Parenting - a buzzword that can feel like a lot of pressure. Navigating your way through it can be tough. And even if you’ve already got one child that you think you’ve mastered, your second could have different needs and demands entirely, which is why it’s sometimes handy to clue yourself up when it comes to the different styles of parenting.
There are 4 types of parenting, all based on a scale of how responsive (the extent to which parents are warm and sensitive to their children’s needs) and demanding (the amount of control parents put on their children in an attempt to influence their behaviour) a parent is to a child. These four types of parenting methods are based on the work of developmental psychologist, Diana Baumrind.
Permissive - high responsiveness, low demandingness
Authoritative / Assertive - high responsiveness, high demandingness
Authoritarian - low responsiveness, high demandingness
Neglectful - low responsiveness, low demandingness
The neglectful parent is often uninvolved or absent. More often than not, the neglectful parent allows their child to fend for themselves as a result of being indifferent to their social, emotional and behavioural needs, or being really busy with other things. The child with a neglectful parent is offered little to no nurturing or guidance and as a result will struggle with low self-esteem and building meaningful relationships with others.
This style of parenting is often referred to as uninvolved parenting, the bare minimum is done to ensure the child is physically well, but there is no regard for the child’s social, emotional, mental needs. Rules are rarely implemented, and there is only limited engagement. This is not always intentional. The neglectful parenting style is often adopted by parents who are struggling with their own issues.
When I first became a parent, I had no real idea what to expect. I'd read many books about how to get a small child to eat, how to get them to sleep on their own, how to talk so they would listen and how the French were so successful at it and on and on and on.
The truth is, while there may be a whole host of styles and methods for parenting that each of us are drawn to, when it really comes down to it, we just do what is best for our family and ourselves in that given moment.
I’ve had many occasions where I’ve really wanted to explain in depth to my child why they shouldn’t be doing something, but in that moment, yelling and being a disciplinary parent suited us better. Similarly, there have been occasions where I have been ‘wowed’ at and praised for my very gentle approach to parenting my girls ‘when anyone else would have lost it.’
Generally, I would describe myself as a Gentle Parent, which I believe would fall under the Assertive Parenting Style. It’s important that my children are free to express themselves in whatever way they feel they need to, we have created a safe place for them at home to do so. Sometimes, this looks like playing with their toys while making each character shout and scream at each other (ideally not how anyone wants their child to play, however, any pent up negative emotions are best released in a safe, play space).
Another example follows an experience my daughter had where she didn’t feel brave talking to some older children in the playground. She came home and was very upset. She really wanted to be brave. I asked her what she could do to help her feel brave and she said she feels brave when she's jumping off her bed (again not the most ideal scenario).
Together, we filled the floor with her mattress and lots of cushions and she felt so brave and so much happier spending some time jumping off of her bed. We also spoke about some things she could say and do the next time she felt a little scared.
I appreciate the assertive parenting style because it allows for open communication such as this and it enables me to help my child figure out for herself what she could do. It also allows me space to set boundaries and have expectations for my child to meet. These boundaries and expectations can differ between my children, and they often change as my daughters get older.
We all want to have a healthy relationship with our children, and we want to be proud of ourselves as parents; here are my top tips for creating that healthy parent-child relationship.
A child will do good if they know how to - This is a brilliant saying to bear in mind. From my experience as both a teacher and a mother, I have learned that children do not always know how to do what it is we expect of them, nor do they know how to express that they are unsure. If you can bear in mind that your child is doing the best they can, you’ll be much more inclined to pause and discuss and find a way to work together to make better choices in the future.
Discuss rather than explain - You may have noticed that in my previous point I mentioned pausing and ‘discussing’ rather than ‘explain’. Communication is a two-way street. If we want our children to listen to us and respect what we have to say to them, we must listen to and respect what they have to say to us. There have been several times I’ve turned to tell one of my daughters off, only to have them offer a well-thought-through albeit very confused explanation as to why they did what they did. Because I took the time to listen, I could respond accordingly to help them better understand, while maintaining their self-esteem and confidence.
Don’t be afraid of negative emotions - A lot of the time, parenting feels hardest when negative emotions are expressed. This can be in the form of tantrums, or simply expressing an opinion in a ‘rude’ way. For younger children who are beginning to understand themselves but who cannot articulate this clearly to their parents yet, may express this frustration through a tantrum. Similarly, an older child who is more vocal may not yet have mastered the art of tactfulness, and therefore may seem to come across as being rude or blunt. It is important to hold space for a child who is having a hard time. This will lead to a more open relationship between you and your child, they will, when they can, feel most comfortable to share with you what is going on with them, why they behave in certain ways, and you will be there to guide and influence them to do better. Most importantly, you will continue to raise a well-rounded, human being who is able to feel secure and understand themselves and other people so much better.
Ultimately, there is no one size fits all approach to parenting, and your own style of parenting will change as you all grow older and wiser together. I spoke to one mum of 4, who wishes to remain anonymous, she said this: “I admit I matched up quite closely to the neglectful style of parenting when I had my first two children,” who are both now in their 20s. “I was a teen mum, basically a child myself and I didn’t know any better. All I knew was that I had to keep these two [children] alive.” Her third and fourth children (9 and 11) have a completely different mum, she says. “I now know how important it is for them to have me, focused and present. I can already see they have a much more confident approach to life.”
Having read this, I urge you to worry a little bit less about whether you're doing things ‘right’ and do what feels best for you and your family even when others may say ‘you're being too soft’ or ‘you're being too strict’ - those people will never understand your special parent-child relationship better than you do.