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Democratic Parenting – Being Fair Without Being Permissive

Characteristics | Pros and cons | Democratic parenting tips

What is democratic parenting

Democratic parenting is a parenting style characterized by joint decision-making, mutual respect, autonomy, and responsibility. All members of a democratic family have a voice when making family decisions. It strikes a balance between independence, boundaries, and care for the welfare of the whole family​1​.

This parenting style is also called the authoritative parenting style, proposed by Diane Baumrind. In her parenting style paradigm, the three types of parenting styles are:​2​

  • Authoritative / democratic parenting style
  • Authoritarian / autocratic parenting style
  • Permissive / laissez-faire  parenting style
mother and daughter happy swirling

Democratic parenting characteristics

Democratic parenting is the best parenting style and it has a few distinct characteristics that are different from the authoritarian style or laissez-faire style​3​.

Psychological autonomy

A democratic approach in parenting allows children to have their own ideas and preferences, and the right to express them. The parents encourage independence and give children the freedom to make their own decisions when appropriate​4​.

Inductive discipline

Despite granting autonomy to children, democratic parents are not permissive parents. Parents with the permissive parenting style don’t set boundaries or implement them consistently. But democratic parents do set rules and boundaries. The children can participate in the rule-setting.

Inductive parents don’t use power-assertive discipline or harsh parenting to exert behavioral control. Rather than using punishment, they use inductive discipline teaching children to think through how their actions can affect others.

Maturity & high expectations

Parents using inductive discipline explain the impact of children’s behavior. Parents expect their children to follow those lessons by acting maturely and doing the right thing. They also closely monitor children’s behavior and are involved in their education.

Parental warmth, acceptance, and sensitivity

Democratic parents are warm, accepting, and sensitive. They are aware of the individual differences between children. The needs of children are considered.

Natural consequences

These parents tend to have a positive parenting style. Instead of using punishment, they help children learn through natural consequences when it is safe to do so.

Mutual respect & equal

In this approach to parenting, parents treat children with respect in their parent-child interactions​5​.

Democratic parenting pros and cons

The democratic style of parenting has strong influences on child development. It has been proven to lead to many positive child outcomes. 

However, it places a lot of demand on the authoritative parents and their capability to implement it. Let’s examine the pros and cons of this form of parenting style​6​.

Pros

Independence and self-efficacy

Children learn how to make decisions independently under the guidance of their parents and develop a sense of self-efficacy​7​.

Better judgment

Through practice, sound judgment and decision-making skills develop.

Less behavioral problems

Studies have found that psychological autonomy and monitoring together are strongly associated with fewer behavioral problems​8​.

Intrinsic motivation for learning

Autonomy is the most important intrinsic motivator. Children who can act independently, without psychological control from their parents, are more intrinsically motivated to learn.

Better academic performance

Intrinsic motivation is strongly associated with better school performance​9​.

Develop empathy

Empathy involves understanding another’s feelings and internal states. Sensitive parenting behavior fosters a secure attachment that allows for the development of truly empathic behavior​10​.

Social development

The democratic family type is conducive to social learning. Adolescents from democratic families tend to exhibit more prosocial behaviors. They are more likely to support democratic values and to respect others’ rights​11​.

Sense of connection

Parents and children in a democratic family discuss and negotiate issues rather than fight over who is right. They build close rapport and relationships with each other.

Emotion regulation

In a democratic household, there is usually a positive atmosphere. Those who grow up in such an environment tend to have better emotional regulation skills.

Better mental health

Children from a democratic home have better mental wellbeing. They are less likely to develop mental health issues such as depression​12​.

A happier home

Everyone in the family will enjoy a peaceful home without constant yelling and power struggles.

Cons

More logical thinking

As part of this democratic model of parenting, parents must use good reasoning and logical reasoning to convince their children of what is right. Parents accustomed to using “because I said so” to demand their children’s compliance may find this challenging.

More time consuming

The process of explaining and discussing any issue with children who are argumentative may take more time before a decision can be reached.

Risk of becoming permissive

If parents skip reasoning and just let their children make all their own decisions, they become permissive parents.

Better self-confidence

When their decisions are challenged, some parents may feel disrespected. To be able to separate the issue from feelings, one must be very clear-headed and have high self-confidence in their parenting skills.

Need self-regulation

The experience of parenting may feel unpleasant to parents who are used to a more strict parenting style. A child who is dysregulated may act unreasonably and trigger parents.

Democratic parenting tips

Given the long list of benefits and relatively few drawbacks of democratic parenting, why aren’t more parents adopting this style of parenting?

Parents, especially from previous generations, often fear democratic parenting. When you hear the word “democratic,” you might think of out-of-control kids who do whatever they want. 

In any democratic society, citizens enjoy freedom and rights, but no one can do whatever they want.

So, even though the democratic approach to child-rearing emphasizes independence and the right to make decisions, it does not mean that children can do whatever they want.

Change in beliefs

According to democratic parenting beliefs, children are not extensions or subordinates of adults, but rather individuals who are unique and separate from the adults.

Parenting democratic children is not difficult, but changing one’s beliefs on parenting behavior will ease the process.

The most important belief to adopt is that it takes time to learn new things. Behavioral issues will not disappear overnight without backfiring (even with harsh parenting). Long-term results can only be achieved by allowing children to practice and improve their behavior over time.

Children are active learners

Children learn best by doing rather than by listening. This is why allowing them to participate in the decision-making process is so important.

As with any skill, good judgment requires practice. It is unlikely that a child who has never made decisions will instantly be able to do so once they turn 18. 

The importance of allowing them to participate in decision-making can’t be overstated. 

Children aren’t doing it alone. Your guidance is crucial in helping them make an informed decision. You can set rules for things that they cannot decide on their own, such as health and safety issues. 

As in a democratic society, citizens are expected to follow the law and avoid making hazardous decisions.

Active listening & be flexible

Parenting democratically requires active listening. You must listen attentively and be prepared to negotiate to reach an acceptable solution or rule for both parties. 

That’s what good democracy is all about. A problem that is not related to health or safety usually has more than one answer. Everyone compromises to reach an agreeable solution. There is no dictator stating, “Because I said so.” 

Make good rules

Involve the children when making rules. Establishing limits might require some negotiation. Doing so helps parents determine sensible rules they have good reason to adopt.

Yet, they learn so much about give-and-take in this process and develop the skills necessary to make good decisions on their own as adults.

Holding family meetings to discuss important issues can also foster connection among family members and a true sense of belonging.

Use natural consequences, not logical consequences

Some parents try to shortcut the rule-making and negotiating process with “logical consequences”. When they don’t see the benefits of using democracy, they declare it a flawed parenting style.

A logical consequence is not logical because the logic has to do with bending your child to your will. That is not real democracy.

Good self-care to self-regulate

For tired and stressed parents, negotiating and discussing rules is hard. It’s so important to take care of yourself. Self-care allows better emotional regulation, so you won’t be triggered and upset easily.

References

  1. 1.
    Baumrind D. Patterns of parental authority and adolescent autonomy. New Directions for Child and Adolescent Development. Published online 2005:61-69. doi:10.1002/cd.128
  2. 2.
    Cripps K, Zyromski B. Adolescents’ Psychological Well-Being and Perceived Parental Involvement: Implications for Parental Involvement in Middle Schools. RMLE Online. Published online January 2009:1-13. doi:10.1080/19404476.2009.11462067
  3. 3.
    Oryan S, Gastil J. Democratic parenting: paradoxical messages in democratic parent education theories. Int Rev Educ. Published online March 29, 2013:113-129. doi:10.1007/s11159-013-9351-7
  4. 4.
    Zakeri H, Jowkar B, Razmjoee M. Parenting styles and resilience. Procedia – Social and Behavioral Sciences. Published online 2010:1067-1070. doi:10.1016/j.sbspro.2010.07.236
  5. 5.
    Dwairy M, Achoui M. Introduction to Three Cross-Regional Research Studies on Parenting Styles, Individuation, and Mental Health in Arab Societies. Journal of Cross-Cultural Psychology. Published online May 2006:221-229. doi:10.1177/0022022106286921
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    Steinberg L. We Know Some Things: Parent-Adolescent Relationships in Retrospect and Prospect. J Research Adolescence. Published online March 2001:1-19. doi:10.1111/1532-7795.00001
  7. 7.
    Givertz M, Segrin C. The Association Between Overinvolved Parenting and Young Adults’ Self-Efficacy, Psychological Entitlement, and Family Communication. Communication Research. Published online August 20, 2012:1111-1136. doi:10.1177/0093650212456392
  8. 8.
    Grolnick WS, Pomerantz EM. Issues and Challenges in Studying Parental Control: Toward a New Conceptualization. Child Development Perspectives. Published online December 2009:165-170. doi:10.1111/j.1750-8606.2009.00099.x
  9. 9.
    Mattanah JF. Parental Psychological Autonomy and Children’s Academic Competence and Behavioral Adjustment in Late Childhood: More Than Just Limit-Setting and Warmth. Merrill-Palmer Quarterly. Published online 2001:355-376. doi:10.1353/mpq.2001.0017
  10. 10.
    Sroufe LA. Attachment and development: A prospective, longitudinal study from birth to adulthood. Attachment & Human Development. Published online December 2005:349-367. doi:10.1080/14616730500365928
  11. 11.
    Miklikowska M, Hurme H. Democracy begins at home: Democratic parenting and adolescents’ support for democratic values. European Journal of Developmental Psychology. Published online June 28, 2011:541-557. doi:10.1080/17405629.2011.576856
  12. 12.
    AQUILINO WS, SUPPLE AJ. Long-Term Effects of Parenting Practices During Adolescence on Well-Being Outcomes in Young Adulthood. Journal of Family Issues. Published online April 2001:289-308. doi:10.1177/019251301022003002

About Pamela Li

Pamela Li is a bestselling author. She is the Founder and Editor-in-Chief of Parenting For Brain. Her educational background is in Electrical Engineering (MS, Stanford University) and Business Management (MBA, Harvard University).

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