It should not be surprising that the ways in which mothers and fathers interact with and parent their children has a significant effect on how those children learn to cope with the world around them. Every day we teach our children how to behave — some days that involves using more discipline than others. But how do our parenting styles, and the love and warmth that we show them, affect our kids in extreme situations?
Researchers from Tel Aviv University recently set out to learn more about factors that affect children in volatile environments such as war zones. At the center of the study was a discussion of parenting styles.
Science Daily breaks down the various styles:
Parenting styles can broadly fall into three categories. A permissive parenting style involves providing a child with lots of support and encouragement, but with very limited discipline. An authoritarian style involves strict discipline and limited emotional support. Finally, an authoritative parenting style combines emotional support with discipline and openness to negotiation. Beyond specific parenting styles, parental warmth, where parents demonstrate love and affection for a child, can also significantly affect children.
When the researchers surveyed children (ages 12-14) and their parents in southern Israel following a “period of intense conflict in the region,” here is what they found:
The researchers found that children with more exposure to traumatic events showed more mental health symptoms. However, mothers who used an authoritative parenting style protected their children against internalizing and externalizing symptoms in response to traumatic events. Maternal warmth also provided protection against externalizing symptoms. In contrast, the researchers found that maternal permissive or authoritarian parenting styles were associated with more severe internalizing and externalizing symptoms following high exposure to traumatic violence.
Because mothers were generally the primary caregivers to the children, the warmth of fathers had little effect on how the kids responded to the trauma that they experienced.
“The study highlights the importance of exerting control and discipline by means of negotiation and dialogue and responding to children with respect, support and affection to ensure their safe passage through traumatic circumstances,” says [researcher Michelle] Slone.
What is interesting about the study is that its findings can be applied on a smaller scale. Most children in the U.S. are not exposed to traumatic or violent situations on a daily basis. But many children do experience difficulty, in one way or another, at a young age. Our parenting styles undoubtedly have an effect on how they handle adversity — and it might behoove us to adopt a more authoritative and warm approach when it comes to our children.