2.4 Parenting Styles: Balanced
The Balanced Parenting Style ☆☆☆☆
Any time our parenting style is extreme, so are the long-term effects. The balanced parenting style is based on a healthy, balanced philosophy and uses effective parenting techniques. Therefore, the long-term effects are almost exclusively positive.
ANSWERS TO COMMON QUESTIONS
Balanced parents share the individual, family, and societal goals we listed earlier. They believe their job is to teach children the life skills they need to be self-sufficient, responsible members of society.
Who has rights?
In balanced families, parents and children are equal but different. They each have equal human worth and deserve to be treated with equal dignity and respect, even when their individual needs are different. Parents try to balance the needs of the adults and their relationships and also the children’s individual needs and the parent/child relationship. While this is a difficult balancing act, they also realize that they can’t (and shouldn’t) meet each member’s every need. Their goal is to teach children how to meet their own needs. They strive to maintain appropriate boundaries—they are available to their children, without fostering unnecessary dependency.
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In balanced families, the adults aren’t superior to children, just different—they are older, more experienced, and usually more knowledgeable. Increased privileges result from increased responsibility, not just one’s age or position.
Who gets respect?
Balanced parents believe that all people deserve to be treated respectfully, regardless of their age or position. Parents teach respect to their children and earn respect from their children by treating their children and others respectfully, as role models.
Balanced parents set rules that are mutually respectful. They show self-respect by setting limits and they show respect for their children by offering choices. Children have some freedom and choices, within limits that show respect for others’ rights. Balanced parents are socially responsible, teaching their children the positive and negative effects of their behavior choices.
Over-controlling parents treat children like objects, doing things to them. Under-controlling parents treat children like royalty, doing things for them. Balanced parents treat children like assets that have worth by doing things with children and involving them in decisions and activities.
How do balanced parents handle negative feelings?
Balanced parents show empathy and understanding for their children’s negative feelings and differing opinions. They don’t try to change them or label them right or wrong. They recognize that feelings and opinions are a part of life, so they teach their children how to express those feelings appropriately. In a balanced family, “We can agree to disagree, if we disagree respectfully.”
Balanced parents regularly practice the healthy communication skills they teach to their children. They express their concerns in respectful, assertive ways. The stand up for their rights, but don’t violate their child’s right to be treated with respect. They avoid using blame or guilt to motivate others. When their anger is about to erupt, they disengage and calm down so they don’t direct their anger at their children.
How are mistakes handled?
Balanced parents encourage their children to learn from their mistakes. They know that mistakes are part of life and learning, so they avoid blame and criticism. Instead, they hold children accountable for making amends for the effects of their choices and learning better skills.
Balanced parents are gentle with their own mistakes, willing to admit when they are wrong, and consider others’ viewpoints. Through their words and actions (role modeling not lecturing), balanced parents show children how to make responsible decisions, accept responsibility for their mistakes, learn and grow from them, and still maintain their self-respect and sense of self-worth.
How are problems solved and decisions made?
When problems arise in a balanced family, parents take responsibility and ownership for their contribution to the problem. They shift the focus to what there is a choice about, within limits that respect the rights and needs of others.
Whenever possible, balanced families strive to reach win/win solutions to problems. Balanced families do not vote because there are always losers—and discouraged losers will usually sabotage the decision. While mutual agreement is their goal, it isn’t always possible. On occasion, parents need to make an executive decision. Balanced parents listen to their children’s ideas and opinions and consider them in their decision. Children can have a say about an issue, but might not always get their way.
Who decides how children should behave, which interests they pursue, and the goals they set?
Balanced parents view their children as unique individuals, not carbon copies of themselves or balls of clay to mold into whatever forms they think the children should become. They teach their children how to set and reach goals, rather than setting goals for their children and then pressuring them
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to meet unrealistic expectations. They may not share their children’s interests, but they strive to understand them so they can increase their own knowledge and better support their children.
Who is responsible for controlling children’s behavior?
The balanced parent’s job is not to control their children; their job is to guide and teach children how to control their own behavior. As children develop the skills and qualities they need to be healthy, well-balanced, fully-functioning adults, they naturally make increasingly responsible decisions that positively affect their lives.
Who makes the rules and how are they enforced?
Balanced parents tell children what they can do, instead of what they can’t do. Their rules focus on the value behind a rule, rather than the power of the rule-maker. Balanced parents offer some choices or freedom within reasonable rules or limits. They provide limited privileges to see how responsibly their children can handle them. Over-controlling parents use privileges to bribe and control children. Under-controlling parents offer unlimited privileges without any responsibility.
How do balanced parents discipline?
Balanced parents try to prevent the need for discipline by telling children what they can do, teaching behavior skills, revealing children’s behavior choices and the possible outcomes of those choices. When children choose to misbehave, balanced parents consider the children’s point of view and their possible goals. They show their children how to meet these goals through positive behavior. If children still choose to behave inappropriately, balanced parents allow the revealed outcome to occur. They may also need to use discipline in unexpected situations in which behavior is so inappropriate that parents must set immediate boundaries.
The actual discipline balanced parents choose depends on the situation. Balanced parents use the most logically related discipline for the misbehavior. Balanced parents do not add suffering to their discipline, because this distracts children from the lessons they need to learn. It builds resentment and invites revenge, instead of focusing on how children can make amends for their mistakes.
Active Parenting calls balanced parenting “democratic” and uses the symbol of a zigzag, representing choices or freedom, inside a circle, which represents reasonable limits. We refer to this symbol often as we learn how to set and maintain a balanced parenting style.
Balanced parenting got the label “democratic” when authors compared the qualities of a balanced parenting style to a democratic society.2 Here are just a few examples:
- Citizens have certain basic rights (free speech, for one) and privileges they can earn (a driver’s license, for example). They must balance these rights and privileges with the responsibility of using them appropriately and not violating other people’s rights in the process.
- All people have equal human worth, even when they are different or have individual needs. “All men are created equally.” (“Men” refers to humankind.)
- Citizens are involved in decision-making whenever possible. When they cannot make the final decision, they can express their opposing opinions and their representatives will consider them in the decision.
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Balanced parenting is no longer called “democratic,” because parents and professionals confused democratic parenting with a liberal political belief. (Someone can be a conservative Republican and still practice balanced, “democratic” parenting.) As a result, a few authors have criticized “democratic parenting” as being liberal and permissive. These authors inadvertently discourage parents from using accurate, healthy, effective parenting resources, simply because the resources use a label that has lost its original meaning. They usually present only two extreme styles of parenting, permissive parenting and autocratic parenting.
When you read criticism about “democratic” parenting, carefully read the explanation. If you use the guidelines and accurate definitions in this book, you can recognize imbalanced parenting advice, whatever its label. (See the “Screening Advice” section of Chapter 15, “The Three C’s,” page 416, for more suggestions.)
LONG-TERM EFFECTS OF BALANCED PARENTING
Research and decades of experience have proven that children from balanced families learn the life skills and develop the qualities we listed as our individual, family, and societal goals. Over the past 40 years, each generation has had a growing number of children raised in healthy, balanced families. Even when these children (and later, adults) are the minority, they make a significant impact on their corner of the world.
- Children and young adults from balanced families know how to operate within rules and limitations. They find the value of a rule (even when it is not stated) and the choices they have within those limits. They also act responsibly in permissive settings because they are self-disciplined. They usually only resist a request if doing so defies logic or would violate someone’s rights, ethics, or a higher law.
- As teens and adults, children of balanced parents usually make responsible decisions. They have been making choices their entire lives—to varying degrees, based on their age, maturity, and the situation. Children from balanced families often want more independence and are usually skilled and responsible enough to handle it.
- Children from balanced families are self-motivated. They are more likely to take the initiative to do tasks, simply because they see that it needs done. They also know when they need to ask permission first. These are valued qualities in the business world.
- Children and young adults from balanced families have excellent leadership and communication skills. They know how to motivate people without bribes or threats. They promote teamwork and bring out the assets in each team member. They know how to resolve problems, learn from their mistakes, and accept responsibility for their behavior choices.
- Children raised in balanced families learn how to be responsible—for their jobs, emotions, bodies, and behavior. They have good time-management and organizational skills. Whatever profession these children choose as adults, they are active members of the work team and resolve problems professionally and maturely.
- Children from balanced families are less likely to rebel against authority. Their relationships with authority figures are usually positive because they don’t see them as a threat or symbol of power and control. They see them as people—and people have different personalities and needs. Because their parents respected their individuality and taught them important life skills, they know how to tolerate or work with people who are different. When someone treats them disrespectfully or tries to manipulate them, they know how to respond appropriately. They might reach a win/win agreement or voice their opinion assertively, which are both respectful options.
Some parents comment that the military’s autocratic style of training develops some of the qualities they want their children to develop. They suggest, therefore, that similar tactics will develop these traits in their children. There are several reasons why this is an incorrect assumption.
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(1) The military must be autocratic. A general cannot assemble the massive troops and ask “Which field should we attack? What strategy should we use?” The military’s goal is to develop soldiers who will unquestioning obey their orders. Therefore, autocratic leadership fits the goals of the military. (Military leaders, however, often use peaceful negotiation to prevent conflict or brainstorm options before passing on orders to the troops.) Healthy parents, on the other hand, strive to meet a broader range of goals. To develop positive traits and skills in children, they must choose a parenting style that is most likely to help them meet all their goals, not just a few.
(2) The military trains adults, who undergo the harsh training necessary to serve their country. Children are affected much differently by such harsh training. There may be obedient children who would thrive in a military career, but the military also needs soldiers who are emotionally stable. Autocratic parenting does not develop or nurture emotional stability. An over-indulgent family might develop children with emotional stability because it is nurturing, but it doesn’t develop children who operate well within strict limits. Balanced parenting, however, is the style most likely to develop emotional stability and a broad range of skills that produce well-balanced adults who can succeed in any career.
HISTORICAL TRENDS IN BALANCED PARENTING
Since the beginning of time, there have always been healthy, balanced families. They were often in the minority and there was no label for that parenting style. In 1976, Donald Dinkmeyer and Gary McKay wrote S.T.E.P. (Systematic Training for Effective Parenting). S.T.E.P. took the effective communication skills of P.E.T. and added guidelines for understanding and disciplining problem behavior. These additional skills came from Rudolf Dreikurs, who coined the terms “The Four Goals of Misbehavior” and “logical and natural consequences.”
Today, most parenting resources teach balanced parenting, including The Parent’s Toolshop and the many resources it references. Only a few parenting authors encourage parents to exert their power by using quick fixes that are unhealthy and ineffective in the long-run. These authors feed on parents’ fears of losing control of their children and offer few helpful, healthy suggestions. Since there are so many accurate, healthy parenting resources available to parents, parents are wise to simply avoid parenting authors whose advice is so questionable.
Most people have healthy, positive parenting goals. They want their children to learn how to think for themselves and make decisions and follow rules that respect the rights of others. Parents, children, and society have already proven, for several generations, that a balanced parenting style is most effective in producing well-balanced, fully-functioning, mature, responsible, independent adults who make positive contributions to society. We are now at a critical turning point in family history—only time will tell if parents (and society) will repeat the mistakes of the past or learn from them to improve the future. Now, more than ever, parents and professionals need to know how to use balanced parenting (and teaching and leadership) skills, so we can work together to reach the healthy individual, family, and societal goals we share.
THE ULTIMATE EXAMPLE OF A BALANCED PARENT
Balanced parenting is not only psychologically and emotionally sound, it is also spiritually healthy. Consider the three common philosophies people believe about God as a heavenly parent. One is balanced and the other two are extreme. These three sets of beliefs are similar to the three styles of parenting. If you disagree with the religious interpretations presented here or don’t believe in God, simply view them as interesting analogies to consider.
God is a balanced parent. God is loving and forgiving, yet has clear expectations and laws. God understands the emotional nature and difficulties of human existence. God reveals rules and guidelines, through the writings and living examples of godly men and women, to help us live responsible, enriching lives. God gives us the information we need to make responsible decisions and
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reveals the effects of our positive and negative options. Then, because God also gave us free will, we are allowed to live our own lives and make our own decisions. One universal law states, “As you sow, so shall you reap,” which means “what you give, you get.” (This law of cause and effect is obvious when we consider the long-term effects of the different parenting styles.) People may choose to ignore the teachings, examples, and their conscience (God’s intuitive nudging) to violate the universal laws. God does not stop us from making these choices—or the positive and negative effects that result. The results are not God’s subjective, personal revenge; they are objective, natural consequences. God shows us unconditional love, when we are good and when we stray. It is as though God embraces us and says, “I will always love you. You knew my rules and the effects of your choices before you decided to do this, so I am not doing this to you. It is happening because of the choice you made. You will soon have another chance to show you’ve learned this important lesson and choose differently. I am always here for you, to love you and guide you, if you choose to allow me.” When we see others are on the wrong path, we can share the values of virtuous behavior in non-judgmental ways, serve as role models of godly living, and unconditionally love others, even if they don’t immediately change.
One extreme belief is that God is a permissive parent who is only loving and forgiving—no matter how often we sin, whether we feel regret, or if we ask for forgiveness. God is always watching over us, to catch us when we fall and to pick us up. Because we don’t always immediately see the effects of violating God’s laws, it must be okay to break them. We don’t need to take personal responsibility for our actions, because God will forgive us anyway.
The other extreme belief is that God is an autocratic parent who hovers over us, watching every move and judging every mistake, so we will get our rightful punishment on Judgment Day. We must follow the rules of our religion, rather than discovering the wonders and revelations of deeply spiritual experiences. Anyone who doesn’t follow the same denominational rules or share our beliefs is wrong and bound for hell. Since God tells us the right way to live and judges our actions, we must do the same to others, to try to convince them to follow what we know is right. If we point out others’ faults, they will feel shame and want to improve. If we can make them fearful, by describing the horrible punishment that awaits them, they might change their ways.
When parents use religious beliefs to intimidate, shame, and control their children, it emotionally traumatizes their children. The clinical term for such parental treatment is called “religious abuse.”
A Graduate’s Story. My girls, ages 4 and 6, were playing at a neighbor’s house with her children, a boy age 3 and a girl age 7. It was during a scorching heat wave and her house had no air conditioning. The children went to an upstairs bedroom to play and closed the door. When they got hot and sweaty, they took off their shirts and continued playing. When my neighbor saw them she screamed at them, saying they were “naked, sinful children and God would punish them.” She locked each child in a different room for a half an hour and told them they had to stay on their knees and pray for God’s forgiveness. When my children returned, they were very upset and confused. They didn’t understand what they did wrong.
I don’t want my children to be ashamed of their bodies, but also want them to be modest and sexually responsible—although they are still too young to even understand these concepts. My girls don’t usually take off their shirts, but that wasn’t even my issue here; I could understand a parent’s disapproval of girls taking off shirts, although I knew these children weren’t doing anything sexually inappropriate. My problem was with the way my neighbor treated my children. I’ve taught my children about a loving God and that our bodies are beautiful creations we are to respect and protect. My neighbor undermined these values. Now I wonder what my children think about God, the purpose of prayer, and healthy, appropriate sexuality.
A belief in a “balanced” God is a healthy belief, but is it an accurate belief? To answer this, consider the following questions. When people do something wrong or commit a crime does God reach down from the sky and physically slap them? Does God shoot a bolt of lightning? Does God
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yell at us in a harsh, critical, discouraging voice? No. Just because this doesn’t happen, does it mean people are getting away with their crime? No! Sooner or later, there are consequences for their actions, even if we don’t see them. People may experience emotional or spiritual pain (in life or the afterlife), or physical problems (depression, drug addiction, etc.).
Of the thousands of people who have had near death experiences, none have reported meeting an angry, wrathful presence. While some details of near-death experiences vary among cultures and religions, almost all people encounter a similar spiritual presence who is warm, loving, teaches them lessons, and sometimes even has a sense of humor. Another common trait of near-death experiences is a life review. Here, the person re-experiences every thought, word, and deed from their lifetime—and the effects these had on others, from that person’s perspective. They see every mistake they made, whether small or severe, and the value of their other options. People who attempted suicide or lived a criminal, disrespectful, or irresponsible life before their near-death still experienced complete joy, peace, and love in the afterlife. Their life review, however, sent additional, strong messages: God is Love, all human life is sacred, life’s hardships can help us grow, and we will be held accountable for everything we do in life. As a result of their near-death experience, many people who didn’t believe in God dramatically changed their beliefs. They embraced a God that loves them intensely and unconditionally, but also holds them personally accountable for every choice they make.
As human parents to human children, we can follow God’s example. We can show unconditional love toward others. We can teach positive values and behavior and reveal the possible effects of straying from that path. We can be disciples, who model appropriate words and deeds. When our children make mistakes, we can teach them how to choose more wisely in the future. If their behavior isn’t dangerous, we can allow the natural consequence to occur and help them learn from the experience. When there are no natural consequences, we can discipline in loving ways that don’t impose additional suffering that can traumatize them.
We do not often explore religious parallels in The Parent’s Toolshop. Nevertheless, you can feel assured that if you believe in a loving but firm “higher power,” the teachings in this book will be consistent with your beliefs.
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