Some researchers have tried to show that fathers and mothers have distinct and specific parenting styles. In most Asian households, parents raise their children the way they were raised by their parents. So, when their child displays a challenging behaviour, they are not sure how to deal with the situation. This results in parents beginning to pick on each other and blowing things out of proportion. To resolve the situation, an increasing number of families seek the help of counsellors. Some of the issues for which a counsellor's help is sought are as follows:
- The father who hardly has or makes time for the family: Here, the child sees the father as a person hooked to a phone or another gadget most of the time. However, he may go out of his way to be indulgent by getting the child whatever he wants over the weekend. If the mother is a strict disciplinarian and generally perceived as controlling, punitive or abusive, the father may side with the child and both might then gang up against the mother. During counselling, such parents tend to blame each other. The mother blames the father for being physically absent and indulgent, while the father blames the mother for being punitive and emotionally unavailable.
- The tyrannical father: Such fathers often adopt oppressive methods and have high expectations. So, the mothers try to balance the fathers' strict style by giving in to the child’s every demand. They may even try to hide their child's faults and failures from the father. When such families come to counselling, it is mostly the father who speaks and tends to display the 'my way or the highway' attitude. Moreover, the child is only given instructions and his voice is never heard.
- Inconsistent, busy parents with little time for their child: Working parents who are very busy, are often exhausted. As a result, some of them neglect their child. These parents resort to inconsistent parenting as their energy levels fluctuate based on their work schedule. On the days they feel energetic, they are responsive and indulgent, but on other days they may be moody and irritable. Such parents usually come prepared for counselling and are forthcoming. However, children of such parents are usually found to be addicted to gadgets, do not allow their parents to speak, and know how to get their way.
- One parent seeks help without the knowledge of the other: This happens in families where meaningful communication between parents is almost non-existent due to constant clashes. The breakdown in communication makes one parent desperate to seek help. However, the other parent feels that things will settle with time and that seeking help is an overreaction, or a sign of weakness. If one parent visits the counsellor with the child, then the child may be warned or bribed to not speak about it with the other parent.
- Parents who frequently change their parenting styles: There are lot of parenting videos available on social media. Impressed by these, parents often change their parenting style. They may also make changes after accepting advice from a friend who they think has the 'perfect child'.
- Influence of grandparents and extended family: To add to the complexities of inconsistent parenting styles are the influence of grandparents and members of the extended family. They often take the side of one parent, making the child perceive the other parent as weak. As a result, the child may not respect or support that parent.
Effects of inconsistent parenting
In some families, each parent may respond in a different manner to their child's behaviour. Such inconsistency in parenting styles can cause a great deal of stress in a young child. This can prevent a child from feeling securely attached to parents and learning new behaviours. Over a period, a child may become manipulative and controlling, play one parent against the other, throw tantrums, or enter into a power struggle with parents.
Inconsistent parenting does not set a good model for the child to follow, with regard to human relationships and interactions. This leads to low self-worth, rejection, inadequacy and low confidence in the child. Children often mask these feelings by displaying a dominating and controlling attitude. They are also unable to shoulder responsibility, accept failure or know what to expect. On the other hand, a child who experiences consistent parenting can plan, adjust, achieve, communicate, shoulder responsibility and also, respect diversity and opinions. The child is able to go with the flow as he knows what to anticipate and expect.
Moving towards a balance
Parenting involves two adults trying to adopt a complimentary/similar approach towards their child, while maintaining their individual identities in other spheres of life. To adopt a consistent approach, parents need to be open-minded, accepting, willing to change, respectful and focused on the child's well-being. The following tips can help the parents adopt a consistent approach towards their child:
- Learn to negotiate: It is important for parents to discuss and agree on the styles and rules they will follow with regard to their child’s upbringing. And, once they do that, they should stick to them at all times.
- Support each other: Once parents adopt the new approach, children are likely to test their limits. This may give rise to power struggles between parents and child. At times, the child may throw tantrums. Though it may seem like things are out of control, rest assured that this is a temporary phase. So, keep going as it takes time to change things. Keep supporting each other. For, when parents are a team, children change faster.
- Communicate, don’t lecture: Once parents initiate changes, they must ensure that the child feels comfortable and at ease. To do this, they must communicate, listen and respond appropriately to the child. Consistency and communication are both required to produce best results. Refrain from lectures as these do not help anyone.
- Strategise based on feedback: Parents should share their feedback with each other on what works and what doesn't. This will help them rework the strategies and not be bogged down by the challenges. Change is challenging but being stuck with severe behavioural problems is worse.
- Work and play together: Plan small and meaningful activities to do together as a family. The bonding through the chores and the recreation, will accelerate the constructive changes . Bonding together as a family helps children feel secure, which is further reinforced by consistency and communication.
- Seek help: Often, parents may find it difficult to assess their child's behaviour in an objective manner. When parents feel their efforts are not producing the expected (reasonable) results, they should seek professional help to find out what needs to be done. A professional should be able to guide them towards a solution.
Aarti C Rajaratnam is a psychologist specialising in childhood and adolescent mental health, a best-selling author, and an innovative education design consultant.
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