As children mature, parent-child relationships naturally change. Preschool and grade-school children are more capable, have their own preferences, and sometimes refuse or seek to compromise with parental expectations. This can lead to greater parent-child conflict, and how conflict is managed by parents further shapes the quality of parent-child relationships. So, what can parents do to nurture a healthy self-concept?
Diana Baumrind (1971, 1991) thinks parenting style may be a factor. The way we parent is an important factor in a child’s socioemotional growth. Baumrind developed and refined a theory describing parenting styles based on two aspects of parenting that are found to be extremely important:
Parental responsiveness, which refers to the degree the parent responds to the child’s needs.
Parental demandingness, is the extent to which the parent expects more mature and responsible behavior from a child.
Using these two dimensions, she recognized three different parenting styles:
Authoritarian (Too Hard): the authoritarian parenting style is characterized by high demandingness with low responsiveness. The authoritarian parent is rigid, harsh, and demanding. Abusive parents usually fall in this category (although Baumrind is careful to emphasize that not all authoritarian parents are abusive).
Permissive (Too Soft): this parenting style is characterized by low demandingness with high responsiveness. The permissive parent is overly responsive to the child’s demands, seldom enforcing consistent rules. The “spoiled” child often has permissive parents.
Authoritative (Just Right): this parenting style is characterized by high demandingness with huge responsiveness. The authoritative parent is firm but not rigid, willing to make an exception when the situation warrants. The authoritative parent is responsive to the child’s needs but not indulgent. Baumrind makes it clear that she favors the authoritative style.
Parenting Styles and Culture
Of the four parenting styles, the authoritative style is the one that is most encouraged in modern American society. American children raised by authoritative parents tend to have high self-esteem and social skills; however, effective parenting styles vary as a function of culture and, as Small (1999) points out, the authoritative style is not necessarily preferred or appropriate in all cultures. In contrast to the authoritative style, authoritarian parents probably would not relax bedtime rules during a vacation because they consider the rules to be set, and they expect obedience. This style can create anxious, withdrawn, and unhappy kids. It is important to point out that authoritarian parenting is as beneficial as the authoritative style in some ethnic groups (Russell, Crockett, & Chao, 2010). For instance, first-generation Chinese American children raised by authoritarian parents did just as well in school as their peers who were raised by authoritative parents (Russell et al., 2010). Not surprisingly, children raised by permissive parents tend to lack self-discipline, and the permissive parenting style is negatively associated with grades (Dornbusch, Ritter, Leiderman, Roberts, & Fraleigh, 1987).
The permissive style may also contribute to other risky behaviors such as alcohol abuse (Bahr & Hoffman, 2010), risky sexual behavior especially among female children (Donenberg, Wilson, Emerson, & Bryant, 2002), and increased display of disruptive behaviors by male children (Parent et al., 2011). There are some positive outcomes associated with children raised by permissive parents. They tend to have higher self- esteem, better social skills, and report lower levels of depression (Darling, 1999).