Recently we had an 8-year-old child at our Smart Therapy centre who pushed her mother over onto the floor and was kicking her in the head. The mother curled up and cowered on the ground.
The shocked therapist instructed the child to stop and sit down immediately. The child then proceeded to tell the therapist that she would tell child protection that she was being abused if any action was taken to curtail her behaviour. This is not the first time we have seen children like this one. It is becoming increasingly common.
In earlier times this behaviour would be unimaginable. The dominant parenting style then was authoritarian: children were expected to obey their parents without question. At best this parenting style was a benign dictatorship. At worst it was a reign of terror.
We have now swung to the complete opposite. The dominant parenting style now is permissive. Parents are anxious, guilt-ridden and desperately seek the approval of their children. At best this style creates rude, sulky children who treat their parents like servants. At worst it creates narcissistic and violent children who go on to become dangerous adults.
Ironically authoritarian and permissive parenting styles have much in common. Both are part of the aggression-compliance framework, which I wrote about in last week’s blog. And both lead to dysfunctional lose-lose outcomes once children hit the real world.
The optimal parenting style is authoritative, which is consistent with the assertion framework. An authoritative parenting style neither bullies children, nor seeks their approval. It provides clear authoritative guidance with consistent consequences, directed towards the long-term welfare of both parents and children.
In circumstances such as the one described above, the 8-year-old child is not strictly the problem. She just needs authoritative parenting. It is the parents who need to attend the centre to learn the nuts and bolts of how to parent their child in an authoritative manner.