Briana Varas is a mom of two and pediatrician with Sunset Pediatrics.
I have seen a new trend in parenting recently, one in which parents are afraid to “over-parent” their child. They are afraid that if they set strict rules and enforce them, or provide a “negative” atmosphere for their child, an atmosphere of “no,” their children will somehow not love them.
They are more concerned with being their children’s best friend, rather than their parent. In reality, they are hurting their child rather than helping them. Children need boundaries and set limits in order to feel secure. With no or unclear boundaries, the children feel that they are in control. . . And they are! If every whim and desire of an emotionally unstable toddler is being obliged, then they are in the driver’s seat. Would you really want to be in that car?
Being your child’s friend is important, but being their parent is a much more important, lasting and beautiful thing. Parents have the responsibility of guiding their children, listening to their thoughts and feelings, taking their opinions into consideration, and showing them how to handle their emotions in a constructive way. We need to show them warmth and immense, unconditional love, but if they begin to behave in a way that goes against family values or puts them in danger, absolute control is of the utmost importance. My son knows that the second he gets down from his car seat, he needs to be touching my leg, or be very close to me while I get other things out of the car. He then needs to hold my hand until we are away from all cars, because he could be truly hurt if he doesn’t. Unfortunately, as a Pediatrician, I have seen way too many parking lot accidents that occurred due to lack of control of the child.
Three distinct parenting styles have been described by medical professionals.
The permissive parenting style is highly responsive to the child’s emotional needs with very little attention given to boundaries and control. They allow the child to regulate themselves and give in to their every want and desire. They believe children innately know the difference between right and wrong, and little direction needs to be given.
The authoritarian parenting style focuses only on boundaries and control with no attention paid to the emotional needs of the child. These parents set strict “rules of the house” that are to be obeyed at all costs without taking the child’s emotional capabilities into consideration. They could have practically coined the phrase, “because I said so.”
In the middle of these two is the authoritative parenting style. It is characterized by placing high demands on the child, reinforcing set boundaries and maintaining control over the child, while at the same time remaining highly responsive to and supportive of the child’s emotional needs.
An authoritative parent aims to:
- Consistently reinforce boundaries
- Set clear rules
- Prevent their child from getting away with bad behavior without a consequence by providing consistent follow-through
- Be supportive of their child
- Listen to their child
- Place an extremely high value on independence
- Reason with the child instead of demanding blind obedience, taking their emotional and physical capabilities into consideration
- Allow for them to make mistakes, but if their moral integrity or safety are compromised, no negotiation is allowed
- Give positive reinforcement for good behaviors while avoiding punitive punishment
Why choose to adopt the authoritative parenting style for your child? Because it works. It yields actual quantifiable gains in your children’s lives. A recent study showed that parents who used the authoritative parenting method with their children in regards to brushing their teeth at night had a significantly decreased number of cavities compared to children whose parents used the permissive or authoritarian methods.
Another recent study showed children with the healthiest BMIs (body mass indexes) came from authoritative parents. These parents fostered the healthiest dietary habits and self-control in their children, providing reasoning and explanation with their health choices. If children feel that they are winning by making the healthy choice, then everyone wins.
Additionally, authoritative parenting behaviors have a protective effect against future marijuana use. A recent study showed that past-month marijuana use in teenagers had a negative correlation with checking whether their homework was done 1-2 times over the past month by their parents, helping them with their homework, or telling their child they were proud of them.
Being an authoritative parent can yield immense actual results for your child by guiding them and giving them a sense of independence, responsibility and accountability. When explanation and the reasoning behind parenting decisions is given, it allows the child to have more autonomy. You just need to be willing to set strict boundaries in the midst of this negotiation.
Why are boundaries so important?
Setting boundaries and limits is important because when children have these boundaries and limits, they feel more secure, especially during times of extreme change. For example, when a new baby is brought into the house, it is more important than ever to maintain the discipline routine you previously had with your older child. This will allow your child to know that you haven’t changed, only their circumstances have. It is natural for them to push the limits during these times- a lot. Be patient. Setting boundaries will make them feel more secure - during both unstable and stable times.
We all aim to achieve this delicate balance, but it can be difficult during the trying days as a parent.
Stay tuned later this week for concrete ways to implement authoritative parenting style, through action.