Interpersonal Relationships & Parenting Styles

Today’s family relationship psychologists specialize in applying theories of relationships to working families. They divide parenting techniques into four styles: uninvolved, authoritarian, permissive and authoritative. While most parents are confident in their parenting abilities, it is often useful to reflect upon how an individual parenting technique will affect your child’s interpersonal relationships. Take some time to reflect upon how your current parenting techniques will mold your child's relationships, now and in the future.

The Uninvolved Parent

Uninvolved parenting techniques have the characteristics of ignoring a child’s negative emotions. This sounds like bad parenting on the surface, but it is actually driven by a positive motivation. Parents employing uninvolved parenting techniques often hope to avoid the discussion of negative emotions because of the belief that such discussions could deepen the negative feelings brought by such emotions. An example of this technique is giving your child some ice cream and sitting her down in front of the TV when she’s sad -- pampering her instead of interacting with her and addressing the negative feelings directly. This style of parenting has the propensity to mold the child into one who feels her emotions are invalid, which can lead to poor self-esteem. The result in terms of interpersonal relationships is someone who avoids emotions or has an anxious interaction style.

The Authoritarian Parent

As with uninvolved techniques, authoritarian techniques sound bad but are driven by a parent's desire to control the behaviors that stem from negative emotions. An authoritarian parenting technique focuses on reducing or stopping the inappropriate actions that follow negative emotions like sadness, anger or fear. An authoritarian parent, for example, might spank her child or send the child to time-out when the child throws a tantrum. However, instead of addressing the deeper emotional issue, this technique can lead the child to believe that what he feels is incorrect and should not be publicly displayed. The result is similar to that of the uninvolved technique: a child who has low self-esteem and problems expressing emotions to others.

The Permissive Parent

Modern society has given way to a more liberal form of parenting technique: the permissive technique. This style of parenting allows the open expression of emotions from the child. A permissive parent lets her child know that whatever he feels is OK. This type of parenting is essentially the opposite of the authoritarian style. With this style, parents may seemingly wear rose-colored glasses and may even view tantrums as incidents in which the child is simply letting off steam. The problem with this type of parenting is that children have little opportunity to learn emotion regulation skills, which are imperative in maintaining interpersonal relationships. At extreme levels, permissive parenting techniques can give rise to violent or chronically depressed children because the skill of emotional or physical self-control has never been mastered.

The Authoritative Parent

Authoritative techniques resemble laissez-fair techniques in a number of ways: They allow the expression of all emotions, they do not ignore changes in children’s emotions, and they do not belittle children when their emotions seem unreasonable. However, emotional coaching techniques have one aspect that separates them from permissive techniques: They guide children from emotion to appropriate behavior. With an authoritative technique, a parent can teach a child how to understand his feelings and funnel an emotion into appropriate behavior for the given situation. For example, such a parent may explain to a child that sadness is an opportunity to create something positive out of something negative. According to renowned relationship psychologist John Gottman, author of “Raising an Emotionally Intelligent Child,” the techniques of authoritative parents fall into the category of 'emotional coaching,' techniques that help children control their emotions, develop self-esteem and understand their feelings 1. Through emotional coaching, parents teach their children the necessary skills in dealing with interpersonal relationships.

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