If you’re a parent, have you ever thought about your parenting “style”? I’m not talking about fashion here. I’m talking about the approach you take in raising your kids. More specifically, I’m talking about the expectations you set and how you go about enforcing those expectations. This applies to everything from the behaviors we try to teach to the character traits we try to cultivate.
What the research says
For many years, parenting styles have been put under the microscope. What is the best way to raise kids? What do they really need?
In 2001, the president of the Society for Research on Adolescence declared that no further study was needed. The benefits of “supportive and demanding” parenting were indisputable. Though commonly known as authoritative parenting, University of Pennsylvania psychologist Angela Duckworth prefers the term wise parenting in order to avoid confusion with authoritarian parenting.
“Over the past forty years,” Duckworth says, “study after carefully designed study has found that children of psychologically wise parents fare better than children raised in any other kind of household.” As the graphic below conveys, wise parenting is about setting high standards for our kids within a warm, respectful environment.
The authoritative (or wise) style of parenting applies to coaches and teachers as well. In one experiment cited by Duckworth, seventh-grade student essays were reviewed, marked up by their teachers, and then divided into two piles.
Half the students received their essays back with this note attached: “I’m giving you these comments so that you’ll have feedback on your paper.” The other half received this “wise” note with their work: “I’m giving you these comments because I have very high expectations, and I know that you can reach them.”
All the students were then given the option to revise their essays. Twice as many of the students who received the “wise” feedback chose to go the extra mile and rework their papers.
A law of the universe
This high-standards/high-support approach is similar to the advice given by Christian psychologist Henry Cloud. When a child pushes back because a job seems too difficult or a consequence unfair, we should express empathy (a warm, supportive environment) and hold firm (high standards). “This is a law of the universe,” Cloud explains:
“Frustration and painful moments of discipline help a child learn to delay gratification, one of the most important character traits a person can have. If you are able to hold the limit and empathize with the pain, then character (‘the harvest of righteousness’) will develop. But if you don’t, you will have the same battle tomorrow: ‘A hot-tempered man must pay the penalty; if you rescue him, you will have to do it again’” (Proverbs 19:19).
As an example, Cloud recalled an experience from his own childhood. When he was in the sixth grade, he missed a month of school due to an illness. When he returned, he was overwhelmed with how much work he had to do. One day, he told his mom that it was too much work and he didn’t want to go to school.
He can still remember her response: “‘Sometimes I don’t want to go to work either. But I have to go.’ Then she hugged me and told me to get ready for school.” Today, Cloud believes, without her example of maintaining clear standards and boundaries, “my life would be full of half-done projects and unfulfilled goals.”
As we help our kids build a strong work ethic, we will have frequent opportunities to warmly maintain high standards and to empathize as we enforce limits.
What’s more challenging for you: establishing high standards for your kids or enforcing them warmly?
This article was adapted from Trusted: Preparing Your Kids for a Lifetime of God-Honoring Money Management.