What’s the most effective parenting style—being firm or flexible? Effective parenting actually involves both. Research has shown that a firm yet flexible parenting style has positive outcomes for both parents and children. Too much or too little of either can have unintended consequences.
Structure v. Flexibility
Providing structure can be beneficial. Predictability provides children with comfort. However, being too rigid and adhering to structure at all costs can result in increased conflict and stress for both parents and children.
Flexibility also has benefits. For example, flexible parenting builds strong parent-child relationships and increases children’s self-esteem and self-regulation skills. However, too much flexibility (e.g. having too few behavioral expectations for your child) can lead to children feeling overwhelmed, insecure and lacking self-discipline.
Tools for Parents
Deciding when to be firm and when to be flexible is difficult. Here are some tools and guidelines to help you strike an appropriate balance:
• You can avoid being too rigid—and seeming that way to your children—by involving them in decisions. Where possible, try to trust your child to do things for him/herself, even if the outcome isn’t what you desired (e.g. trusting your child to get to school on time).
• Be mindful of being insistent on “must-do’s”. Instead, reevaluate whether a set approach is working for you and your child and be open to change.
• Set reasonable demands for your child (e.g. curfews, expectations for school). Be consistent and follow through with consequences. However, when your child falls short of expectations or if there are extenuating circumstances (e.g. your child broke curfew after being at a concert that went late), allow your child to explain what happened and adjust your response accordingly.
When it comes to providing the appropriate amount of flexibility and structure, you should plan ahead to avoid conflict. It’s easy to fall back on routine in stressful situations. However, by anticipating obstacles, you can give yourself the opportunity to avoid stress and the rigidity that may accompany it.
Amy DiBernardo, LMSW, JD, is a clinical assistant professor in the Department of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry at NYU Langone Medical Center’s Child Study Center.
At Hassenfeld Children’s Hospital at NYU Langone, we understand that caring for infants, children, and teenagers is a special privilege. That’s why we partner with our young patients and their families to offer expert medical and surgical care. Our specialists treat children with conditions ranging from minor illnesses to complex, more serious issues at locations throughout the New York metropolitan area.