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The Big Answer


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Socialization and Instrumental Competence in Young Children

an article by Diana Baumrind

(our site's article review)

This 1972 study reaffirmed the results of her earlier studies on parenting. It also concluded what Thomas Gordon, et al., concluded in the 1960s about modeling behavior: It is a very effective means of passing on good values and behavior standards and habits, especially if parents are the ones that model behavior for their children. In other words, it’s not what you say but what you do that they will truly learn from. This is vital, basic stuff in P.E.T. and Winning Family Lifeskills.

The article shows how authoritarian parents permit their own needs to take precedence over those of the child, in a classic win-lose context. They are “. . . more concerned with their own ideas than with the child’s welfare. . . .,” says Baumrind, who obviously has little affection for this method. Such parents are also relatively unsuccessful at producing “socially responsible behavior.” Authoritarians like to use large numbers of rules and intrusive direction of the child’s behavior, but : “Firm control does not imply large numbers of rules and intrusive direction of the child’s activities,” says the author. It means firm rule enforcement, not permissively giving in to children’s demands, and guidance of the child by regime and intervention. (She favors this type of firm control.)

On the other hand, she says: “. . . the parent must take care not to substitute extrinsic reward and social approval for the intrinsic pleasure associated with mastery of the environment.” So, support exploration by providing a complex and interesting environment, but let natural and sometimes logical consequences limit the adventuring to acceptable activities—this can be enhanced by child-proofing childcare spaces. And give kids what they want if it is reasonable, appropriate, and doesn’t violate parenting policies or the child’s best interests. Letting a child choose who he’s with, what he does, what he wants and what he doesn’t want helps him in his quest to define who he is.

Letting a child choose who he’s with, what he does, what he wants and what he doesn’t want helps him in his quest to define who he is
Letting a child choose who he’s with, what he does, what he wants and what he doesn’t want helps him in his quest to define who he is

Such practices are not a combination of permissive or authoritarian policies, nor are they a compromise between the two. “They reflect a synthesis and balancing of strongly opposing forces of tradition and innovation, divergence and convergence, accommodation and assimilation, cooperation and autonomous expression, tolerance and principled intractability.” Eloquently put.

As always, we regret to say that Baumrind’s version of authoritative parenting has more demandingness, punishment (albeit with love, explanation and communication), and sanctions than most people are including in their own definitions of authoritative parenting (such people as George Lakoff, Morton Hunt, Jane Nelson, Lynn Lott, H. Stephen Glenn, Thomas Gordon, Alfie Kohn, and Louise Hart). She simply uses more controlling and punitiveness than is needed and it's not the best way to parent.

One way to define these things is to call Baumind’s authoritative parenting, which includes punishment and logical consequences, Pseudo-Authoritative, and call authoritativeness with logical consequences but no punishment as plain old Authoritative, and finally call authoritativeness with no punishment or logical consequences Authoritative Lite, or Harmonious parenting, or Humanistic parenting. Both the Hart and Gordon flavors of authoritativeness are also known as democratic parenting. And all three flavors of authoritative parenting use natural consequences when possible. We recommend avoiding Baumrind's Pseudo-Authoritative method that includes punitive controlling. See Authoritative Parenting Programs.

MCs easily accept any flavor of authoritative parenting that has no “punishment,” and “time outs” or “being sent to one’s room” (which Brazelton recommends as “punishments” that gently lets the child know the limits) which are experienced by kids as punitive, so they should be avoided where possible.

Aletha Solter, in The Disadvantages of Time-Out, says that "Far more helpful than isolation is an attentive listener who can encourage the expression of honest feelings. The healthy release provided by talking, crying, or raging may even prevent the recurrence of unwanted behavior. Holding children who hit or bite is much more effective than isolating them. Firm but loving holding creates safety and warmth while protecting other children from getting hurt. It also invites the expression of genuine feelings (through crying and raging) while reassuring the child of the indestructible parent-child bond."

Crying or raging should be allowed—it is a necessary, healthy release
Crying or raging should be allowed—it is a necessary, healthy release

Alternatively, "Instead of a Time Out chair, the 'Cuddle Corner' is a designated area in your home that is to be used for rejuvenation, reflection, lowering of intensity, regrouping and child-directed down time. It’s a place where comfort is available, and company, too, if requested. A child isn’t sent to Time In, they are invited to go. Unlike Time Out, the child isn’t sent alone; he/she can have company. He doesn’t need to sit and wait; he can engage in comforting, soothing and appropriate play." This is from Time In - an Alternative to Time Out on the http://goybparenting.com/ website, where Joanne Ketch, through GetOffYourButtParenting, is showing Christians and others to be less punitive—good for her!

Both of these can be thought of as fine-tuning the timing for addressing conflicts so as to get them handled at the optimally constructive time. These makes sense, in view of the realities of human emotions. However, the parent calming down in her own room is another way to handle it where the kid feels no controlling punitiveness so it's recommended as well. These are merely extensions of Gordon’s recommended strategies of enriching, impoverishing or simplifying the environment when problems occur, in which sometimes one moves a child gently in or out of an environment to create a better context. This needn’t be viewed as punishment either, if done right—see below. Note: The type of logical consequences MCs accept are the type outlined by Louse Hart in her Winning Family Lifeskills parenting method, not the disguised punishments and power trips in the right-wing “dare to discipline” books or Cline’s and Fay’s “love and logic” method. See Why Register for an MC?.

Example of acceptable implementation of natural and logical consequences: If a child is raising hell in the living room but you’re trying to talk with a client or friend in person or on the phone and you have a serious need for a lowered noise level, it’s important that your need be met and that previously agreed upon standards about not interfering with others’ socialization and business relationships are honored. The correct approach for this problem is a clear I-statement that makes very sure that the child understands your need and your feelings. Suggesting that he makes noise outside or in his room with the door closed is not out of line if I-statements have no effect. Leading him gently by the hand to his room (while keeping up clear I-statements) would only be done if none of the above has worked—this changes his setting so that he may continue to have fun but you won’t continue to have your relationship with your friend tromped upon, but it takes the win-lose out of it and makes it into a win-win. Everyone wins if his environment is modified so that he isn’t driving anyone nuts.

Solve this noise issue with a clear I-statement that makes very sure the child understands your need and your feelings
Solve this noise issue with a clear I-statement that makes very sure the child understands your need and your feelings

Obviously if you’ve been practicing P.E.T. for an extended period, he’ll have experienced the reciprocal win-win benefits of keeping behavior agreements, and he’ll be giving you space with people because he knows how you go out of your way to make sure you give him space with people as well, so a simple I-statement will normally suffice. A kid that’s been respected and empowered via democratic P.E.T. procedures will want you to get your needs met, just as he wants his to be met. So it’s not even likely you’ll need to suggest alternative play spaces after a clear I-statement. It’s even less likely that the environmental change tactic that involves leading him to his room, or outside, will be necessary. Such behavior from the kid shows that he doesn’t care that he’s wrecking your communications, which means there’s a big problem with your relationship with your son (unless he’s only two years old or is mentally challenged). But since gentle leading is available, shouting orders and commands that he must go to his room is not a viable or necessary option. It’s a power trip and punishment and will cause more problems than it solves, in the long run.

From the child’s perspective: An I-statement is a relationship consequence where inappropriate noise causes stress and discomfort in a loved one (who lets you know about it) and your empathy with that loved one causes you to wish to change the behavior (or the site of the behavior) you’re engaging in so as to cease raining on that loved one’s parade. The natural consequence here is your discomfort at the discomfort you’ve cause in a loved one. (Note that the opportunity to learn from this natural consequence presents itself long before any logical consequence shows up, since natural consequence learning should always be used before logical consequence learning, because it feels more like learning from the choices one makes—which is the best learning tool of all.) As you go elsewhere, you’ve used choice and self-control and respect to keep the family home a good environment for all. This is win-win.

Kid's point of view: If you were feeling kind of “dense” or “wild” that day and didn’t receive the message in the I-statement clearly, hearing a suggestion about going elsewhere will almost surely bring you to your senses, but if even that fails and you find yourself enduring the logical consequence (after “I'm trying to talk and am uncomfortable with all your racket" and "I'm trying to talk—either pipe down or go elsewhere, please” doesn't work on you) of being gently led elsewhere, it will be embarrassing in that you know that you care about other’s feelings, but you were being really insensitive and tromping on another’s space, and you’ll feel it’s justified that you make your noise elsewhere, and you’ll hope that you get your act together sufficiently next time to not need to be led like a dummy simply because of how unresponsive you were being to the needs of others.

You know your parents don’t treat you that way, so you wonder what made you want to treat them that way. The Golden Rule reciprocity in a democratic home feels, and is, very empowering. Perhaps when the parental friend leaves you’ll get together with the parent and say your feelings and thoughts in an active listening communication and you’ll find out that something was going on with you that you hadn’t even suspected. Isn’t it great that, even though neighborhood friends of yours would have gotten hollered at and punished for such things, you end up with good communications happening both during and after this episode, and no punishment, hollering, orders, disrespect, or anger results?

And isn’t it great that you’ll quickly learn the prosocial fact that it feels bad to be insensitive and cause discomfort in others, and so you’ll cease having to endure the embarrassment of acting that way much faster than your friends, who seem to act worse the more they get punished? How could they not? It must make them furious and vengeful getting punished the way they do. (Note: Brazelton does a good job in his books of informing us how bad it feels to young kids to feel the embarrassment of feeling out of control and unable to act reasonably in a situation, and how comforting it is when parents can gently help them exit the situation with a minimum of anger and conflict and a maximum of understanding, patience and good communication. The more the exit can be an act of self-control, keeping agreements, empathy, choice, natural consequences and democratic reciprocity, the more it teaches the child the best lesson in the best way.)

Out of control kids need you to gently help them exit the situation
Out of control kids need you to gently help them exit the situation

P.E.T. would use Active Listening, I-Messages, avoiding Communication Roadblocks, Shifting Gears, and Method III Conflict Resolution and avoid leading the kid elsewhere unless the kid was of playpen age and could simply be put into it—"modifying the environment." If the kid is older, P.E.T would see the leading away as a logical consequence, which P.E.T. avoids. Shifting Gears to Active Listening until the kid's feelings are well-enough expressed so he could stop acting them out and finally respect that I-Message and go elsewhere or quiet down would be the strategy if the I-Messages did not work. But MCs might sometimes need to use nonpunitive logical consequences and use modifying the environment (being led elsewhere) if all else fails, which is okay as long as it is done nicely and gently. Hopefully, this would happen only when more Active Listening, I-Messages, avoiding Communication Roadblocks, Shifting Gears, and Method III Conflict Resolution tactics are failing and the parent plans, when she has time, a later Active Listening and problem solving session to find out what's going on with the kid.

Other Hart-type examples of logical consequences: letting a child who ignores her alarm and is late for school ride her bike, take a city bus or walk to school and experience the consequences of careless tardiness; or letting a child who has spent all her money miss an activity because it costs more than she has, or have to do special extra work to earn more money in order to go to it, and in this way she learns to save part of her allowance as a plan for being prepared for the cost of the desired activity. Her parents could rescue her with money and rides in these situations, taking the responsibility for her life from her hands and putting it into theirs, but this would teach irresponsibility and would be foolishly counterproductive, if the child knew ahead of time what the family agreements were about spending money and school tardiness.

Example of logical consequences: letting a child who ignores her alarm and is late for school ride her bike
Example of logical consequences: letting a child who ignores her alarm and is late for school ride her bike