How parenting style affects kids' learning

Staff Writer
Columbus Parent

As a parent, have you ever felt you were too strict with your child one moment, then too lenient the next? We all lean toward a basic parenting style, but depending on a situation or how we are feeling, we may drift to another style. It is important to know that the way we discipline and interact with our children can affect how they learn and succeed in school.

You probably are familiar with much of what is discussed in this story, but it never hurts to remind parents how important they are to their kids' learning.

While parenting style names may vary, we all tend to fall into at least one category:

  • Indulgent, permissive, nonrestrictive, lenient
  • Authoritative, demanding, controlling, punitive
  • Democratic, supportive, responsive and demanding, authoritarian
  • Uninvolved, unaware, rejecting, neglectful

If you're reading this article, you're probably not in that last category. If you want to find your style, take a free parent quiz at Parents often reflect the same style as their own parents. For example, people raised in the baby boomer generation often came from authoritative homes. Some may have been raised in a more lenient environment where you could make your own choices. Most of us would like to parent somewhere in the middle - democratic, sometimes called "authoritarian" - which is supportive of our children, yet demanding and structured when we need to be.

Positive support works. Negative criticism doesn't.

Kids want to feel connected but not completely controlled. Children raised in democratic, authoritarian homes do better in school because parents help develop their child's inner motivation to do well. Over time, as children succeed in school, they will want to continue to do better. As kids tackle tasks and complete them, they want to do more.

When your involvement is enjoyable and loving, you convey to children that even though schoolwork can be frustrating, it also can be enjoyable. At home, you can make sure your child has the time and space to do homework. For a child who is struggling, you can be more supportive rather than negative and critical. You can say, "You must have worked hard at these problems," or "That's okay, you did your best." Then, guide your child with questions and answers to find alternative ways to solve a problem or complete an assignment. Focus on the process of doing the assignment, not just the product.

Motivation matters. You weren't just born smart.

Give your child positive feedback. Whether at school or at home, make sure you don't tell your child that he or she lacks the innate ability to do something. Students need to believe that if they provide the effort, time and work, it will pay off. It's not helpful to say, "You can't do math because I couldn't do it." Conversely, don't tell your children they can do something because they were born that way. "You're so smart, you can pass any test." As children age, the pressure to do well in school, in sports, and in life will be greater. Make sure your child has the confidence to do his or her best.

Show positive emotions.

Naturally, your child's personality and unique characteristics make a difference in how you raise that child. One parenting style may work for one of your children, but not for his or her sibling.

What's clear about all of these parenting styles is that parents need to show positive emotions to their children. The more anger, irritability and criticism you show, the more your child will withdraw from schoolwork. Love, encouragement and joy will go a long way in helping your child achieve.

Quality counts.

While parent involvement can positively affect student performance, it's the quality of that involvement that counts. Just because you attend a parent conference at school or help your child with homework at the kitchen table doesn't guarantee your child's academic performance will go up. Research tells us that how you're involved in your child's education really does make a difference, both academically and psychologically. The more positive and supportive you are, the more your child will do well, both at home and at school. If you're yelling at your child while he is frustrated with his math homework or verbally punish your child in front of teachers at a parent conference, your involvement isn't going to help much.

Learn the different parenting styles so you can actually choose the most comfortable and beneficial approach for you and your child. No matter what style you choose, show them positive support, beliefs and emotions.

Dorothea Howe is a senior writer and editor at the Ohio Department of Education.