Parenting Goldilocks Style

Remember Goldilocks?  She went into the bears’ house, a stranger’s house in the middle of the woods, and tasted their porridge, their food. One was “too hot.” One was “too cold.” One was “just right.” Then, she laid down in their beds. One was “too hard.” One was “too soft.” One was “just right.” She actually fell asleep in the nice comfortable bed. (Why she felt so bold to do this, I don’t know. Anyway….) A study from the University of New Hampshire found the same can be said of parenting. One parenting style is “too cold, too hard, too much.” Another style is “too hot, too soft, too little.” And one is “just right.” Let me briefly describe each style so you can decide which style describes your parenting practice.

Researchers call the style of parenting that is “too cold….too hard…too much” Authoritarian Parenting. Authoritarian parents love their children but believe rules will make everyone safe and healthy. As a result, they tend to focus on discipline more than relationship.  They set very high standards for their children but remain somewhat distant and cold while enforcing the rules. They have no patience for bad behavior and little trust in their children’s ability to behave without a strong structure in place. So, they punish misbehavior quickly and severely. Research suggests that children do not see the authoritarian parent as a legitimate authority figure. As a result, they listen less and rebel more. They grow discontent, withdrawn, and distrustful. No, authoritarian parenting is “too cold…too hard…too much.”

The style of parenting described as “too hot…to soft…too little” is known as Permissive Parenting. Permissive parents love their children as well, but they hate to see their children suffer or experience any discomfort. They believe warm relationships will cure every ail, fix every problem, and mend every flaw. In their focus on relationship, permissive parents tend to be non-demanding and non-controlling as they strive to be their child’s “best friend.” They have few boundaries and rarely enforce the boundaries they do have…after all, enforcing a boundary results in discomfort for their children. At the same time, they are very warm and receptive, nurturing and caring. Research, however, suggests that children of permissive parents are the less self-reliant. They explore less and learn less self-control. When they do explore, they run the risk of personal harm because there are few boundaries in place to protect them. Permissive parenting is just “too hot…to soft…to little.” Children need more.

The style of parenting that is “just right” is known as Authoritative Parenting. Perhaps the most important word in describing authoritative parents is “and.” They establish rules and develop strong relationships. They can be demanding and warm, set high expectations and remain receptive to their children’s needs. The authoritative parent sets rules and limits and remains willing to explain the reasons for those rules and limits. They listen to their children’s discomfort with the limit and still enforcing that limit for their children’s benefit. As their children mature, they exhibit a willingness to negotiate some limits and make age appropriate adjustments. Children view their authoritative parents as legitimate authorities and become less likely to engage in disobedient and delinquent behaviors. They grow self-reliant, self-controlled, and content under the tutelage and guidance of their authoritative parent. Authoritarian parenting is “just right.”

The question is: which parenting style describes your parenting? Don’t worry if you fall in the authoritarian or permissive style right now. You can always change to become the authoritative parent at any time. When you do, you’ll find it more often works “just right.”

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