Parenting Vivian | 27 Aug 2010 11:39 am

Authoritative vs. Authoritarian or Permissive Parents

The media have recently highlighted a fundamental debate among parenting experts: To be a drill sergeant or an empathic listener? To spank or not to spank? To punish or to teach?

In more than two decades as a parent educator, I firmly believe that effective discipline means setting firm limits while, at the same time, treating children with respect and dignity. This is authoritative, not punitive, parenting. What抯 the difference?

Example: Your children are fighting about which TV show to watch. The authoritarian parent bellows, 揟hat抯 enough! No more TV for a week! That抣l teach you kids to get along.?This parent dictates her solution, and the children have no opportunity to solve their own problems or learn to cooperate. They may be resentful but are too fearful to express their true feelings.

The authoritative parent says in calm, clear voice, 揑f you two can work out a way to share your TV time, you抮e welcome to watch. If not, the television goes off.?This parent uses firm discipline (stating a consequence that will result if the squabbling continues), but also guides children respectfully toward working out their own solution梐nd then follows through. If she doesn抰 follow through, she is not a credible parent and her statement becomes an empty threat that her kids won抰 take seriously.

The problem with the authoritarian (揇o it because I say so!? approach is that it uses adult muscle to force youngsters to obey. This may work in the short run. But over time, children may become more defiant and disobedient. Some may become sneaky and do the same thing again but are more careful not to get caught. A child who抯 constantly under a parent抯 thumb will find ways to evade or avoid the rules.

Here are some tips to help you become a more effective parent without becoming a pushover or a dictator:

Choose your battles. Parents and children have conflicting needs. Adults need to hurry. Kids want to dawdle. We want some order. They like to make messes. Clashes are inevitable, but don抰 get pulled into every skirmish. One of my favorite maxims is 揑f you抮e not selective, you抮e not effective.?Decide what抯 really important to you, like leaving the house on time in the morning without yelling or tantrums ?yours or theirs. Talk to kids at night about how to get ready on time the next morning. (For example: Set out clothes together and makes lunches that evening, or have a check list of what needs to be done to avoid 搈orning madness.?This way you抣l all begin the day on a happier note.)

Talk less. Children become 損arent deaf?when we endlessly lecture, nag, command, criticize, cajole. They抳e heard it all before, so they tune us out. To get children to listen, the trick is to shorten the message. Brevity is authority. Instead of preaching about how messy their rooms are, make a brief impersonal comment that describes what needs to be done: 揟hose dirty clothes belong in the hamper?or 揃ooks go on the shelf.?/p>

Set clear, firm limits. Example: Before your son goes to a friend抯 house, let him know exactly what time he must come home. If you arrive to pick him up and he begs to stay longer, you can say, 揑 know you抮e having a good time, but it抯 six o抍lock.?If he resists, don抰 be ambivalent by saying, 揙kay, just five more minutes.?Don抰 argue. Simply state, 揝ix o抍lock was our agreement. We need to go now.?/p>

Use consequences instead of punishment. Example: Your child leaves his new roller blades outside overnight after you抳e reminded him to bring them inside. They抮e stolen. An authoritarian parent would lecture: 揑 warned you, but you never listen to me. You got just what you deserved! That抯 the last time I抣l buy you anything expensive.?
That won抰 teach him to be more careful with his things. It will only make him angry, inept, or resentful toward you. Instead, you could take an authoritative: 揑 can see you抮e upset that your roller blades are gone and that you抣l have to do without them. Maybe you can think of a way to earn some money toward another pair.?An empathic response like this one teaches a lesson in responsibility without being punitive.

Express your anger without insult. It抯 only human to get upset when kids disobey or provoke us. Parents have a right to feel angry, but we don抰 have any right to hurt, insult, belittle, or frighten children.
If you抮e about to explode, take an 揳dult time-out?to cool off. You could say, 揑抣l be in my room for 10 minutes, and we抣l discuss this when I come out.?Parents who use demeaning language or lash out physically fail to teach respect because they抮e being disrespectful toward the child. This doesn抰 help a child develop a conscience, and spanking models the very behavior that we want children to avoid.

Respect is a two-way street: Kids learn it best if we model it. They won抰 learn to respect themselves or others if respect has not been given to them. Another way to show respect is to listen to your child, especially when he is upset. Listening closely ?without interrupting or injecting adult answers ?shows you are really interested and care about him.

Though they don抰 always show it and probably won抰 thank you at that moment, children really do want parents to provide safe, predictable structure in their lives. We can do that by being an authoritative parent who sets limits on behavior, but also treats kids the way we all want to be treated ?with love, dignity and respect.

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