Anna, whose name has been changed upon request, has been noticing that her child has been smiling a lot more of late. Which is typically a cause for celebration. But wanting to replicate those happy circumstances led her to a disturbing discovery. She found that her 8-year-old was strategising when it came to asking her parents for permissions. Since their parenting styles are different, she’s been using them to further her own agenda. For instance, when she wants a sugary treat at 7pm, she knows Anna will say no because it was dinner time, but if she asks her father, he'll eventually give in.
Now that Anna knows about this, it’s caused some friction between her husband and her. But those quarrels, says Anna, has only made instances of her daughter’s advantage-taking more frequent.
Carla Chedid, Clinical psychologist at Openminds Center, Dubai, says this is not an uncommon thing in households where parenting styles do not match. But, she adds, it can cause lasing harm. “Although the child takes advantage of the situation, she is getting more confused and insecurities are building up inside of her,” she explains.
What is a parenting style?
How you communicate with your child – with anger, warmth or aloofness – all comes under the purview of a parenting style. Psychologists generally acknowledge four parenting styles, based on the works of developmental psychologist Diana Baumrind and Stanford researchers Eleanor Maccoby and John Martin.
Authoritarian: When using this model of parenting, the rules are rigid and communicated from parent to child with little room for discussion or negotiation. Mistakes are met with punishments and there’s a high chance of failure since the bar of expectations is set so high.
Authoritative: Parents who use this style to communicate with their children tend to develop close, nurturing relationships, because while they set boundaries they also reward curiosity and communication. Children weigh in on their punishments and rewards, and it’s a style of home governance that calls for communication and shared goals.
Permissive Parenting: Friend or parent? The lines blur in this style of parenting, where parents are warm and communicative but leave the decisions to the kids. There may be a fallout here because too much freedom may lead to impulsive – and unchecked - decision-making.
Uninvolved Parenting: Aloof parents generally stay out of the way and let the kids get on with things, whether it’s deciding on going to school or eating a particular vegetable. They have few expectations from the children but in return also offer little.
Acknowledge the issues first
Chedid offers a route to change to Anna.
“First,” she explains, “both parents should be aware of the parenting style and habits that they are bringing from their childhood home.”
How we interact with our children is often a sub-conscious melding of how our own parents communicated with us and how we wish they had. By taking about how their families operated, says Chedid, they will be able to identify what their sore points are and acknowledge that these are old learned habits. They can then discuss how to overcome these.
“Secondly, they should never argue with each other about parenting in front of the child. They should let each partner handle the situation and only step in to reinforce that parent’s decision,” she adds.
Finally, if they find themselves splitting hairs, parents should consider getting a mediator – or coach – to help them come up with a collaborative strategy to parent their child. Chedid stresses: “Behaviour is reversible and parents can bring change into their children’s life.”
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