Homework Hassles?: Clarify Parenting Style and Child’s Temperament First
Q: School has barely started and I’m already starting the homework battle with my 15-year-old. Last year, she told me she could handle it herself, but procrastinated so much that I took away her phone and computer privileges, but that didn’t work. How can I come up with a calm, pro-active approach where I’m comfortable that she’s getting her work done, but I’m also allowing her to “handle it”?
A: Your question prompted me to think about all the different ways we parents approach our children’s issues and how we attempt to match their developmental stages and temperament with our responsibility as parents. Your idea about how to be pro-active is excellent. Trying to be prepared for what comes next always helps us as parents. It is positive and carries with it the belief that if you can think of the right approach and match both her style and your style, then success is achievable.
It also sounds like you and your daughter have talked about what success for her looks like. You did that last year when she convinced you she could handle it herself, and you both agreed to the consequences when you received signs that she was not handling it herself. Soon, driving or the possibility of getting a driver’s license may be added to the list of consequences.
How do you see your child?
Being pro-active involves understanding your daughter’s temperament and her needs. Researchers have nine questions to ask about traits in order to identify your child’s temperament. These include:
• How active is she?
• Are routines her norm or does she fight routine?
• Is she on the friendly or shy side?
• Is she flexible or does she struggle with change?
• How does she react to new things: calmly or explosively?
• Is her mood negative, positive or is she even tempered?
• Is she able to persevere with tasks or does she struggle to follow through with her ideas?
• Is she easily distractible or able to shut out distractions?
• Do noises bother her or does she even like sounds when she works?
If you want to take a survey to determine your child’s temperament, go to: http://www.childtemperament.org/ . It will take about 15 minutes. By understanding these patterns, you can tailor your parenting approach in areas such as expectations, encouragement, and discipline to her unique needs. The research shows:
• 40% of children are described as easy or flexible. They are generally calm, happy, regular in sleeping and eating habits, adaptable, and not easily upset. They often won’t ask for help. Parents need to reach out to stay connected with them.
• 10% of children are regarded as difficult, active, or feisty. They are often irritable, irregular in eating and sleeping habits, easily upset by changes, noise and commotion, high strung, and intense in their reactions. These children often require a lot of our focus and attention. They can be easily exhausting.
• 15% of children are regarded as cautious and careful. They require a lot of reassurance and support to try new behaviors and to venture away from home.
• 35% of children are a combination of these patterns. Parenting involves dealing with the trait which is presenting itself with the parenting style the parent possesses.
Being proactive also means acknowledging that you have your own parenting style. Researchers have identified four basic parenting styles. Usually these personal styles are influenced by parents’ childhood role models as well as other factors. Just as your parents may have been role models for you, you are a role model of a particular parenting style for your children. Your personality, education, economic level, culture and the influence of your spouse affect parenting style as well. To take an inventory of your own parenting style, go to the
Active Parenting Website, Parenting Style Quiz at http://www.activeparenting.com/parentquiz.htm#anchor2145
How do you see yourself?
An Authoritative Parent (or in their language an Active Parent) might be the type that would write in and ask the question you have posed. That parent would allow conversation about the rules in the family, would support independence, but would still place limits and controls on his or her child’s actions.
Authoritative parents are warm and nurturing and not controlling, yet willing to actively punish their children. Punishments are not harsh or arbitrary, but clearly tied to the behavior. According to J.W. Santrock, (2007) in A Topical Approach to Life-span Development, “Children whose parents are authoritative are often cheerful, self-controlled, self-reliant, and achievement-oriented; they maintain friendly relations with peers, cooperate with adults, and cope well with stress.”
An Authoritarian Parent would not be so likely to ask your question. Authoritarian parents have high expectations of compliance to their rules and often do not explain the basis for these. They are less likely to listen to their children’s needs and more likely to use physical punishments instead of consequences or other limit setting. According to the same researcher mentioned above, “Children of authoritarian parents are often unhappy, fearful, and anxious about comparing themselves with others; they often tend to fail to initiate activity and have weak communication skills.”
Indulgent Parents often are warm and accepting of their child with few behavioral expectations. Indulgent parents often are more focused on the child liking them than what the child does or achieves. These parents often do not require their children to learn how to control their own emotions. The researcher mentioned above has found, “children whose parents are indulgent rarely learn respect for others and have difficulty controlling their behavior. They might be domineering, egocentric, noncompliant, and have difficulties in peer relations.”
These children often have great difficulty leaving home, and if they do, often live very close to their parents.
An uninvolved, detached, disengaged, unresponsive parent is often referred to as a Neglectful Parent. This parent provides for basic needs of the child yet is often more focused on his or her own needs than the child’s. “These children frequently have low self-esteem, are immature, and may be alienated from the family. In adolescence, they may show patterns of truancy and delinquency,” according to our researcher.
As you and your daughter start off this year, take time to talk together about each one of your styles. See what this has taught you in the past. It appears that you’ve both had a lot of experience in what works and what doesn’t work. As Einstein said, “Insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results.” Together, make a pact to do things differently this year. Track what has worked and what has not as you move forward.
If you have taken the lead in the planning in the past, allow yourself the lead in being available for the conversation and allow your daughter the role of creating the new possibilities. You are responsible for setting the thresholds that invite limits; she may be responsible for giving you a broader choice of consequences. As you both take responsibility for your own part in this parent-child relationship, I hope you find a dynamic relationship that will last beyond school. Good luck!