From the moment you find out you’re having a child you will probably be inundated with parenting advice, not to mention the ideas we already have about how we would like to raise our children. Often we find out from our children at a very early age that what we thought and the reality of parenting can often times be two completely different things. As you are searching through the waves and waves of parenting advice how do you know what is right for you and most importantly what is best for your child.
Many child researchers are now praising the democratic parenting style. This is because research such as that done by Avidan Milevsky, Melissa Schlechter, Sarah Netter, and Danielle Keehn for the Journal of Family and child studies have shown that democratic parenting is the best for psychological adjustment in children.
Exactly what is democratic parenting and how does it differ from other parenting styles? It might be helpful to first look at the most widely used types of parenting and then explain how democratic parenting compares.
This type of parenting is probably the style that most people think of when they think of parenting. In this style the parents are the rulers of the house. They make the rules, they set the punishments and children obey those rules that are given them. This may seem like a good operating system but because of its ridged set up it lends itself to less affection and communication. Children don’t get a say in making the rules and they may view their parents as removed from them.
With permissive parenting no one is really in charge. Each member of the family is free to do as they wish. With this type of parenting there is usually a great deal of love and affection, however, because of the lack of rules children may not learn how to abide by them as they grow older, and it can lead to problems with authority figures in the work place as they become adults.
Now that you are more familiar with the two most common types of parenting we can look at democratic parenting and see how it compares.
When using a democratic parenting style parents treat children as equals. This does not mean that they get to do whatever they want or that they get the same run of the house that the adults do. What this means is that all members of the family are respected equally and treated the same. Everyone has a voice and everyone works for the good of the family unit. The adults in the house are like directors or managers they have more experience so they get to set the rules. The rules, however, are discussed with the children and explained as to why they are in place and how it benefits the family to have the rules, for instance you might tell a child to pick their dirty clothes up from the bathroom floor because if they stay there someone could trip on them and get hurt. Children can even be involved in setting their own punishments if the rules are not followed. A child might decide that if they don’t pick the clothes up they cannot watch the TV or have to do an additional chore the next day.
Democratic parenting stresses choices. Children are encouraged to make choices daily on many different areas in their lives. These choices are then followed up with consequences. This helps children to understand that with each decision they make be it a good choice or a bad choice there is an equal consequence to it. The democratic parent is most concerned that their child understands why a rule is in place and the importance of following that rule then in punishing the child for breaking it. They also want their children to understand why certain behaviors are unacceptable and should be avoided. This helps with early deductive reasoning skills and helps children to make choices based on reasoning instead of fear. In the more authoritarian parenting style a child might simply be afraid of getting caught as a reason for avoiding a certain behavior.
When using democratic parenting it is important to be diligent with your children. All consequences must be upheld and followed through with. If you set rules and tell your children they must be followed because they benefit the family and yet you let consequences for not following the rules slide you begin to fall into the permissive parenting category. It is important that children associate the consequences with their choice to follow or not follow the rules of the home.
Positive reinforcement is also a big part of democratic parenting. You don’t want to bribe your children to follow the rules but you do want to praise them when they made a good choice. Letting them know you appreciate their thoughtfulness and their adherence to the rules is extremely important. Children need to know that not only are there negative consequences for their actions but there are positive consequences when they make the right choice.
No parenting style is without its struggles and democratic parenting is no different. Although it seems like it would be easy, it takes a great deal of commitment on the parent’s part to be communicating on an almost constant basis with their children. It also takes consistency and a united parent base to make this style as effective as it can be. When embracing this parenting style just remember that no parent is perfect and if you miss a step its okay just communicate to your children where your error was and how you will correct it in the future. Working together as a family makes this parenting style as rewarding for the parents as it is to the positive development of the children.