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Understanding your parenting style and your child
by Fiona Walker

Once a baby joins your family, life is changed forever!

From day one and even before we need to make decision - what kind of birth do we want, do we will we feed on demand or only every three hours, will we let the baby cry herself to sleep or comfort her when she cries?

These decisions don't end and become more complex over time. When should he no longer be drinking from a bottle? When can he take the bus by himself, should I pack lunch or let him choose from the canteen?

We often have a plan and make many of these decisions without considering the temperament of the child we will be bringing home from the hospital.

We also have a vision of what kind of parent we will be, sharing the wonder of discovery, imparting our values and developing in them a positive attitude, sense of humour and robust sense of self-worth.

Generally by the time your child has turned one, this vision may seem a little fuzzier!

After a particularly frought clash of wills over meals, bedtime or outright defiance, doing just what you said not to do, you may have asked yourself, “Wait a minute, who is this child?” Or even “Who is this frustrated, screaming parent? Things are not going according to my parenting plan!”

What you have to remember is that every child is unique. Each comes with their very own personality and temperament. You will react to certain behaviours in your child in a certain way and it is vital to understand that.

By understanding their stage of development and temperament you will be able to parent them in a way that is realistic and leads to success, as well as ensure time spent together is positive and enjoyable.

There are nine temperament traits and by understanding what temperament your child has, you can help them face challenges and feel valued for who they are.

Activity: Is your child always on the go, or is she relaxed and enjoys taking her own sweet time?

Rhythmicity: Is your child regular in his eating and sleeping patterns or somewhat haphazard?

Sociable: Does your child enjoy meeting new people and going to new places or does she tend to shy away from new people or experiences?

Adaptability: Can your child adjust easily to changes in routines or does he resist transitions?

Intensity: Does he become excited by new situations, OR does he react calmly and quietly?

Mood: Is your child generally sunny natured or is he slow to warm up? Does his mood shift frequently or is he usually even-tempered?

Persistence and attention span: Does your child stick with an activity until completed or is he easily distracted and happy to give up if a task seems challenging?

Distractibility: Is it easy for your child to block out distractions and remain focused on a task or can external stimuli make it hard for him to concentrate?

Sensory threshold: Is he sometimes bothered by loud noises, bright lights, food textures, or the feeling of fabric or labels in clothing?

By respecting their personality and encouraging them to discover their talents, you can work together to set challenges they will enjoy and goals that are achievable.

Children will quickly understand the difference between savouring success and the shame that comes from failure. This is true of even in very young children.

When we set expectations that are unrealistic given our child’s ability, temperament and personality, we are leading them to a failure cycle which can be difficult to break.

They will almost always become less likely to enjoy challenges and to work towards goals. They will also develop avoidance skills so that they are not in a position that may lead to yet more failure. However, a child who attempts to avoid all new challenges will also not enjoy successes.

As important as it is to understand your child, it is equally important to be honest with yourself about your parenting style and your behaviour patterns.

The four important dimensions of parents have been indentified as:

• Disciplinary strategies
• Warmth and nurturance
• Communication styles
• Expectations of maturity and control

Studies which focus on parents’ responses and attitudes towards these dimensions have enabled the identification of four parenting styles.

1. Authoritarian Parenting – children are expected to follow strict rules set by parents. Parents will often respond to queries with ‘because I said so” and may believe children should be seen and not heard. They are very focused on obedience and the training of their children.

IMPACT: Children can be obedient and proficient but often with low self-esteem, poorly developed social skills and rank lower in happiness indexes.

2. Authoritative Parenting – these parents also establish clear rules and guidelines but are much more responsive to children’s questioning authority. They are more nurturing than Authoritarian Parents when children fail to meet expectations and are assertive but not intrusive or restrictive.

IMPACT: Children generally are happy, capable and successful.

3. Permissive Parenting – these parents are more non-traditional and lenient. They generally have relatively low expectations of maturity and self-control. Permissive parents are generally nurturing and communicative with their children, often seeming more like a friend than a parent.

IMPACT: Children generally rank lower in happiness, and self-control. They are also more likely to have difficulty with authority and this can affect performance in school.

4. Uninvolved Parenting – this style of parenting is characterized by very little communication and low expectations. Parents are generally detached from their child’s life.

IMPACT: These children unfortunately rank lower in all areas – happiness, self control, self-esteem, social awareness and academic competence.

How we parent our children will have a huge impact on their overall development. How we communicate our expectations and guidelines and how we react when they meet or fail to meet these expectations is vital.

We need to understand our children and their character in order to set realistic expectations in order for them to achieve success as often as possible.

Some children may require a longer and deeper explanation while others may be happy to just dash off with minimal discussion and negotiation.

However, regardless how different each child may be, each and every one of them deserves a parent who shows care and compassion, takes the time to explain their expectations and is able to share their values and ideals.

Most importantly a parent is there to share their child’s successes and encourage them when faced with disappointment or failure.

Parenting is a journey, there will be good days and bad days, ups, downs and sharp turns but if we are honest about knowing our children and ourselves, and most importantly invest the time in positive communication, it will be the journey of a lifetime and one we will cherish for the rest of our days.

Fiona Walker is the Principal Director of Julia Gabriel Centre & Chiltern House. She holds a Masters in Early Childhood Education and is a qualified Montessori teacher with more than 20 years of experience in providing quality education for young children.

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