Let’s begin with a quick quiz!
Which description sounds most like you as a parent?
- I love to cuddle my children, I go out of my way to meet their every need and I tend to indulge them.
- I keep a firm grip on my children and enforce many rules in my home. I only speak once.
- I mentor my children, teaching them life skills and help them apply these lessons.
- I support my children in everything they do, but I stand on the sideline and let them take ownership of their own lives and experience life’s natural consequences.
- I love having fun with my children and spending time with them like I do with my friends. Disciplining is not my thing.
Can you see yourself in one of these? Are more than one applicable to you?
Most of us have a preferred parenting style – a way of child-rearing that comes most naturally to us. Yet, most of us can (and should learn to) adapt our style according to a given situation and our children’s developmental age.
Okay, so let’s unpack the differing styles and see where you fit in most comfortably.
If you picked 1 above, it is most probably in your nature to nurture. Your goal is to provide everything for your child, to protect him and shower him with affection.
This style is most needed during the baby years when a child is completely dependent on a caregiver and needs to develop trust. Nurturing stays relevant in the later years (let’s be honest, we never get too old to be spoilt by our mommies), but cannot stay the main focus of parenting.
If you picked 2 you are likely a strict, no-nonsense parent who succeeds in setting fair boundaries and applying consistent consequences. Congratulations, you have conquered your toddler!
During early childhood (roughly between two and six), children start testing boundaries, they want their own way and they can throw next-level tantrums if they don’t get it. They need very firm boundaries as they are not wise or skilled enough to make good decisions and can hurt themselves or others. They need to learn to submit to authority or they will have great trouble later in life. They cannot yet act from personal conviction, so they need to have their behaviour shaped by consequences and rewards – and this will set the stage for learning good values.
If you picked number 3 above, you possibly find it easy to act as your children’s teacher – managing their activities and helping them to overcome daily challenges and grow in their competence using mentorship, discussions and where needed, natural and logical consequences and incentive tools rather than something like time-out. The teacher allows more responsibility and freedom that the sergeant major, but still closely supervising them.
This parenting style works like a charm with primary school-aged children (approximately 6-12 years of age). Children this age need more choice, and then also needs to suffer the consequences of their behaviour. They still need loads of guidance and reassurance from a parent as they learn how to behave and to take care of themselves.
Number 4 above describes the “coach parent” – one who provides the resources and support a child needs and then let them take responsibility for themselves. The boundaries are therefore much wider than those in the previously described parenting styles.
As you surely guessed, this style is useful during the teenage years where parents need to guide their children to figure things out for themselves as they grow into young adults. At this stage they can start thinking for themselves and making decisions based on values they believe in, and ultimately, an internalised morality should surface.
Picking number 5 above may show that you tend to treat your children as peers. You enjoy their company and feel very happy when the feeling is mutual. This type of parent avoids disciplining the children because it’s not fun and might make the child not like them anymore.
When your children reach adulthood (and leave or stay in your house), you are privileged to form a friendship with them. Before that, you can “hang out” together and can definitely have fun together, but this should not form the basis of your relationship. It’s okay for your child to not like you sometimes. They’ll get over it. Young ones need their parents to… well, parent! Their friends can be their friends. They need you to be their parents. This is especially challenging (and especially important) if you are a single parent.
So, what if you picked more than one answer or even All Of The Above? You still pass the multiple choice exam!
As you could see, none of these styles are “right” or “wrong” in themselves – they merely correspond better with a certain time in your child’s life. And even then, it is not so clear cut. For example: A teenager still needs a nurturer when she is sick or has had her heart broken, sometimes a bored four-year-old simply needs you to be her friend (until she misbehaves or dinnertime comes), etc. And certain temperaments will flourish better under specific parenting styles, regardless of age. The 4 year old sensitive, perfectionist melancholic temperament, for example, might thrive under a teacher parenting style who provides clear structure, gentle guidance and lots of help to get things “right” whereas a go-getter choleric child will heavily bump heads with a sergeant major (although this will obviously be needed from time to time) but will prosper under a coach. And so forth. (Read more on temperament-sensitive parenting.)
The key, in other words, is to be flexible and to be able to read a situation to determine whether the sergeant major or the nurturer should take the stage. We all need to exercise our “weaker” parenting muscles and learn to abstain from our preferred style if the situation does not warrant it.
So could you tell your spouse or mother-in-law that your parenting style is indeed the right one? Well, yes! Provided you are willing to see the strengths in their ways too.
Want to know more?
In Andalene Salvesen’s book A Brand-New Child in 5 Easy Steps, she elaborates on parenting styles and discipline. You can also book Celeste for a talk on this topic. And if you require help to establish the right parenting patterns in your home, consider booking a Munchkins consultant for a parent coaching session.