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Parenting and Child Development

Allan Schwartz, LCSW, Ph.D. was in private practice for more than thirty years. He is a Licensed Clinical Social Worker in the states ...Read More

You have either seen or experienced it. You are the parent of a child who throws a full temper tantrum in the supermarket when you are shopping. You are aware that the screams are getting lots of attention. You are also aware that people may be looking at how you handle the situation. What is to be done? Reasoning with the child does no good. Yelling at the child will make it worse. Hitting the child also has a worsening effect. You feel helpless, embarrassed and overwhelmed. Again, what is to be done? You tell yourself, “I’m a terrible parent.”

Hypothetical Case:

“A single mother enters psychotherapy because of feelings of low self-esteem, anxiety and helplessness over the way she is raising her three year old child. Friends and family complain that she is not being firm enough with the child. When he throws a temper tantrum or is engaged in limit setting behavior she is told that she should spank him if he does not stop after the first warning. Having been raised by parents who used punishment as a way to control the kids, she does not want to follow the same patterns because of how unhappy it made her feel when she was a child.

Instead of doing what her parents did, she is using a parenting book written by Jim and Charles Fay “Love and Logic Magic for Early Childhood,” to help her. The book is based on child psychology. Basically it teaches practical parenting strategies for children aged from birth to six years old. She also attends a training class for parents just like herself. In the class participants learn how to put into practice the methods advocated by this book. However, these techniques are viewed by her family as weak parenting. They believe she should be strict with the child. To them strictness means using hollering, punishing and spanking when necessary. They tell her that “all that psychology stuff is nonsense.” Of course, they would say that because that is what they did. Feeling pulled in two directions, she entered psychotherapy to help her sort out and relieve her confusion and anxiety over how to raise her child.”

While the case above is fictional it represents the dilemma faced by countless number of parents who feel overwhelmed by their small children and the demands they place on them. Always the temptation, when the child is trying the patience of the parent, is to get very angry and punitive. The dilemma is whether to give in to and yell and punish or to use a more reasonable parenting style that does not rely on bullying the child.

Many people I have met or worked with over many years state that the strictness and punishment they were raised with was good for them. They assert that when they were children they resented that treatment but looking back they can see that it did them a lot of good. Of course it is tempting to say, “it was good for you yet you need psychotherapy.” I always hold back from making this somewhat sarcastic statement because, as a therapist it is important to do no harm.

A well-known and respected psychologist by the name of Baumrind did a lot of research into how people parent their children. As a result it was found that there are four basic types of parenting.

Four Parenting Styles:

1. Authoritarian:

Children are expected to follow strict rules. Failure to follow the rules results in punishment. Parents do not explain the reasons for the punishment. Authoritarian parents have high expectations of the child that are not open to discussion. If the child asks why they must do something the usual parental response is, “because I said so.” In other words, obedience is demanded by the parents and with no explanation.

2. Authoritative:

With this style of parenting there are rules and guidelines for the children that they are expected to follow. However, these parents listen to their children and are responsive to their questions. They are nurturing and forgiving. They strike a balance between being assertive with the children are not intrusive and restricting. They work towards helping their children socially assertive, responsible and cooperative.

3. Permissive:

These parents make few demands of the children. They rarely use discipline and have low expectations of maturity and self-control. They are lenient and avoid confrontation with the children. Their role is more friend than parent but are nurturing and communicative with the children.

4. Uninvolved:

These parents provide basic needs for the children but are detached and, at worst, some of them are neglectful.

Discussion:

In actual practice, families provide a blend of parenting styles. One parent may be authoritarian while the other is permissive. That is why it’s important for parents to communicate with one another and cooperate in their approach rather than arguing with one another.

While the authoritative parenting style produces children who are happy and well-adjusted not everyone practices that style. The particular way that families approach raising their children varies according to how they were raised. In addition, there are such factors as the presence of alcohol and substance abuse, economic and employment problems. The values taught by their religion and culture also play an important role in child-rearing.

There are not perfect or correct ways for parents to handle difficult situations. Certainly, it’s important to take a deep breath and stop and think rather than angrily reacting. Sometimes hugging the child works best and sometimes it’s best to leave the area and go elsewhere. Jim and Charles Fay suggest telling the child “I love you too much to argue and continue saying this while the tantrum continues. In another blog their book will be discussed in greater detail.

All parents must understand that there are no perfect ways to parent just as there are no perfect children. The worst thing a parent can do is engage in self-blame and self-recrimination just because they may not fit into the authoritative type of parenting.

How did your parents raise you and how do you raise your children? Are you doing things differently from your parents?

Your comments and questions are always welcome.

Allan N. Schwartz, PhD

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