The parent-child relationship is a unique and enduring bond between a caregiver and his or her child. The ways they interact with each other physically, emotionally, and socially presents unique challenges and issues. Parent-child relationships can be biological or adoptive. Biological parents and children share genetic material, whereas adoptive parent-child relationships are based on a legal agreement that makes the relationship a permanent one. These relationship types are important when considering the physical, cognitive, and social development of children.
There are many theories in developmental psychology that examine the parent-child relationship. Sigmund Freud believed that adult development was largely based on the relationships children had with their parents. For example, if an adult woman was struggling with intimate relationships with men, it was blamed on an unhealthy relationship with the father. Erik Erickson’s theory of psychosocial development postulated that infants who had caregivers that met their basic needs grew up to be trusting adults. Conversely, if the child’s needs were not met, they will develop feelings of mistrust in future relationships. Other developmental theories focus on the parent as teachers, meaning, we are basically taught how to behave and relate to others through our relationships with our parents.
Authoritarian: Authoritarian parents are thought more of as disciplinarians. They use a strict discipline style with little negotiation. Punishment is common for non-compliance. Communication is usually one-way, from parent to child, with little to no explanation for rules. Parents with this style are typically less nurturing, and expectations are high with little flexibility.
Authoritative: Authoritative parents are reasonable and nurturing, and set high, clear expectations. Children with authoritative parents tend to be more self-disciplined and think for themselves. This style is thought to be the most beneficial for children. Disciplinary rules are clear and the reasons behind them are explained. Communication is ongoing and appropriate to the child’s level of understanding and development. Children may have input into goals.
Permissive: Permissive or indulgent parents mostly let their children do what they want, and offer limited guidance or direction. They are more like friends than parents, with a discipline style the exact opposite of strict. They have limited to no rules, mostly letting their children figure out problems on their own. Communication is open but they let their children decide for themselves rather than giving direction. Parents in this category tend to be warm and nurturing. Expectations are typically minimal or non-existent from these parents.
Neglectful or Uninvolved: Neglectful parents give children a lot of freedom and usually just stay out of their way. No real disciplinary style is used, and basically let their children do what they want either due to lack of information or caring. Communication is limited, there is little nurturing, and there are very few expectations for the children.
Few parents fit into any one style but more a combination of these styles. Both parents do not need to have the same style, but as long as one of them is authoritative, it’s better than two parents with equally less effective parenting styles. In addition, the child’s temperament may also alter the approach of the parents, which again is why the authoritative approach works best. There are other names of parenting styles used today like, “helicopter parenting”, which is similar to authoritative, but more over-bearing and over-involvement in the child’s life. “Free range parenting” is like the uninvolved parenting but with a conscious decision to allow more independent thinking that is in the best interest of the child.
In counseling, I use cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT) techniques to help facilitate positive changes to the parent-child relationship. Specific skills are taught including positive reinforcement, rule-setting, administration of rewards and privileges, removal of privileges, and consistency of delivery and approach. Parents are taught timing and intensity of these skills to ensure effective positive changes.
It is important to self-reflect on your parenting style and be open to making changes when necessary to be a more effective and positive influence on their children’s lives. If you are having some concerns about your parenting style, or your relationship with your children, schedule an appointment with me so we can work through the issues together.