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Parents need to strive for striking the right balance between being firm when they need to be yet flexible enough and accommodating enough that they aren’t a dictator to their kids. Studies find that children who grow up in authoritarian households have elevated anxiety and increased rates of depression. (Choi, 2011) The healthy alternative is to be what child developmental experts call an “authoritative” parent (a term I’ve always despised because it sounds way too much like the other), which is why I refer to it as balanced parenting. Here’s the distinction between the two styles:

Unhealthy authoritarian (dictatorship) parenting

  • One (or both) parents rule over the household like the dictator in a Middle East country; it’s their way or the highway.
  • Children are told precisely what to do and how to act, with little accommodation for their desires or allowance for them to do the things kids typically need to do.
  • Rules are rigid and inflexible; there is no room for negotiation.
  • Punishment is swift, impersonal, and severe.
  • Praise or compliments are rarely forthcoming.
  • Limits are placed on a child’s exploration and parents restrict any chances to act in a manner of self-capacity. Kids are to be seen, not heard; they are to do as they are told, not think on their own, and so on.
  • Restrictions are put in place that serve the adult’s preferences and interests at the expense of the child.

Healthy balanced parenting (authoritative parenting)

  • Parents lay down clear ground rules about how children are supposed to behave and what is expected of them. These rules focus around values rather than specific commands.
  • Parents listen to a child’s grievances and respect their opinions, wishes, and desires.
  • Parents are open to a child’s input and willing to reconsider their decisions after careful thought if their demands are potentially overblown or unreasonable.
  • Praise is given to a child for good behavior or a job well done.
  • Encourages children to explore their environment on their own. Parents only impede when it is necessary for safety or social purposes.
  • Does not do things for children that they can reasonably do on their own. Allows them to ponder or struggle with something a little before stepping in to offer help. They show respect for a child’s capacity to learn from doing.

Use positive statements and directions in disciplining

Some people seem to approach childrearing with the idea that their job is to keep children in line and tell them all the things they can’t do (or are doing wrong). This type of obedience training may be easy for parents, but kids don’t learn very much from it. Parents should always try and guide children through positive and affirming statements over negative ones.

This does not mean false praise; it simply means recognizing that children learn better by being shown what to do rather than by being told all the time what they aren’t doing right. The praise for a job well done is a more powerful motivator than the threat of punishment or admonition.

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