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The Parenting Style Continuum

Find out whether you should modify your parenting style.

The Parenting Style Continuum

What's your style? Experts who study family dynamics and parenting have come up with a range of parenting styles. If you put them on a continuum they look something like this:

A Quick “Hit” on the Parenting Continuum

Imagine six parents, each with a different parenting style, sitting in the dentist's waiting room with their six children. The kids are running wild, acting out, and getting into trouble. Here's what the parents might say and do:

  • The abusive parent says, “Get your ugly butt over here you little stupid creep!” (smacks, screams, tears).
  • The conditional parent says, “I can't believe you would behave like this, you're embarrassing me, we're leaving. I told you we were going to go get ice cream later but I changed my mind. You won't be having ice cream for three weeks, young lady!”
  • The assertive parent says, “Sarah, that is inappropriate behavior. Sit down right next to me. Now please. And now might be a good time to start that homework you brought.”
  • The supportive parent says, “Tommy, what's up? You can't behave like that, honey. Please sit down now. Are you bored? I brought your book and some stuff to color with.”
  • The indulgent parent says, “Ah, let them run, they're just kids having a good time.”
  • The neglectful parent says, well, nothing. The neglectful parent doesn't notice his kid; he's too busy reading People.

Keeping all these categories straight is pretty tough, so I've lumped them together into three styles: on one end, the bossy parent (conditional to abusive), on the other end, the wimpy parent (indulgent to neglectful), and in the middle, the strong and reasonable parent (assertive to supportive). No matter where on the continuum your parenting style falls now, it's a no-brainer to figure out which style I think you should aim for: strong and reasonable. Either of the other two styles in their extreme raise children who lack self-control and self-respect.

The Bossy Parent

The bossy parent's word is law. After all, she's the parent, and her word goes. She is good at barking orders, but rarely gives reasons for them. She rules by fear. Don't get me wrong, she's not necessarily cruel; she fears for her child's future. “If he's not scared I'll hurt him, he'll go bad,” she might feel. The bossy parent's ideas of getting her kids to behave often backfire. Her kids may learn how to follow orders and be “good,” but their discipline is all driven from exterior threat, rather than being internalized. Kids with bossy parents often have difficulty making decisions. How can they? They've had little practice. They tend to be immature, lack in confidence and resourcefulness, and act irresponsibly and impulsively.

It's a Good Idea!

The well-behaved child needs a strong and reasonable parent.

Behave Yourself!

Parents of every parenting style are occasionally furious parents. Anger is scary. There are very few parents who have never been so angry, hurt, frustrated, worn-out, or simply at the end of their patience that they haven't lost it—or come this close to losing it. Fury often brings the urge to hurt your child, out of revenge, or simply to make the behavior stop. (“Stop crying or I'll give you something to really cry about!!!”) It's common to feel it, it's not okay to do it.

The Wimpy Parent

The wimpy parent is the opposite: He steps away from asserting his opinions, values, and rules, and allows his child full responsibility for her own actions. He's usually very inconsistent, and may threaten consequences but fall down on the follow-through. Very often wimpy parents are rebelling against their own bossy parents. While the impulse to trust the child is positive, the lack of boundaries and direction leaves many wimpy-parented kids lost and confused. These kids often lack self-control—with no rules, they've never had to practice. Children whose parents have a wimpy style are often not very resourceful either. They have trouble determining whether or not their behavior is appropriate, and, if it is not, how to change.

The Strong and Reasonable Parent

Ah! Our hero! The strong and reasonable parent is in charge without being authoritarian, a companion to her kids without being a peer. She relies on knowing her children, is comfortable talking with them, and likes and trusts them. She isn't removed, cool, or dictatorial. She's involved, she's real. Her kids know she's human, they know her weaknesses and strengths. She's forgiving, occasionally indulgent, good at setting limits, excellent at applying appropriate consequences, and she doesn't let anybody push her around. Her children know that no matter what they do, she loves them and is on their side. Finally, the strong and reasonable parent knows that her ultimate goal is raising a resourceful child who can think for herself and make good, appropriate life choices.

Sound like something to aim for? I think so. (Sound too good to be true? Probably. I said something to aim for, not to expect to always be!)

Determining Your Parenting Style

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