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This New Parenting Style Has Made Headlines, and for Good Reason

Dr. Meg Meeker

Dr. Meg Meeker

When we go through big life events, we often notice what is and isn’t working in our lives. For parents, my hunch is that many of you have had to make some adjustments in your daily routines as well as your parenting style. Perhaps your typical style of communicating with or disciplining your child became ineffective in such a stressful time. Or, maybe you realized you had picked up some bad parenting habits and those became glaringly clear as you spent day after day at home with your kids.

Chances are, you’ve made numerous small and big changes in your family and in your parenting this year, and if you feel like you still don’t have it right, you’re not alone. Even though we’re a year into the socially distanced life doesn’t mean any of us are experts. But that also doesn’t mean it’s too late to make some changes for the better.

A study done on parents in Germany during the first few months of the pandemic might be able to provide some guidance for effective parenting changes you can make as the pandemic lingers. 

The study, published in the Child Development journal last month, found that parents and children are happiest when parents practice something called autonomy-supportive parenting.

If you’re familiar with the three parenting styles I’ve written about before, autonomy-supportive parenting falls under the authoritative parenting style, which is the perfect middle ground between tyrant and push-over.

Mastering authoritative parenting can be difficult, but this new study gives one great tip that could help you get there—a technique the study calls “choices within limits.” 

When you give your child choices within limits, you aren’t telling him what he can and can’t do, rather you are giving him choices within reason. As this article explains, one example of practicing choices within limits is allowing your child to choose his breakfast cereal rather than demanding which kind he can have. Another example would be telling your child he can go out in the snow in shorts if that’s his decision, but then presenting the other choice of wearing pants and explaining the pros and cons of each choice.

In the study, parents who practiced this technique reported feeling like their needs were being met. As school psychologist Roseann Capanna-Hodge explains, this is probably because when you give a child choice, she feels more emotionally regulated, making her easier to parent. Your child feels this way because when she’s given choices, she feels like she has a sense of control over her life, which makes her feel trusted and respected by her parents.

This type of parenting is key during a time like this, when you are home with your kids more often, and they can’t be around their friends or play in the ways they normally could. This lack of physical and social activity increases stress on you and your child, resulting in more temper tantrums for the kids and emotional breakdowns for you. Talking to your child in a way that gives her a sense of autonomy over her life improves her behavior and, therefore, your mood.

If you’ve recently assessed your parenting style during the pandemic and found it lacking, you can read more about the study on autonomy-supportive parenting here. Like with all changes, this style will be an adjustment for you and your child, but it will be worth your time to have a happier child and happier you in the end.

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