Although parents’ power diminishes as their kids become teenagers and begin to separate, even youthologists agree that parents have and should retain some authority. Teens may complain about it, but the risk-taking and experimentation that often occur in adolescence mean that they still need parental guidance! However, if parents use only the power to “lay down the law,” their kids might be compliant, but they put their relationship at risk. The authoritarian parenting style can contribute to low self-esteem; parents who don’t consider their kids feelings teach their kids that their feelings don’t matter! Anxiety can also be an issue. Children in authoritarian families may follow authority without question, but they are likely to have trouble in situations where independent problem-solving is required. Obviously, the use of the single power of authority is not in the best long-term interest of parents who are concerned about their children’s safety and success.
The Four Powers of Genuine Parenting
We believe parents need to use not only one power, but a variety of powers at their disposal. But what are the powers that improve the odds of safety and success?
The First Power – Listen to your children and understand their point of view: Parents have a choice: to ignore their children’s feelings, to tell them how they should feel, or to listen and try to understand them. The latter choice is the first step in developing a trusting relationship with your children. When your children believe that you are making an effort to genuinely understand their feelings, they’re is more likely to share them with you. This increases the likelihood that they’ll come to you when problems come up, and if they believe that you understand them, they’ll be more likely to take your advice! This power also demonstrates to your children that their feelings matter, which can contribute to a positive self-image.
It sometimes takes patience and effort to listen to your kids’ feelings, without giving advice or telling them how they should feel, but it can be worth it in the long run.
The Second Power – Understand and express your own feelings: Parents not only need to listen to their children, they need to talk to them too – relationships are a two way street! Of course, we’re not recommending that parents yell at their kids when they’re upset, or that they share their worries about finances or other adult stressors. This power is about using what psychologists call “I” language. Rather than blaming kids for how the parent feels, “I” language gives ownership to the parents, reducing blame and defensiveness. Saying, “You always break curfew!” will generate a very different reaction than saying, “When you stay out past curfew, I start to worry that you’re not safe.” Statements like this might not solve the problem, but they’re an important step.
Expressing yourself to your kids also helps them to know you as a person, which is another building block for a positive relationship. Sharing your background with your children, stories about your past, obstacles you’ve overcome, or even talking about your day at the dinner table, are also elements of this power, connecting your children to you more strongly.
These first two powers create a secure, trusting bond between you and your children. They’ll be more likely to believe that their feelings matter, and more likely to consider your feelings as well. The secure parent-child relationship has been shown to be protective against stress and anxiety. Researchers have found that children with a secure bond with their parents are also better at managing their emotions and have higher self-esteem. These are all factors that could help them to be both safe and successful.
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Note: Posts on Family Anatomy are for education only, and are not intended to replace professional or medical advice. If you need to talk to someone about family or mental health issues, you can get a referral from your family doctor.