple tokens and symbols (points, stars, paper tags) for actual rewards – is a healthy way to encourage desirable behaviors. In one study on seemingly uncontrollable children, token reinforcement helped the kids inhibit their aggressiveness and even improve social responsibility, which they probably hadn’t adequately learned in the past. Rewards don’t necessarily need to be material or monetary. Many social rewards can reinforce a child’s behavior – rewards like smiles, acceptance, praise, attention, etc. However, when a child depends excessively on praise and attention, or any reward, it causes 2 major problems.
Intrinisic motivation to do something goes down because of motivational crowding (external rewards undermine the inner fire to do something on your own, so passion and desire are lost unless rewarded).
External rewards become a source of validation and feedback that, ideally, should not be fully dependent on others.
10 Tips & Best practices to be a positive nurturing parent
1. Set smart limits
Set boundaries and rules with consequences. Teach your child that every action has significant and insignificant consequences. Knowing those can help them strengthen their decision-making skills. Encourage independence for simple activities like putting toys away, washing their cutlery, etc. Let your kids attempt to solve problems independently to teach them resilience and self-reliance.
2. Spend quality time with them and collaborate
Play with them, read books with them, encourage conversations, and explore their ideas. Spend quality time with your children to develop a good parent-child bond. While you are spending time, avoid a purely passive time. Collaborate and do fun activities together. Take an interest in their activities.
3. Be a good role model
Children often mimic their parents or caretakers, even teachers or family friends. Typically, children mimic parents and teachers, and they become their role-models. Role-models, by definition, influence a child’s behavior and that’s why role-models have a huge responsibility. A parent can be a role-model that is relatable, protective, respectful, and helpful. Some ways to do that are: Apologizing when you’re in the wrong, always telling the truth, being supportive of your child, talking about difficult topics like abuse, sex, and crime in a reasonably realistic way, etc. Adults often underestimate a child’s ability to understand things, so a good role model needs to not underestimate it. Children can learn social and interpersonal behaviors such as aggression and anger through mere observation. Bandura, a psychologist, termed this process observational learning. A constantly yelling, drunk, and abusive role-models can traumatize a child. Observational learning is a large part of a child’s development, and a good role model can demonstrate things, instead of demanding discipline and imposing rules.
4. Use positive reinforcements
Praise your child for the good things they do. Offer children rewards, or the option to do something they enjoy when you successfully teach a new good behavior. Like discouraging negative actions, good behaviors must also be reinforced, so they are motivated in a desirable direction. Cheer your kids on, but don’t overdo with token participation certificates to protect a child from seeing failure. Provide healthy encouragement, discouragement, criticism, and feedback, so a child learns to maintain a growth mindset instead of learning that failure and success feel the same. The harsh reality is that a lot depends on a person’s skill, so entitlement to rewards in spite of lacking skills is unhealthy in the long-run. However, don’t use punishments to uphold unrealistic standards that never create a sense of achievement.
Ask your children about their day, what they did, happy moments, and sad moments. Acknowledge their feelings and emotions. Initiate important conversations. Teach them things like eye contact, respecting other’s space, and opinions. Parental responsivity – A parent’s ability to recognize and adequately respond to a child’s thoughts, feelings, behaviors, tell-tale signs, and habits during a particular activity – is very important too. It is associated with improved child cognition and behavior and is essential in optimizing neurodevelopment in former preterm infants. Parental demandingness is related to improved child cognition, while parental warmth and rejection are associated with child behavior.
6. Set challenging skill-based goal
Children are naturally very efficient learners and encouragement and opportunity (without psychological limitations of what is achievable) can go a long way. Instead of concluding that something is not cut-out for your child, allow your kid to explore and spend energy trying to improve. Avoid having psychological limitations on what sort of artistic, engineering, coding, musical, or language skills a child can develop. Children are often tougher than they seem, with a huge motivation to try unless there is a fear of punishment or disapproval. Them trying and failing to improve could be a sign of remarkable growth – Bulldozer parenting & Helicopter parenting may prevent a child from reaching higher targets. Sometimes the training wheels must come off, and even the front wheel, if the child wants to unicycle.
This video comes to mind.
7. Raise grateful kids
Teach your child the magic words, “Thank you” and encourage appreciation at the dinner table. Inculcate values in them that will help them be an able citizen.
8. Always show love
Love towards your child must be unconditional. However, that doesn’t mean giving in to what they want. Savor the moments and create warm memories. Assure that you love your child even if the child has made mistakes and feels incredibly guilty or sad, or unworthy of love.
9. Be mindful of Fear-enhancing parenting behaviors
Highlighting dangers and threats is a natural part of making your child vigilant. Behaviors that excessively focus on threats are called fear-enhancing behaviors. Your fear-parenting behaviors may be reflecting on your child’s anxiety. Try to address the child’s anxiety! The child’s cognitive biases and anxiety promote fear enhancing parenting more than your fear-enhancing parenting style promotes fear and paranoia in children. A child’s anxiety leads to parents using fear-enhancing behavior and share more threat-related information. So ideally, if you observe yourself acting in fear, it may be because your child is showing anxiety.
10. Avoid smoking in front of the child
Prevent your child from inhaling second-hand smoke. Parental smoking, via exposure to smoke, is related to difficulty in forming long-term memories and disruption in learning processes as children grow up. The study also found a weak decline in exposed grown-up children’s short-term and spatial working memory. Overall, these aspects of memory and cognition affect real-world success, and compromising them by exposing children to second-hand smoke could have long-term negative effects.
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