The complexities of raising a child can be confusing, as there are many different approaches to parenting, that can blur the lines of what is healthy for a child's development. However, there is only one type of parenting style that has been deemed the optimal way of raising children, that helps them not only succeed later in life but benefits the child's mental health.
According to the American Psychological Association, there are four types of parenting styles; authoritarian, permissive, uninvolved, and authoritative. These practices are based on methods of ensuring the child's health and safety as well as preparing the child to be a productive adult. The styles are measured by dimensions of parental warmth and parental control. Uninvolved parenting (a parent who is inactive, abusive or neglectful) obviously doesn't benefit the child's mental health; so which of the other three is the optimum way of parenting?
10 Why Authoritarian Methods are harmful
Authoritarian parenting, otherwise known as the 'old-school' way of parenting, can foster life-long consequences on children as they mature into adults. In fact, authoritarian methods have been proven to have the same psychological effects as if the child was raised by an uninvolved parent. Authoritarian parenting can raise the chances of a child developing psychopathology (such as depression and anxiety) later on in adulthood, can be detrimental to a child's self-esteem, and can create an inter-generational transmission of authoritarian abuse to the child's future offspring.
Authoritarian parenting is when there are strict rules in place, the child has no opportunity to make choices, and if these rules are not followed then parents enforce harsh punishment as a consequence to disobedience. The parents exert full control over the family, enforce orders for the children to follow with a 'my way or the highway' approach. Studies show the influence of these practices can depict a child's negative behavioral outcome due to a lack of trust and increased rebellion towards a parental figure.
9 Why Permissive Styles don't work
At the opposite end of the parenting spectrum from Authoritarian parenting is the non-demanding friend-like type of parenting: Permissive. Although permissive parents rate high on the parental warmth scale, there is a major lack of parental control over the child. Children of permissive parenting styles do not respect their parents.
With permissive parents providing either no or very lax forms of structure, and no expectations or guidance, this negatively impacts a child's outcome of behavior. Research shows a strong link between permissive (or indulgent) parenting with children who have decreased social competence and academic achievement. These children are more likely to be bossy, dependent on others, and act impulsively with a failure to learn persistence or emotional control.
8 Happy Medium - Authoritative Parenting
Authoritative parenting shows a high level of warmth, but also a high level of parental control and respect. This is done by parents valuing their child's emotional, mental, and physical needs for proper development and health; yet provides a clear structure and pre-set boundaries. Authoritative parents are nurturing, set high expectations, and engage in frequent communication with their children. Children who were raised by authoritative parents have been associated with children's' high level of competence, maturity, assertiveness, and self-control.
Authoritative is known to be the hardest parenting style to manage based on parenting patterns experienced through inter-generational parenting styles. For example, some 'authoritarian' methods such as spanking are still considered an acceptable form of discipline, and not punishment. Comparatively, the permissive method of treating your child as a friend can be regarded as being warm and mutually respectful. In addition, high levels of stress on the parents, poverty, health conditions, and supportive family dynamics are some of the many factors that can make authoritative styles harder to achieve.
7 Authoritative parenting acknowledges the child's emotional needs
A child who is raised by a nurturing, supportive, and fair parent will have a stronger sense of belonging. Authoritative parenting acknowledges the child's emotional needs, therefore, even if the child has to be disciplined the consequences are reasonable and not humiliating.
For example, you told your child already not to walk around with a big glass of water, yet now it has been spilled all over the floor. An authoritarian parent would inflict swift perhaps physical punishment for the disobedience. A permissive parent wouldn't have even told the child not to walk around with the glass of water in the first place. An authoritative parent would realize it's just water on the floor, ask the child to help clean up the mess (instead of belittling the child), and would have already put discipline measures into place (like a time-out) for not listening.
6 Authoritative Parenting provides structure and rules - but disciplines rather than punish
The purpose of discipline is to modify a child's behavior, develop positive character, protect the child's mental health, and form a trusting and close relationship between caregiver and child. Similar to the behaviorist Pavlov's theory of operant conditioning, discipline teaches a child to behave in accordance with expectations by focusing on future behavior with the use of effective strategies. These strategies include modeling good parental behavior, consistent positive discipline and reward for acceptable behavior, and evaluating age appropriateness of obedience.
Punishment, quite different from discipline, inflicts a form of suffering for past behavior, invoking the child's brain to emotionally react or fear consequences. Frequent punishment causes emotional dysfunction in children, which causes externalized behaviour such as mental disorders, and poor academic and social functioning. Consequently, children who received harsh punishment in childhood were more likely to become perpetrators or victims of abuse in adulthood.
5 Authoritative parents provide their children with stability and consistency.
Decision making is formulated by weighing the pros and cons. Children need to know the consequences of the 'cons' to make good choices. However, making 'good choices' out of fear of strict punishment could lead to unhealthy and risky behavior later in life. This could stem from resentment, defiance, or from not fully realizing the repercussions since the option of making mistakes when the child was younger wasn't encouraged.
Authoritative parents give their children space and time to learn how to cope with struggle and make mistakes on their own to understand why rules or expectations are in place. By not enforcing complete control over your child, in other words, letting your child be human, can help guide your child to make well thought out decisions independently throughout their life.
4 Genuine and mutual respect between parent and child
Through your entire parenting journey, the only thing your child will truly want from you is a connection. Children need empathy and understanding. They want to be heard and seen, as someone who has values and needs that matter too, even if they are just a child. Children do not fully trust and respect a parent that does not consider the child's freedom to just be.
Self-control, respect, mannerisms, and the integrity of a person is inspired by how that person was treated by their parent in childhood. If a parent expects a genuinely respectful sentimentalization from their child, that attitude must go both ways. Authoritative parenting positively affects the child's mental health because the child's self-worth is respected.
3 Encourages open communication
Authoritative parenting encourages two-way open communication between the parent and the child. Through openly communicating with your child about the world, this sets an example of how to make inquiries, how to be receptive to information and apply behavior accordingly, and how to cope effectively using healthy strategies.
Authoritative parents speak to their children in a warm and supportive tone of voice. They take great interest in the perspective of their child, and who their child's influencers and peers are. By setting open communication principles from a young age, children learn to trust and be transparent with their parents which come in handy during adolescent years.
2 Children feel accepted for themselves
Through the balanced approach of delivering high levels of parental warmth, control, and involvement in a parent's authoritative techniques, children develop a full sense of self from an earlier age.
Self-esteem is an individual's subjective evaluation of their own self-worth, therefore, how a child has been raised plays a huge contributing factor of how they perceive themselves belonging to the world. Through authoritative parenting, children feel accepted for themselves no matter their slipups, imperfections, or quirks.
1 You'll be their safe place - when it really matters.
The main parenting objective of just about any parent is to raise their children to be self-sufficient adults who can take care of themselves and others, as well be a positive contributing member of society. However, throughout your child's lifetime, particularly during adolescence and early adulthood this may become a bit more challenging.
As your child grows older, open communication becomes more difficult as the child's peers, societal influences, and hormones become more center-stage when it comes to decision making. If you allow your child to have the opportunity to share thoughts and ideas, or to vent off injustices from a young age, the trust will have been already fostered making them more likely to confide or seek advice from a parent when it really matters.