Your Parenting Style Could Be Killing You

Did you know your parenting style can impact your health? It’s true. How you choose to parent will impact your physical and mental health. Let me explain.

We’ve all heard of helicopter parents. Helicopter parents often parent from a position of anxiety. They hover over their children and rescue them from any hint of frustration or challenge.  They engage in constant vigilance to spot their children’s potential struggles and then make heroic efforts to relieve them of the stress and frustration of the challenge. As you can imagine, this can leave the helicopter parent feeling stressed, pressured, and burned out.  Helicopter parents live with a constant anxiety that their children might become overwhelmed by stress, frustrated by failure, or saddened by “less than perfect” results. This constant stress and anxiety leaves the helicopter parent vulnerable to a myriad of health problems. For instance, it can leave them vulnerable to depression. Constant stress also increases the risk of gastrointestinal problems like reflux as well as problems like insomnia and a weakened immune system. In other words, the helicopter parent may place themselves at greater risk of catching the very virus from which they are trying to protect their child. (Are you a helicopter parent?)

What about the authoritarian parent? The “I’m-the-boss” parent often parents out of fear. They believe rules can provide a measure of safety and so make rules the priority. “If only we have the right rules in place our children will be safe.” They attempt to protect their children from the “dangers out there” and believe enough rules will offer the protective buffer. With the right rules in place, children will be safe and parents will experience less worry. Rules will save the day. Unfortunately, children eventually rebel in search of their individual identity. They must eventually face the dangers of the world. Yes, they will make mistakes as they face the world and establish their place in the world. Parental anxiety increases during these times. Fears are manifested as anger. Shouting and demand-making escalate as fear and lack of control increase. Anger, shouting, and exploding frustrations take a toll on parental health. Anger triggers the fight-or-flight response. Heart rates increase. Muscles tighten. Blood pressure increases. Cholesterol increases. Risk of heart attack increases. (Read Where Are You On the Parenting See Saw describes the “I’m-the-boss” parent as heavy on the authority side.)

What’s a parent to do? The two parenting styles described above have detrimental effects on health; one parenting style has a preventative effect on our health. What parenting style is this? A parenting style of positive discipline. In positive discipline parents focus on a balance between connection and age-appropriate rules. They work to provide a warm and emotional relationship while also providing age appropriate structure.  Parents who practice positive discipline focus on the beliefs and motives behind the behaviors not just the behaviors themselves. They learn more about their children, their abilities, their interests, their fears. By focusing on relationships and encouraging an intimate knowledge of your children, this parenting style boosts confidence in parenting. Those who have greater confidence tend to have great health and longer lives. Confidence and balance helps a parent engage in their children with more patience. This all helps protect against depression. It enhances immunity. It promotes health. (Here’s an example of positive discipline I witnessed at Dunkin Donuts.)

So, if you want to life a healthy life, adjust your parenting style. Practice a style of positive discipline. Oh…there is another benefit of positive discipline. Children thrive under positive discipline. They grow more confident. They listen better. They exhibit fewer behavioral problems. And yes, all this will add to your health as well!

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