As a parent, sometimes love isn’t enough
If you’re a parent, do you love your children?
Silly question—of course you do. I haven’t met a parent who doesn’t love his or her children deeply.
But through the work I’ve done with thousands of students and parents, I’ve come across a lot of angry, bitter children and their loving but confused parents.
Evidently, loving parents don’t necessarily produce happy children.
Parenting is probably the hardest job in the world, so I have some principles to share with you in this article to help you be the best parent you can be.
(Just to be clear, this article is about parenting from a child’s perspective, which is my area of expertise given that I’ve worked with many youths.)
The most effective parenting style
I’ll give you the bottom line first.
Based on my experiences and observations, the most effective parents do just two things: They (a) accept their children unconditionally and (b) have high expectations of excellence of their children.
Allow me to explain this idea, which is an extension and modification of Diana Baumrind’s work, in more detail.
Parenting can mostly be summed up by two traits:
- Unconditional acceptance of their children
- Expectations of excellence of their children
Parents can demonstrate each trait in either low or high amounts toward their children, i.e. Low/high unconditional acceptance and low/high expectations of excellence.
(Of course, parents can display “medium” amounts of each trait, but for the sake of building this parenting model, I’ll keep it to low and high.)
This gives rise to four main categories of parents, as seen below in the diagram:
- Category #1: Low expectations of excellence, low unconditional acceptance
- Category #2: Low expectations of excellence, high unconditional acceptance
- Category #3 – High expectations of excellence, low unconditional acceptance
- Category #4 – High expectations of excellence, high unconditional acceptance
I’ll now explain each category briefly, and what type of children each parenting style tends to result in. There are obviously many other factors at play in how children develop, so there will definitely be exceptions to this model.
Category #1: Low expectations of excellence, low unconditional acceptance
These parents are lenient with their children, and are often relatively uninvolved in their children’s upbringing. They don’t set clear rules or boundaries for their children, and neither do they show much warmth or affection toward their children.
When their children make mistakes or display undesirable behaviour, the parents tend to overreact and respond harshly.
Children of Category #1 parents usually feel neglected, and can become delinquent or rebellious.
Category #2: Low expectations of excellence, high unconditional acceptance
Like Category #1 parents, Category #2 parents don’t set clear rules or boundaries for their children. Typically, they don’t give their children responsibilities around the house, and neither do they discipline their children consistently.
They frequently give in to their children’s demands, and are often manipulated by their children.
At the same time, these parents accept their children unconditionally and show them plenty of affection. These are the type of parents who shelter their children from the consequences of their children’s choices.
Children of Category #2 parents tend to be spoiled and irresponsible. Moreover, these children often have an “entitlement mindset”, where they expect others to serve them and make their lives comfortable.
Category #3: High expectations of excellence, low unconditional acceptance
These parents expect a lot from their children, both in terms of their children’s behaviour and achievements. These parents tend to be strict, and are the type of parents who most frequently use the phrase “You might not like it, but I’m doing this for your own good”.
These are typically the parents who demand that their children become lawyers, doctors, engineers, etc. They’re extremely focused on their children’s academic performance, and occasionally on musical instrument mastery too.
These parents rarely show unconditional warmth and affection for their children. To their children, these parents appear to be loving and kind only when their children’s behaviour and achievements are “up to the mark”.
Children of Category #3 parents are usually afraid of their parents and tend to become distant. Sometimes, these children become resentful and can display disrespectful behaviour toward their parents.
Category #4: High expectations of excellence, high unconditional acceptance
Category #4 parents are the most effective parents. They set reasonable rules and boundaries for their children. They enforce these rules and boundaries firmly, promptly and consistently. They explain to their children the rationale behind each rule, and aren’t shy about disciplining their children.
These parents place more emphasis on effort than on performance. They expect their children to pursue excellence, but always show their children that their love is unconditional. The love and acceptance they display toward their children is the same, regardless of how their children perform.
Category #4 parents typically give their children responsibilities around the house. Early on, these parents empower their children to take full responsibility for their choices and their lives.
These parents show their children that the universe doesn’t revolve around their children. Instead, their children are important members of the family, just like Mum and Dad.
Children of Category #4 parents tend to be well-adjusted, mature and responsible.
I know I’ve made many generalisations in this article, but that’s unavoidable given that I’m writing to a general audience.
Still, the principle remains: Accept and love your children regardless of how they behave or what they accomplish, and expect excellence—this is about being the best they can be, not about being the best—from them.
If you do this, I’m confident that you’ll be well on your way to being a successful parent!
Daniel Wong is a learning and personal development expert, as well as a certified youth counselor. A sought-after speaker and coach, he is also the best-selling author of "The Happy Student: 5 Steps to Academic Fulfillment and Success". He offers programmes to help students attain exam excellence while also finding happiness and fulfillment, and to empower parents to motivate their unmotivated teenagers. He writes regularly at www.daniel-wong.com. Download his FREE e-books, "The Unhappiness Manifesto: Do You Make These 150 Mistakes In The Pursuit Of Happiness?" and "Singapore Scholarship Guide: The $500,000 Decision". The views expressed are his own.