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How to Break the Cycle of Authoritarian Parenting

April 28, 2024 3:37 PM | Anonymous member (Administrator)

ADDitude by Caroline Mendel, PsyD

Parenting has changed dramatically over the last century or so. It has evolved from raising obedient children — often using harsh, authoritarian techniques — to raising happy, well-adjusted, resilient kids whose emotional and cognitive development is a priority. That’s a big shift, considering that psychologists only began widely using the term “parenting” to describe the behaviors of mothers and fathers in the 1950s.

Many parents today are raising their children differently than they themselves were raised. In a recent ADDitude poll, about 70% of respondents said they were using a “very different” or “somewhat different” parenting style from the one their parents used with them.

The generational divide is deepened by our evolving understanding of neurodivergence — brain-based differences that affect how someone behaves, thinks, and learns. ADHD, autismlearning differences, and other conditions that tend to be identified in childhood all fall under the umbrella of neurodivergence. Many of these now-commonplace diagnoses were not always recognized and effectively treated in prior generations.

Neurodivergence: Then and Now

Like parenting, societal views of differently wired individuals have also changed significantly. Historically, people whose brains work differently were not celebrated for their neurodivergence; instead, educators and caregivers focused solely on remediating their apparent deficits. Today, we know that our families and communities are made richer by our individual differences. And we understand that leveraging strengths — while also providing constructive support — is critical for neurodivergent children.

Today, we know a lot more about the science of various brain-based conditions. We know that these conditions are not characterological, meaning an aspect of one’s personality, or caused by “bad” parenting. Advocacy from organizations and individuals has helped reduce stigma around neurodivergence and encouraged more schools and institutions to adopt diversity, equity, and inclusion initiatives. Meanwhile, technological advances — like autocorrect or text-to-speech capabilities — have helped reduce the strain of day-to-day functioning for neurodivergent individuals, who can sometimes feel like a square peg in a round hole. And we can’t overlook the role of social media, which has allowed many neurodivergent people and their families to find community and belonging.

The Best Parenting Style for Your Neurodivergent Child

Parenting styles of the past emphasized obedience through harsh discipline and strict enforcement of the rules. This style of parenting is generally known as authoritarian parenting and its techniques, we now know, can cause distress and are linked to maladaptive behaviors. Children, especially neurodivergent children, do not respond well to this form of parenting.

On the other hand, permissive parenting, characterized by high levels of warmth and little to no limit setting, isn’t what our children need either, as this can also lead to negative outcomes. The parenting style with the greatest benefit is in the middle; authoritative parenting combines warmth and limit setting. It’s a dynamic that fosters the parent-child relationship while also providing children with the structure they need for positive development.

From establishing routines to reinforcing positive behaviors and providing appropriate consequences for misbehavior, authoritative parenting offers various strategies to meet your child’s unique needs. Use this parenting guide to look up the most effective strategies for neurodivergent children. You may need to apply these strategies more frequently, over longer periods, and with the help of a mental health professional to best meet your child’s needs.


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