Parenting is not a technique; it is a way of life. And, as you live that life, your children are watching and learning. A child’s value system develops in many ways, though usually by observing the behavior of respected adults and authority figures—or significant others—in their environment. These people are parents, grandparents, babysitters and nannies, teachers, older siblings, youth leaders, youth ministers, and mentors. When these significant others demonstrate courtesy, cleanliness, altruism, compassion, conformity, and cooperation, for example, children are more likely to develop those attributes.
Robert Coles, a Harvard professor, researcher, and child psychiatrist, “Believes . . . . that explain¬ing a theory or belief is fine, but if not supported by the proof of concrete experience, children are unlikely to make it their own. A key ingredient in developing moral children is to figure out what we want transmitted, and then act morally ourselves.”
Pro-Social Skills Children Need to Succeed
Several theories of positive youth development have surfaced since the 1950’s beginning with the work of Dr. Emmy Werner on resilience . Each theory shares underlying assumptions:
- Humans, including the youngest of us, are resilient beings with the capacity to understand and overcome hardships (the importance of support from others);
- Children have a basic need to connect to others around them—first their family/home, and later their teachers/school/peers (the importance of belonging);
- Children learn by observing the behavior of others and through interaction with their environment (the importance of using authoritative parenting/behavior management styles);
- Children need to feel like they have a meaningful role in their environment and seek recognition for their involvement (the importance of praise);
- Children can learn social skills like planning and decision-making, communication and friendship skills, cultural competence, conflict resolution and assertive that will help them navigate the complexity of their ever-changing environments.
Often called “teachable moments,” incidental teaching refers to the opportunities adults have to teach children values, morals, cultural traditions, faith-based concepts, life lessons, along with their academic pursuits. These moments happen while making breakfast, driving to school, on the playground, during bedtime preparations and many more—in fact, they can happen anytime, and anywhere. When parents take the time away from their busy thinking, those opportunities pop up everywhere. They are fleeting opportunities that must be seized when they arise.
Busy thinking keeps us from “seizing the moment.”—In this society, it is often necessary for both parents to work. That means both parents come home with their mind full of the day’s events, or planning for what will happen tomorrow. Time with the children often gets taken for granted. Needs are met—dinner is served, homework is finished, bedtimes are on schedule—but throughout it all, parents/caregivers can be distracted by the need to keep things on schedule, by their own work tasks, or by their own self-indulgence. Listening attentively and responding with support and insight—and sometimes correction—is evidence of a “present” parent during those few hours between school and bedtime.
According the University of Minnesota Extension Office, there are four types of parenting styles—permissive, authoritative, autocratic, and unengaged. The labels or names given to these styles sometimes vary. For example on the website, “Great Schools,” they are described as permissive, authoritarian, authoritative, and hands-off. Regardless, their definitions are similar, and the preferred style is clear—authoritative “is the most successful in raising children who are both academically strong and emotionally stable.” Following are definitions of the different styles. Most parents/caregivers “mix and match” these styles. The aim is to be as authoritative as possible.
- Parents who are responsive but not at all demanding are permissive or indulgent. These parents place very few demands on their child and rarely discipline.
- Parents who are equally responsive and demanding are authoritative. There are rules with consequences but the style is much more democratic, giving the child voice in decisions. They are more nurturing and forgiving.
- Parents who are demanding but not very responsive are autocratic or authoritarian. Children are expected to follow the strict rules established by the parents. Failure to follow such rules usually results in punishment.
How is authoritative parenting instructional? Authoritative parents:
- Listen to their children. They allow them to express their opinions. This sends a strong message to the child that what you have to say is important to me and I want to hear what you have to say.
- Encourage independence. This teaches the child to be self-confident about their abilities to learn new skills. They learn they can work independently.
- Place limits, consequences and expectations on their children’s behavior. When they break the rules, they are disciplined in a fair and consistent manner. The parent gives the opportunity for the child to explain, and they are flexible enough to adjust the rules, if necessary. This establishes a trusting relationship, which in turn, helps to develop emotional control and regulation.
- Express warmth and nurturance. This establishes a sense of security, and a happier disposition
- Encourage them to discuss options. They want their child to use their reasoning. This teaches them decision-making and other skills needed to navigate their environment.