Bill Mitcham: Three models of parenting – dictator, wet clay, and authoritative teacher

June 10, 2009

There are three models the generations of the past have used to tackle the task of parenting.

The fist model, perhaps the traditional model, could be labeled “the dictator style“. This model promotes using parental power to “mould” children into shape, like a drill sergeant at a military training site. By the use of raw power or rewards, these “dictator parents” punish, threaten and many times use physical force on children. This may be slaps, punches or the use of belts and switches. Since parents are bigger than children, it is easy to overpower a child. Rewards are also used by dictator types. Since parents have access to money and goods, they attempt to bribe children into compliant behavior to get a reward for “good behavior.” This model can appear to work since the threat of being harmed, embarrassed or being yelled at forces children into fear and following orders.

Children raised by dictator parents tend to grow up as fearful, overly submissive, low-esteemed adults. The other response is to retaliate against parents as they get older and bigger, sometime becoming unmanageable when children strike back, using their power against their parents. These children feel unloved and rejected.

A second model could be called “the wet clay parents“. These are parents with no backbone — like wet clay, they can be molded and shaped by their children. These parents usually have little self- esteem themselves and desperately want their children to like and love them. They do everything they can to win their children’s favor. Permissiveness is the mode of operation and if the parents make a rule or express expectations for a child, the child gets angry, pitches a tantrum and the parents cave in and let the child do whatever the child wants to do. These children can become tyrants and dictators. As the kids get older and stronger, their parents may live in fear in their own home, like captives.

Children of wet clay parents often grow up selfish, uncooperative and demanding in all their relationships. They, too, feel unloved because there is no love in the parents who are victims. Parents feel no love but feel tons of resentment. When these children grow up, they can become violent to their spouses and children.

The third model, we will call “authoritative teacher style“. This is the parent who assumes parental power and uses her/his authority to set boundaries and expectations and models values that promote cooperation and shared power with children. Like a good teacher, the children know the parent is in charge, but is there to teach them, not to threaten or please them. Good teachers develop influential relationships with their students and set high standards and strict expectations. Authoritative parents do the same. When there is a problem, the authoritative parent sits down with the child and explores choices, allowing the child to express her or his thoughts and feelings, knowing that the parents have the final word. This model aims at mutual respect. Both the power of the parent and the child is utilized in the problem solving process.

Children of the authoritative teacher model grow up feeling loved, respected, have high self regard, and learn to be cooperative and respectful with others. This is a recipe for adult success.

Dr Bill Mitcham is the Director of The Marriage Maintenance Center in Davidson, North Carolina, USA.

Plunket Barnardos Save the Children Unicef Jigsaw Ririki Parents CentrePaediatric Society Womens Refuge Epoch

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