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'Tough love' parenting sets kids up for life

10 November
Posted by:
Michael Grose

Children with parents that use an authoritative approach are best prepared to do well in life, according to a study released in Britain this week.

When children experience a mix of discipline and warmth they’re more likely to develop important character traits such as self-regulation, empathy and application by the age of five than parents that use permissive, authoritarian or disengaged styles.

The study of 9,000 UK households in the Millennium Cohort Study found that while family structure and parent income levels did impact on children’s development it was parenting style that had the greatest influence on outcomes for kids.
The following four parenting styles were analysed:

Permissive (‘laissez faire’) - high in warmth, low in discipline
Authoritarian (‘harsh’) – low in warmth, high in discipline
Disengaged (‘hands –off ’) – low in warmth, low in discipline
Authoritative (‘tough love’) – high in warmth, high in discipline

An analysis of school results is revealing. One quarter of kids with authoritative parents were in the top 20 per cent at school. Next came permissive parenting with 18 per cent, 15 for authoritarian and 11 per cent of this top cohort going to kids of disengaged parents.

Children from wealthiest backgrounds were more likely to develop characteristics for success than children from the poorest backgrounds but, when parental style and confidence were factored in, the difference between children from richer and poorer families disappeared; indicating parenting was the most important influence.

I’ve been an advocate of authoritative parenting for over two decades. My first book One Step Ahead, written in 1992 and updated many times since, follows the authoritative parenting creed. In many ways, it’s the ultimate ‘tough love’ manual giving parents the tools and principles to be firm with their kids, without being harsh, while involving them fully in the family enterprise. It was cutting edge at the time due to the approach it advocated, but now it’s a book whose time has come. Find out more about One Step Ahead here.

This British research further supports the important work of Professor Charles Desforges of the University of Exeter in the UK that effective parenting is the most significant factor shaping educational outcomes for kids.

Desforges maintains the quality of parenting impacts six times more on a child’s achievement at the age of seven than the quality of schooling. Authoritative or ‘tough love’ parenting is the highest quality parenting kids can receive.

Parenting style is not necessarily fixed. It changes over time according to children’s needs, our wellbeing and even their ages. Common sense suggests parents need to be stricter with some children than with others and there will be times when parents need to release the pressure on kids, and adopt a more permissive approach for a time. Certainly parental mood and well-being contributes to how parents respond to kids. But most parents will default to one style. Recent research suggests that if parents want kids to develop the characteristics to succeed, then they should default to authoritative parenting.

Here are 10 characteristics of authoritative parenting:

1. Parents set limits and boundaries that expand as kids get older and become more capable.

2. Parents use a negotiable style with children according to their age and stage of development. Parents also need to realise that not everything is up for negotiation. There are times when the word ‘no’ needs to be heard as parents act in the best interest of their kids.

3. Many parents use family meetings as vehicles to involve kids in their family enterprise and also teach them how to resolve conflict. Find out about family meetings here.

4. Parents use consequences and other tools to teach kids to behave well and develop a sense of personal responsibility.

5. Parents put predictable communication processes in place such as shared mealtimes so that parents and children interact regularly.

6. Children receive a great deal of encouragement (comments directed at improvement, effort and contribution rather than directed at their ability) and quality feedback about their efforts and behaviour that help them improve.

7. Parents recognise cooperative behaviours through positive attention (praise, touch and rewards) and minimise negative behaviours through a range of measures such as ignoring and using consequences.

8. Parents talk a great deal to their kids adopting an open communication style. They operate on the principle that there’s ‘nothing so bad we can’t talk about it.’

9. Parents encourage empathy in children by recognising their emotions and giving them permission and assistance to talk about their feelings.

10. Parents put a range a measure in place to develop a sense of generosity of spirit and give and take so kids think ‘we’ rather than ‘what’s in it for me?’ This sense of community that authoritative parenting promotes is the real strength of the style.

At a time when it feels like the voices of parents seem to be drowned out by the din of modern life this research is a great reminder that it’s effective parenting not media, celebrities or peers that have the greatest impact on future outcomes for kids.
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