Kids Behaving Badly

Often in my clinical psychology work at the Smart Therapy Centre, parents come in and tell me that their out-of-control child is anxious and needs treatment to make them calm.

This seems to be a common misconception.  Usually, I find that there is not an inkling of anxiety in the child and it is just that they are behaving badly because of parental confusion.  This probably results from so many conflicting messages to mothers (in particular), as a result of which it is easy to get parenting wrong.

In terms of basics, there are three main styles of parenting:  Authoritarian (‘I’m the boss and it’s my way or the highway’); Libertarian (‘do whatever you want and walk over me while you’re at it’); and Authoritative (‘take proper responsibility because there will be positive or negative consequences for your choices’).

Parenting styles in the past were often authoritarian, strict and could be brutal.  It was found retrospectively that this parenting style could damage children, so our society flipped the coin and moved towards the very libertarian styles of parenting that we currently see all around us.  We see parents giving their children infinite chances, placating them, soothing them for minor disturbances, over-praising them, and trying to be friends but often ending up being servants to their increasingly tyrannical children.

Having seen thousands of people over the years, I’ve strangely found in my clinical work that libertarian styles probably do even more damage than authoritarian styles of parenting.  

This is because children desperately need limits to correctly understand and interpret society in order to function well within it.  They need to know that expectations out in the real world are generally much, much higher than libertarian parental ones and we rarely get anything for nothing. 

Children also need high motivation and crucial skills to accomplish important tasks and if they are told they are wonderful for barely lifting a finger, then they easily lose any motivation to try, persevere and accomplish those important tasks.

With libertarian parenting, it is easy to end up with entitled, poorly-adjusted, rude and unskilled young adults.

On the other hand, authoritative parenting is realistic.  It is friendly, explanatory and kind, but also very strict with high expectations.  The child quickly learns to take proper responsibility for their own behaviour since they receive immediate feedback via positive and negative consequences that are delivered consistently and without punitive motivation.