When I begin to see family routine tides turning from frustrating and negative to more optimistic and healthy, two shifts are typically happening: 1) parents begin taking responsibility for their actions and get curious about how they can better influence their children’s behavior, 2) parents make less frequent use of practices falling into either the Permissive or Authoritarian parenting style category, and instead begin opting for a more Authoratative approach.
If you can get past the confusing Authoritarian/Authoritative terminology, consider that Authoritative styles are consistently associated with positive outcomes for kids, like self-reliance, compliance, positive attitudes, etc. In Authoritative parenting the parent determines the structure, the child makes the choice to follow the structure or not (and experience rewards or consequences). This style teaches the child they can make good decisions. It's especially important for children with ADHD and related conditions to experience a consistent structure where they can make some choices and experience some positive attention for making those choices. We know with certain combinations of kid and parent personalities, this is difficult and it's easy to become frustrated and worn down. As headstrong as kids can be, parents can step by step reclaim their power to teach new habits that will make everyone happier.
So, if one of your 2014 goals is to create more peaceful, effective weekly routines with your family, take a few minutes to understand your parenting strategy options, and potential downfalls of leaning too far to one or the other side. Just like we don't want to be too passive or too aggressive in our interactions with others..rather we want to be assertive, somewhere in the middle, not disregarding our own needs or trampling over the needs others. Same in our parenting, we don't want to be too Permissive or too Authoritarian, but rather, somewhere in the middle.
Parents with a Permissive style typically prefer to avoid conflict; provide inconsistent or no structure regarding rules and boundaries; and sometimes fall into relating to their kids more as friends than parents. Sometimes Permissive parents have trouble regulating their own emotions and behaviors. They can sometimes be overly helpful (enabling) toward their children and fail to support their kids in developing self-reliance. Sometimes the kid’s failure to take responsibility catches the Permissive parent on a bad day, leading the parent to do something drastic like throw out all the toys when a child won’t clean them up. The parent might later feel bad for overreacting and replace all the toys, leading to a lesson-not-learned. Permissive parenting is ineffective for a child with ADHD because these children (and children in general) do best with consistency and clearly-set limits. The children end up feeling less safe and don’t take the parent seriously because of the lack of consistency, and the parent can feel drained by allowing so much flexibility.
An Authoritarian style is typically a bit demanding, holding sometimes unrealistically high expectations (especially if the child has ADHD or other learning disability), and downplaying the need for the child to have input into decision-making. Authoritarian parents sometimes have a hard time rewarding progress, and might wonder, “Why should I thank my kid for making his bed, when that’s what he’s supposed to be doing?!” If you find yourself using or thinking phrases like, “You might not like me but you will respect me”, or “do it now or else you won’t see your phone all weekend", you might have Authoritarian parenting tendencies. The big problem with Authoritarian parenting techniques is they tend not to work well for children who are interpersonally sensitive, anxious, or experience ADHD or related conditions. These tactics can escalate conflict (especially with oppositional-leaning children); leaving little room for relationship building between the parent and child; and don't nurture the child's budding decision-making skills.
Authoritative parents have high standards, but have reasonable expectations and take their children’s uniqueness into account when setting those expectations. In examples of an authoritative parenting you can usually find elements of love/caring, setting limits/boundaries, and teaching process. Think of a parent who sets a structure such as, each evening if your responsibilities are done and your backpack is packed for the next day by 8pm, you may watch a television show. No debate is needed. There is no show unless the tasks are completed by the specific time. The parent has set the structure, the kid decides whether to work with that structure (and earn the free time activity). If the structure is set lovingly and fairly and there is praise for complying with the structure, kids will usually make healthy choices.
It can be hard to shift our preferred parenting style for many reasons. Some parents fear they’re giving kids too much control, or aren't good parents if they're at all flexible with structure. Some are too overworked to stay calm and think of choices for the kids to make in tense moments, or get discouraged with their limited sense of control and give in. The right balance between structure and flexibility will be different in each family. But if you're experiencing a lot of conflict with weekly routines, there is likely not enough consistency here.
Yes circumstances with kids' personalities and family circumstances can make setting structures and letting kids make more choices REALLY difficult. Many times there is one permissive parent and one authoritarian-leaning parent. And sometimes we go back and forth as parents based on our stress level or other circumstances. This can be very confusing for kids. If you feel very stuck or confused on how to handle a new stage with your kids or new family dynamic, it can be helpful to discuss it with a parenting coach or therapist.
Taking an honest self-assessment of your parenting style can be an important first step toward creating a new dynamic at home. If you've been leaning on an Authoritarian style, try thinking less about controlling the situation and more about building the trusting relationship and skills you want to develop with your kids. Permissive parents, try thinking less about helping and doing things quickly, and more about teaching and modeling good self-care habits for yourself and your kids.
Remember it's about balance between being loving and providing structure, and supporting the growing tide of independence in our kids. Take the time to put down clear expectations and goals, then step back and watch, they just may surprise you!
Feel free to contact me to discuss these concepts or share a particular challenge being faced in your family. Wishing you a productive and and happy 2014!
These blog entries are written by our very own clinicians. When inspiration hits, another entry will be logged.
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