Do you run your family like an army general? Or are you so relaxed that teatime is more like a chimps’ tea party?
Have you ever wondered whether you’re much stricter than other parents? Or perhaps if you’re more laid back than most? Or maybe whether you are too indulgent with your children?
As parents we often notice how other parents manage their children and wonder whether we would have reacted in the same way in that situation.
You might like to find out more about what sort of parent you are by doing the Parenting Matters quiz.
A while ago I was in great admiration of a Mum with a very chatty and enthusiastic 3 or 4 year old in the supermarket. She was talking through items on her shopping list and encouraging her son to find them and put them in the trolley. He was really enjoying the task, trying so hard to be helpful and flinging things haphazardly in the trolley. They were having fun and not obviously breaking the eggs! I confess that I am always in a hurry and would have struggled with the temptation to race round quickly and get the job done. They were having fun chatting, as he added a few extras of his own. And then there is the familiar situation of someone giving in to the wails for sweets at the checkout just to keep the peace.
Obviously these are random scenarios, and how we react in a situation depends on so many factors, such as whether you are having a bad day, or indeed your child is in a good mood. But we all have habits and styles of behaving that will to some extent determine how we react – for example when shopping with our kids.
Is one parent more child-centred and the other more permissive? Most parents have a sense of what sort of parent they are, be it strict, laid back or somewhere in between, yet it can be interesting to see how our ‘parenting styles’ compare with others, and to get a clearer idea of what sort of parent we really are.
All parents have their own unique blend of 'parenting styles', which simply means we have a preferred pattern of responses when with our children. For example, we all lie on a spectrum between being 'engaged' or being 'uninvolved', or between being 'strict' and being 'relaxed'. Although this will vary according to the age and personality of our child, we each have a particular approach which tends to become the 'automatic' or 'default' style, expecially when under pressure. The approach you fall back on is often determined by how you were brought up, your own personality, experiences, culture or simply what you have picked up from those around you.
Research shows that there are four main parenting styles (D. Baumrind, Maccoby & Martin); do you recognise yourself?
1 Well Balanced / Authoritative: This is in many ways the ‘ideal’ parenting style, balancing clear limits and appropriate expectations with warmth and involvement (as with the Mum involving her son with shopping and making it fun). However, she would probably not allow him to add a bumper bag of Mars Bars to the trolley and would explain why.
2 Permissive / Indulgent: These parents are warm and engaged with their children, although have fewer or inconsistent limits and expectations. They would be more inclined to give in at the checkout as they hate to see their child upset, despite explaining how sweets will rot teeth.
3 Hands-off / Uninvolved: These parents tend to be laissez-faire, less involved and with fewer boundaries. They probably won’t notice the additions to the trolley or mind very much anyway.
4 Strict / Authoritarian: Here there’s a stronger emphasis on control and clear limits above warmth and involvement. They may not let their child out of the trolley and would stick firmly to what’s on the list.
These different styles have been found to have an impact on how children respond and develop. Although most parents have a natural or automatic parenting style, this isn’t set in stone. Understanding our ‘automatic’ tendencies may be the first step towards positive change.
A Demos Report, ‘Building Character’, following research into 9,000 families showed the lifelong benefits of being brought up with a ‘Well Balanced / Authoritative’ parenting style, combining warmth, encouragement and consistency. These children were more likely to develop the character qualities needed for modern life — including empathy, application and self-control.
According to the Minster for Children, Schools and Families at the time, "This report is right that parenting ability outstrips every single other factor in increasing social mobility and attainment – more than class, ethnicity or disability."
In line with these recommendations, Parenting Matters provide parents with the support and skills to develop more positive interactions with their children, help their children learn to problem solve and become more independent, to deal with conflict constructively, improve their self-esteem and to develop to their full potential.
The good news is that wherever you are coming from, we can adapt our ways of talking to and relating to our children to improve communication, relationships and reduce confrontations.
With better strategies under their belts parents find they naturally move towards using the more effective ‘Well-Balanced / Authoritative’ parenting style with their children. This can reduce conflict, help improve relationships and produce happier, more confident and capable children.
If you’d like to find out more about your parenting style, check out the online quiz. Based on extensive research, this quiz will give you detailed feedback on your type of parenting style and what it means for you and your family.