by Tracey Powell, MS
In my coaching practice, when I begin to see family routine tides turning from frustrating and negative to more optimistic and healthy, two shifts are typically happening: 1) parents begin taking responsibility for their actions and get curious on how they can better influence their children’s behavior, 2) parents make less frequent use of practices falling into either the Authoritarian or Permissive parenting category, and instead begin opting for a more Authoritative approach.
If you can get past the confusing Authoritarian/Authoritative terminology, consider that Authoritative styles are consistently associated with positive outcomes for kids, like self-reliance, compliance, positive attitudes, etc. In Authoritative parenting the parent determines the structure, the child makes the choice to follow the structure or not (and experience consequences). This style teaches the child they can make good decisions and experience the payoffs.
It's especially important for children with ADHD and related conditions to experience a consistent structure where they can learn and experience some success. I also find in my family coaching work that parents come in frustrated, and may have forgotten their power to teach their child new habits and reward their efforts step by step. So, if you feel you've been stuck in your efforts to bring about a more peaceful, effective routine with your kids, it might be time to check in on your parenting style.
An Authoritarian style is typically a bit demanding, holding sometimes unrealistically high expectations (especially if the child has ADHD or other learning disability), and downplaying the need for the child to have input into decisionmaking. Authoritarian parents sometimes have a hard time rewarding progress, and might wonder, “Why should I thank my kid for making his bed, when that’s what he’s supposed to be doing?!”
If you find yourself using or thinking phrases like, “You might not like me but you will respect me,” or “do it now or else you won’t see your phone all weekend,” you might have Authoritarian parenting tendencies. The big problem with Authoritarian parenting techniques is they tend not to work for children with ADHD and related conditions. They can escalate conflict; leave little room for relationship building between the parent and child; and don't nurture the child's budding decisionmaking skills.
Parents with a Permissive style typically prefer to avoid conflict, provide inconsistent or no structure regarding rules and boundaries, and sometimes fall into relating to their kids more as friends than parents. Sometimes Permissive parents have trouble regulating their own emotions and behaviors. They can sometimes be overly helpful (enabling) toward their children and fail to support their kids in learning self-reliance. Sometimes the kid’s failure to take responsibility catches the Permissive parent on a bad day, leading the parent to do something drastic like throw out all the toys when a child won’t clean them up. The parent might later feel bad for overreacting and replace all the toys, leading to a lesson-not-learned.
Permissive parenting is ineffective for a child with ADHD because these children (and children in general) do best with consistency and clearly-set limits. The children end up feeling less safe and don’t take the parent seriously because of the lack of consistency, and the parent can feel drained by allowing so much flexibility.
Authoritative parents have high standards, but have reasonable expectations and take their children’s uniqueness into account when setting those expectations. It can be hard to shift toward being more Authoritative because sometimes parents feel they’re giving kids too much control, or it seems like extra work to always be calm and think of choices for the kids to make. I would argue that making the shift is worth some discomfort at first. You won’t be there to make all your child’s decisions, so it's important to make sure they have this skill. If you’re still not convinced, give some of the techniques a try and see if you find they’re more effective with your child. Kids can certainly surprise us when we put a goal out there, take a step back, and let them take charge of whether they're going to meet it.
If you've been leaning on an Authoritarian style, try thinking less about controlling the situation and more about building the trusting relationship and skills you want to develop with your kids.
Permissive parents, try thinking less about helping and doing things quickly, and more about building good self-care habits for yourself and your kids.
Remember it's about balance between being loving and providing structure, and supporting the growing tide of independence in our kids. Where do you fall on the Authoritarian—Permissive spectrum? Do you think Authoritative practices work best?
Tracey Powell, MS, has over five years of experience as an individual coach/therapist and family coach and is affiliated with Psych Ed Coaches in Northern Virginia. She specializes in working with people with ADHD and related conditions including anxiety, depression, social challenges, and academic/career/personal transitions. Tracey works with children through adults and takes a supportive, action-oriented approach to helping clients meet clearly defined goals. She really enjoys helping parents develop positive parenting practices. Tracey is also a certified volunteer parenting educator with CHADD.