None of us want to raise a narcissistic, violent child. I think we’d all say that was failure, but how do we avoid it?
The study this article covers points to four sources for that failure:
- Exposing children to violence.
- Not showing affection.
- A lack of positive communication.
- A permissive upbringing.
You’ve chosen to read this, so I assume you don’t struggle with one to three. Although the first one becomes increasingly outside of our control as they grow older and experience the world. But it’s the fourth that is more complicated.
Permissive parenting is a parenting style with low demands and high responsiveness. Parents like this tend to be very loving, but don’t set many guidelines and rules for their family. They don’t expect mature behaviour from their kids, seeing their role as more friend than parent.
It’s hard to get the right balance between authoritarianism (rules and rigidity) and permissiveness is hard. Somewhere in the middle sits a more self-directed, respectful relationship, democratic approach. It’s called Authoritative parenting.
The steps to avoid permissive parenting
Awareness of the extremes and where you lie on that spectrum is the first step to avoid the aforementioned failure.
The second is trial and error to get the right balance in an environment that’s constantly changing.
But underpinning all this is the why question. Why do we have and enforce certain rules? The answer to this question gives you the outcomes you’re looking for. When you understand the outcomes you can work out how to achieve them in a less authoritarian, but not permissive way.
This is where you get to principles, something Adam Grant uses. The things that sit underneath the rules, the reason the rules exist. The spirit, not the letter of the law if you will.
But you can’t define principles without knowing why those principles are important. Underneath principles sit values. Things you value above others. Equality, responsibility, health for example.
You may value taking personal responsibility, so your principles could be saying sorry, clearing up after yourself, doing what you say you will, communicating clearly when you’ve been asked to do something.
These principles are easier to enforce than rules because principles have flex. It’s daft to expect a 3 year old to completely clear up after themselves, but reasonable to expect this of a 9 year old. When you know your values, the principles become clear and can be adapted to any situation.
This doesn’t mean rules aren’t useful mind you. They are simply a tool for a specific situation to achieve an outcome, rather than having importance for their own sake.
How I use principles in parenting
For a while in our house, on a school day, our kids had to get themselves dressed before they could have breakfast. Over time this rule has faded because they’ve developed the habit. And more importantly, they know why they are doing it — because we expect them to take responsibility for themselves. Now we can transfer that to other behaviours, like putting your dishes in the dishwasher after breakfast.
For them it makes sense, a natural next step. And because they know what’s important to us, they can use their own gumption to take more responsibility. Now, more often than not, they get dressed and brush their teeth without being asked.
Every week I send out one email with insights, questions and stories to help you be a better dad. If you want to join hundreds of other dads please subscribe here.