Can you tell me more about parenting?
There don’t seem to be simple rules for it.
How right you are! Since our culture is constantly and rapidly changing and each family, parent, and child is different, it seems like parents have to guess what to do a lot of the time.
We usually parent as we were parented. “It couldn’t have been such a bad way; look at how I turned out.” Think back to your mother, your father, or other important caregivers in your early life and how they related to you.
People seem to raise their children very differently.
You are right. They do, at least in many ways.
Studies show that there are 4 basic styles of parenting. Most parents use some combination of each but we know that primarily Authoritative parents raise the happiest, most self-confident, and most successful children.
(1) Authoritative parents are affectionate and nurturing; they set limits and discipline through guidance not threats or punishment. They have open communication with their children and discuss the reasons for their decisions.
(2) Authoritarian parents tend to be less warm, are more strict, may use beatings as punishment, have very high expectations for their child, and express “It’s going to be this way because I say so.” often. They use power and fear in parenting. They are “the Boss”.
(3) Permissive parents may be warm and affectionate with their children but don’t set many limits, don’t say “No” to their children’s demands, have few rules, and often are more a “friend” than a parent.
(4) Distracted or neglectful parents are emotionally detached and don’t notice what their children are doing or feeling. They have few expectations for their children. There are few or inconsistently enforced rules for their children.
Can you say more about the different styles of parenting?
Of course. And most parents use a mix of styles, as we’ve said. The problems with Types 2-4 include:
Children with Authoritarian parents frequently become like that themselves. Most bullies come from this style of parenting, since they have been bullied. They often are angry, insecure, and have difficulty keeping close friendships, since friends don’t like to be bullied.
Children with Permissive parents often lack the ability to wait for their wishes to be met or to tolerate frustration. They don’t develop the capacity inside themselves to self-discipline, to work hard at a difficult task, or to work out problems in a relationship. They expect others to quickly solve their problems. This will limit their success in school and at work, since success depends on discipline and hard work. The most successful people are often not the smartest but those who can work hard.
Children with Distracted or Neglectful parents often feel unloved, not valued, and have a greater than ordinary need to seek love outside the family. Many girls who get pregnant at an early age come from this situation. Low self-esteem is a result of this style of parenting; they don’t value themselves, just as their parents didn’t value them.
You make it sound pretty difficult to raise a child to their full potential.
Parenting is a challenge, of course, but most parents do a “good enough” job of it. We’ll all make mistakes, of course, since we are human. The wonderful thing is that we don’t have to be perfect or to parent just like our parents did.
If a person was raised with a certain style of parenting they didn’t like and they can become aware of it, they can change to be a more warm, attentive, and authoritative parent if they wish. A skilled therapist can help parents to change their parenting style, as well.
My child is very naughty sometimes. What is the best way to deal with it?
We are glad you bring this up. It is a very important topic and especially in Myanmar at this time.
Why in Myanmar and why at this time?
Myanmar, like many other countries, has a tradition of punishing a child by hitting them. In fact, it is so common that most young adults here state that they were hit in school by teachers. And many were hit at home, as well.
What is wrong with hitting a child? I was hit as a child and I’m OK.
Many studies have shown that discipline—teaching a child what to do and what not to do—by hitting isn’t a good way. It makes many children fearful, have low self-esteem, and angry at those who beat them.
Fear is not a good basis for a child-parent or child-teacher relationship. In addition, since we tend to behave the way our parents behaved toward us, many children who are beaten use fear, power, and physical violence as parents, with their spouses, and in their work relationships when they grow up.
Are you suggesting that we just ignore a child’s bad behaviors?
How will they learn good behavior?
No, we’re not suggesting that at all. We are suggesting there are better ways to teach right and wrong to your child. Children are born without knowledge of the rules we need to follow to be safe and successful in our families and communities. Parents are the primary teachers of these rules.
So, what is a parent supposed to do?
Children, more than anything, want their parents to love, admire, and respect them. We use those desires to teach them good behaviors. When a child does something wrong, we calmly get down on their eye level, make eye contact with them, and say to them once, “I really don’t like it when you do that.”
But if I’m busy and the other children are needing my attention, a quick smack catches my child’s attention.
It is true. But it also doesn’t improve your relationship in the long run. If you show that you can control your impulses, the child learns also to control theirs. They want to imitate us. It can take more time and more restraint by a parent but it definitely makes for a better child, in the long run. Because the child isn’t just waiting for a smack, they gradually learn to think about what they are about to do and not do it.
Sometimes my child is so excited he cannot calm down and listen to anything I say.
Yes, children aren’t perfect as they learn to contain their emotional excitement. It can be helpful, for example, to find a quiet spot where the child can sit and de-escalate. It is most useful to select a place with the child at a time that they are calm, explaining to them its purpose. “This is a place we can use for you to calm down when you get so excited that you cannot hear and obey what Mommy or Daddy are telling you.”
How long should they sit there?
Usually it is for a short time, say a few minutes, while they take some deep breaths and settle down. We don’t want to do it too long; a child expected to sit for ½ hour in a time-out will be restless and getting into trouble again after 10 minutes or so.
But what about punishment?
Sometimes they need to know something they did is really, really wrong, like hurting their little brother/sister or running into the road after a ball.
Absolutely! Especially for things that pose risk for themselves or others or that hurt others, they need very clear, firm guidance. A time out. A brief, clear explanation of why you don’t want them to do it. And, you can withhold something that they like for a brief time.
What are you talking about?
If they like a certain TV show, a video game, or get to stay up a little longer than their younger siblings, withholding that privilege for a day or two (at most) will make an impression on them. But the biggest impression on them will be your disapproval, because they want your love. Giving long (a week, for example) punishments rarely works. A child often forgets the lesson you are trying to teach them and simply becomes more angry at you, increasing the likelihood that they will behave badly again.
I’ll have to think about all of this. It takes a lot more work than giving them a quick smack with a stick.
It does. Raising a child to be an honest, successful, loving human being is hard, time-consuming work. And it is the most rewarding experience in the world when you see your child making good choices and succeeding as a happy, loving adult. They will learn most of that from you and especially from your behavior. Good, as opposed to bad, parental discipline is one important ingredient in a child’s successful journey to adulthood.