The way you communicate, nurture and support your child has a lifelong effect on shaping your child's personality. In 1967, famed developmental psychologist Diana Baumrind shattered previously held beliefs about how parenting approaches affect children after she studied the interactions between 100 preschoolers and their parents.
Through her research, Baumrind identified distinct parenting styles that employ varying degrees of demands, types of communication, depth of nurturing and reassurance as well as expectations of maturity. Your personality, culture, socioeconomic status, religion and family background, as well as those of your spouse, play a pivotal role in these decisions. You likely fluctuate between all four parenting styles, depending on your child’s inherent personality and your patience level at the moment. After hearing “Mooommy!” for the 100th time in six hours at an ear-splitting volume, even a tired authoritative parent caves in to demands for an extra cookie occasionally. Yet one of these four approaches is probably more dominant in your parenting philosophy.
Behavioral psychologists and neuroscientists emphatically agree that children across all cultures thrive in an environment that provides moderate demands and responsiveness. This includes imparting consistent age-appropriate rules and consequences, explaining discipline decisions as well as listing and thoughtfully responding to questions. The good news is that most parents naturally gravitate toward these behaviors. Baumrind believes that such a child-centered approach builds a bridge of trust. Just like adults, preschoolers feel respected when they can express their thoughts and they are empowered by making their own decisions. Under this type of guidance, they have the freedom to become confident, self-reliant, socially competent and assertive children.
In the recent cultural quest to cultivate baby geniuses, more parents are gravitating toward an authoritarian parenting style. Baumrind argues that forcing preschoolers into early enrichment activities such as foreign language classes tumbling activities and music lessons, does not permit them to become independent thinkers and enthusiastic explorers. Parents who create high demands but offer little responsiveness often implement a strict set of rules that have inflexible consequences. Conformity is expected, and deviation receives unsympathetic judgment. Parents who unrelentingly demand obedience and proficiency are often bewildered by their child’s unhappy disposition, rebellious nature, lack of leadership skills or recurrent anxiety attacks.
It is difficult to find fault with parents who are nurturing, accepting and highly responsive to their child’s needs and emotions. While a parent who combines high responsiveness with low demands is often very involved in their child’s life, they rarely dispense discipline or give guidance. Preschoolers must have the freedom to make their own decisions, but they need safe options, such as choosing between a blue or green shirt, not what time they go to bed or whether they brush their teeth. A parent who steps so far back that they do not establish behavioral expectations is actually setting their child up to be a poor decision maker and emotional regulator. Extreme indulgence can create a spoiled, impulsive child who melts into chronic tantrums, constantly questions authority and goes to great lengths to avoid confrontation. This mindset often creates problems in school and gives youngsters few tools to handle peer pressure.
In 1983, developmental psychologists E.E. Maccoby and J.A. Martin added neglectful to the list of common parenting styles, which they believe has the most negative consequences. Uninvolved parents might be physically present, but they are so emotionally detached that they rarely make demands, engage in conversations, or provide discipline and guidance. In response, children have lower confidence, ambition and willpower.