Gary Gilles is a Licensed Clinical Professional Counselor in private practice for over 20 years. He is also an adjunct faculty member at the University
In part one, we discussed three very common parenting styles: authoritarian, permissive and authoritative. Although there are helpful aspects to each of the styles, the preferred style is authoritative.
Parents who use an authoritative approach must exert more energy to guide and teach than permissive parents, and less control than authoritarian parents. The authoritarian style recognizes that children function best when they know what is expected of them. But it also respects the child’s need to participate in decisions through the expression of feelings and opinions.
It doesn’t mean that children who come from authoritarian or permissive homes are destined to be maladjusted or encounter lots of problems. But, research clearly lands on the side of authoritative homes as the best foundation for strong parent-child relationships of the three styles. Children from authoritative homes tend to be more socially mature, self-confident about their ability to try and master new tasks, have a greater range of emotional expression, and take responsibility for their decisions.
Creating an authoritative relationship
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If you find that your relationship with your child is not as authoritative as you would like, try these ideas:
Set behavioral expectations for your child.
But don’t just tell them, teach them. Use day-to-day experiences as object lessons to reinforce what you want them to understand. There is a concept called an optimal challenge that you can use. In an optimal challenge you help your child to set a goal for themselves that is just out of their reach but attainable. You then help them obtain the resources they need to achieve the goal. For example, say that you want to start incorporating daily exercise into your routine. You start out with a 20 minute walk each day and challenge your child to do the same. In fact, you could do it together most days. Once you have achieved that goal, increase your time; maybe even choose a 5K walk/race that you could enter together. The idea is to set an expectation, encourage them to pursue it, be an example and help them build confidence all while you are strengthening the relationship. Realize though you may have to go over this many times before they get it.
Admit to your child when you’ve made a mistake, been harsh with them or need to apologize.
This teaches them that you value and respect them enough to ask for their forgiveness. This is a far more powerful way to teach respect than simply demanding it. It takes some humility to admit to our children when we make a mistake. But an apology can go a long way toward helping your child to not only feel they are valuable to you but it also models relationship repair for them as they get older. They will have to apologize many times throughout their life and you can help them understand how to do that by your example.
Set behavioral boundaries where you think they belong.
But explain why you are setting them up and what choices they do have within those limits. Authoritative parents aren’t afraid to say “no” when it is in the best interest of their child. For example, say you child wants to spend the night at a friend’s house that you aren’t particularly fond of. You ask yourself, “What negative effect might this have on my child now and in the future.” If you assess that it is not in your child’s best interest to go, then firmly but lovingly explain your decision and offer a healthier alternative.
Encourage your child to express their feelings and opinions on matters where you disagree. This might sound like you’re inviting a battle, but in reality you are communicating to your child that their feelings and opinions are important to you. This is actually one of the greatest gifts authoritative parents can offer their child. If you want your child to be able to name their feelings, make sense of what they are experiencing and be able to put those feelings into words, then give them lots of opportunities to practice. Even strong, challenging feelings such as anger, disappointment, and sadness should be allowed as long as they are expressed in a respectful way. But remember, you are modeling the way emotions are shared. So, be willing to share your feelings in an appropriate way and it will naturally encourage your child to share his or her feelings with you.
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