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Choosing a Parenting Style

It's probably a good thing to realize that your parenting style is different than that of your parents, especially if they ascribed to the "do as I say, not as I do" school of behavior modeling. Even the happiest of childhoods could have transpired in spite of the way you were parented, which means that if you adopt a "that's how my daddy raised me" approach rather than a more enlightened model backed by scientific research, you may be naively missing the opportunity to do better by your own kids.

In most cases, the first instance of even noticing or questioning your parenting style is when your kids act up. Suddenly what worked doesn't seem to be working any longer, or at least not as well. You've been doing this on instinct, perhaps subliminally emulating the parenting style of your own parents, and suddenly it isn't enough. Perhaps its time to get deliberate and proactive about your parenting style, which means you need to understand the options and assess the pros and cons for your values and the nature of your kids.

Old school parenting is characteristically autocratic, harsh and focused on discipline. It's the classic fear-of-authority model, which, when mixed with professed love, somehow justified its means. But if that's been your approach, perhaps some of these new behavior problems on the part of your child - the ones you exhibited as a kid yourself - are inevitable. The new thinking about parenting involves a softer, more behaviorally-sophisticated approach that foregoes spankings for other forms of discipline, such as loss of privileges and time alone. Rather that creating a fear of bad behavior, it models good behavior and rewards it. Such an approach not only creates a happier home and a more loving parent-child relationship, it is easier on both parties while molding adults that are more positive in their world view and attitudes.

Parenting styles come in three distinct categories:

Authoritarian - where the parent issues the orders and the child is expected to obey; if they don't, bad things happen, and if they do, well, that was the expectation all along. This is the "because I said so!" school of parenting, one that creates fear rather than respect for parents, and often leads to adults who have trouble thinking for themselves while too often acting out of rebellion and insecurity.

Permissive - where the parents place a high priority on having their children like them, usually leading to less than firm boundaries and inconsistent consequences. Children of this parenting style have trouble in later life with relationships and accepting responsibility, because as children they were taught that all they had to do was show a little displeasure and they'd get their way.

Democratic - where the parents acknowledge the children as equals, not in terms of intelligence and life experience, but in terms of their value and rights as individuals. These children are given choices, often with counseling about those choices, and are allowed to experience the consequences of those choices, including appropriate discipline designed to teach rather than punish. This leads to adults who understand the landscape of decision-making, and who approach life with confidence and a flexible tolerance of others.

Parenting has always been complex and challenging. This is precisely why the democratic approach has been shown to produce happier, more successful adults, while empowering the childhood years with joy and reward for both the parents and the children. Authoritarian and permissive parenting styles are usually some combination of personal experience, naivete, fear and laziness, all qualities that have no place in the parenting proposition.

The solution to raising the parenting bar is education and counsel, for which there are abundant resources, both locally and online. Even our own parents, who perhaps got it wrong, would agree: our children are worth the effort.

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