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Is It Possible to Follow Both Authoritarian and Permissive Parenting Styles?

Ever wonder if it’s possible for a parent to be both authoritarian and permissive? Absolutely.

Authoritarian parenting is a restrictive, punishment-heavy parenting style in which parents make their children follow their directions with little to no explanation or feedback and focus on the child’s and family’s perception and status. [link]

Permissive parenting is non-directive or lenient and is characterized as having few behavioral expectations for the child. Indulgent parenting is a style of parenting in which parents are very involved with their children but place few demands or controls on them. [link]

Here is an example of how a parent vacillates between the two in one simple scenario.

Your daughter starts whining to get out of the cart while you are shopping for groceries. Initially, you say, “No, I think it’s best if you stay in the cart today.” You remember all too well what a fiasco it was the last time you let the little munchkin out.

She continues to beg, and whine and even turns on the water works hoping she will wear you down. You want her to know you are serious so you pull the cart to one side, make eye contact and say – you are not getting out of the cart, and I want you to stop all the whining. There is nothing wrong with you.”

She continues to escalate the drama, and you jump into full authoritarian mode. You tell her that you are going to count to three and if she doesn’t stop she is not going to get to play with the iPad when you get to the car.

This seems to make matters worse, so you threaten her with a nap as soon as you get home that sends her into a full on meltdown. She’s yelling  “Mommy – I get out of cart and walk!” People are watching. You are embarrassed. You start to feel bad that you are making such a big deal over a kid who wants to walk through the grocery store – so you give up your authoritarian ways and move to permissive.

You do a bit of negotiating – a term I use loosely as we are talking about a four-year-old here – and agree that if she stays by the cart you will lift her out and give it a try.

She promises of course to do what you ask – until she spies the push pop in the candy aisle and begs for it. You say no – absolutely not – when have you ever given in and bought her a push pop before – NEVER!

She continues to plead and as you revert once again to your authoritarian ways you walk up and in a very stern voice tell her that if she doesn’t stop immediately she is going back in the shopping cart.

Now that you have thrown down the gauntlet it turns into a free for all. Before you know it she is running toward the push-pop stand, takes it out of the display and looks back at you with a wicked little smile.

You march over to where she is, see the smile disappear from her face, grab the push-pop out of her hands, pick her up and put her back in the cart. The tears continue, the screeching increases, and now people are watching.

Clearly, your authoritarian tactics are not working, and in an attempt to finish the shopping you say in a very quiet voice as you are wiping her runny nose – listen, how about we go back to the bakery, and I will get you a cookie – okay. The smile returns.

This may seem like an overly exaggerated situation, but 1000’s of these scenarios play out in homes across the country. I challenge you to watch your interaction with your child the next time you want her to do something or stop doing something. It’s not unusual for parents to find themselves bouncing between these two styles, but what I know is this – in moments of crisis or conflict you will gravitate to the style that feels most comfortable and best represents your values – Authoritarian – I’m going to get control of this situation no matter what it takes or Permissive – I’m just going to make things better now and worry about the repercussions later.

It’s important to identify your style of choice and be on guard so that it doesn’t override your ability to deal with the situation in a thoughtful, loving and respectful manner.

You’ll be amazed at how a bit of awareness can go a long way in keeping you calm and centered.

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