Parenting doesn’t come with a set of instructions – or does it? Parenting has instinctively occurred since the beginning of time, yet science-backed research into how our parenting styles effect children is a relatively new field.

Historical Views

Along with changes to society and culture, parenting styles have also evolved. Historically speaking, parenting approaches were more adult-centred, with obedience and compliance at the core. At the turn of the 20th Century, the approach to children was overall authoritarian. In many ways, children were treated as mini adults with little consideration of the developmental stages of childhood. When we consider that less than 100 years ago, many children were sent to work rather than school, we recognise the pace of shifting expectations on children and how we parent them.

“If there is anything that we wish to change in the child, we should first examine it and see whether it is something that could better be changed in ourselves.” 

C.G Jung 1875-1961

During the 1930s-1970s, with increased knowledge and interest in how children learn and develop, we were introduced to researchers who advocated for more permissive approaches and an attempt to understand how the environment affects children’s behaviour. While some maintained a behaviourist approach to controlling children’s impulses and the notion that children should be ‘seen and not heard’, others cultivated the shift to a more individualised and care-based attitude.

Throughout more recent history, the pendulum has continued to swing between parent-centred and child-centred approaches. So, where have we landed today?

Modern Parenting

Many would agree that the rules of parenting have changed.

We now recognise the complexity of raising children and that a one-size-fits-all approach does not work. We only need to look at the hundreds of books, countless websites and parenting blogs to see how seeking knowledge, understanding, and parenting advice have become the norm. Most of us would have heard of ‘helicopter parenting’ or ‘free-range parenting’, and there is an entire spectrum of parenting styles in between.

Along with the acceptance that there is no ‘instruction manual’ when raising well-adjusted children, we have also seen the rise of the HIP (high involvement parenting). We take the child’s age, interests, temperament, and developmental needs into consideration when parenting. The modern parent tries to balance priorities, juggle responsibilities, and raise confident, resilient, thriving and compassionate humans. We are increasingly child-centred and educated on the psychological effects of different communication styles.

It is widely accepted that the path to becoming a better parent encompasses personal growth and begins with self-examination. So, which parenting style are you?

Parenting Styles

Dr John Gottman, a renowned American psychological researcher and clinician, has identified four parenting styles and their effects on children.

The Dismissing Parent

  • Treats child’s feelings as unimportant, trivial
  • Disengages from or ignores the child’s feelings
  • Wants the child’s negative emotions to disappear quickly
  • Sees the child’s emotions as a demand to fix things
  • Minimises the child’s feelings, downplaying the events that led to the emotion
  • Does not problem-solve with the child, believes that the passage of time will resolve most problems

Effects of this style on children: They learn that their feelings are wrong, inappropriate, not valid. They may learn there is something inherently wrong with them because of the way they feel. They may have difficulty regulating their own emotions.

The Disapproving Parent

  • Displays many of the Dismissing Parent’s behaviours, in a more negative way
  • Judges and criticises the child’s emotional expression
  • Emphasises conformity to good standards of behaviour
  • Believes negative emotions need to be “controlled”
  • Believes emotions make people weak; children must be emotionally tough for survival
  • Believes negative emotions are unproductive, a waste of time

Effects of this style on children: Same as the Dismissive style.

The Laissez-Faire Parent

  • Freely accepts all emotional expression from the child
  • Offers little guidance on behaviour
  • Does not set limits
  • Believes there is little you can do about negative emotions other than riding them out
  • Does not help the child solve problems
  • Believes that managing negative emotions is a matter of hydraulics, release the emotion and the work is done

Effects of this style on children: They don’t learn to regulate their emotions. They have trouble concentrating, forming friendships, and getting along with other children.

The Emotion Coach

  • Values the child’s negative emotions as an opportunity for intimacy
  • Is aware of and values his or her own emotions
  • Sees the world of negative emotions as an important arena for parenting
  • Does not poke fun at or make light of the child’s negative feelings
  • Does not say how the child should feel
  • Uses emotional moments as a time to listen to the child, empathise with soothing words and affection, helps the child label the emotion they are feeling, offers guidance on regulating emotions, sets limits and teaches acceptable expression of emotions, and teaches problem-solving skills

Effects of this style on children: They learn to trust their feelings, regulate their own emotions, and solve problems. They have high self-esteem, learn well, and get along well with others.

Awareness and Positive Parenting

The truth is that we are all likely a blend of Gottman’s four models from time to time and doing our best to regulate our own emotions as parents. Practising awareness and applying the emotion coaching process builds connection, our most human basic need.

  1. Recognising emotion as an opportunity for intimacy & teaching
  2. Listening empathically and validating the child’s feelings
  3. Helping the child label emotions verbally
  4. Setting limits while helping the child problem-solve

Wellbeing expert Frances Totney reminds us that it takes practice to pause in a heated moment and consciously engage awareness rather than simply react to our children’s behaviour. Our brains are constantly creating stories to understand what is going on; they haven’t had enough sleep, are hungry, frustrated, naughty, or attention-seeking. In her book Courageous Parents, she shares that this happens because our brains reward us chemically for making sense of something, regardless of if it is true or not. When we pause and check in with ourselves, we can create new and different ways to respond, and in turn, more opportunities to connect with our child.

“Be the adult you want your child to be: Who we are (not what we know) impacts our children greatly.”

Courageous Parents, Frances Totney

Lea Waters is a specialist in strength-based parenting. Her game-changing book shows us the extraordinary results of focusing on our children’s strengths rather than trying to correct their weaknesses. She says that neuroscience shows that most parents suffer from ‘negativity bias’ thanks to evolutionary development. We are hard-wired to see what is going wrong and need to retrain ourselves and our attentional patterns. By showing us how to flick the Strengths Switch, Lea demonstrates how we can help our children build optimism, resilience, and achievement and also help guard them against today’s mental health challenges.

Want to learn more?

In our Diploma of Positive Psychology, we offer the elective, ‘Develop and implement positive parenting interventions.’ You can learn more about the science behind parenting theories and how to apply positive psychology tools with children. We explore five core parenting principles, including ensuring a safe, engaging, and positive environment, using assertive discipline, having realistic expectations, and taking care of oneself as a parent.