Building a child’s autonomy is the work of a parent to see the independent development of the personality and personhood of the child. The style of parenting that most enhances the child’s autonomy to have self-control and enables the child to be a problem solver is responsive parenting. A child who grows in their ability to make good decisions will become more independent and more responsible. The responsive parenting style, while maintaining control, helps the child understand his or her emotions. The parent helps interpret those emotions while teaching the child to control those emotions.
Reactive parenting diminishes the child’s autonomy. The two forms of reactive parenting are permissive parenting and authoritarian parenting. Permissive parenting is obsessed with connection and making the child happy, but ignores the need for discipline. Authoritarian parenting is obsessed with obedience and respect while ignoring the emotional connection with the child. The parents’ approach to their children either enhances their autonomy or diminishes their autonomy. It is easy to create co-dependent relationships with permissive or authoritarian parenting styles. Two negative extremes exist in these families that hinder balanced growth in children: under-control and over-control, and both hinder autonomy development.
Responsive parenting pursues the connection while teaching the child self-restraint and control of her emotions. Permissive parenting does not build the child’s autonomy because it fails to help the child have self-control. Authoritarian parenting does not build the child’s autonomy because it fails to establish a meaningful connection with the child.
It is not unusual for families to parent their children with one parent using the permissive style and one using the authoritarian style. It does not work! Children will be extremely confused by the disagreement of their parents. Permissive parents will go to any length to maintain a connection with the child, including appeasement. Appeasement without requiring respect and responsibility is a recipe for disaster. Likewise, a parent who is focused on responsibility and respect while completely ignoring the emotional needs of the child is asking for problems.
Children want to be connected to their parents. God made us all with the longing for connection. However, we all have need of order and structure in our lives. The best way to raise children is in a responsive way and not in a reactive mode. Privilege vs. Responsibility are the best ways to raise children, encourage autonomy, and reward responsible behavior. The two go hand in hand—the greater the acceptance of responsibility in the child’s life then the greater the privileges extended to the child. This is a conceptual approach because the child begins to understand how one can gain greater privileges. Our children are capable of understanding far more than we often realize.
Not long ago I played my audio book for my little granddaughter: It was a book of history. I played a little and asked her what she heard. She said, “I don’t understand any of it.” I said, “I want you to listen for the words you understand and not the words you don’t understand.” Before long, she understood the necessary flow of what was being said by merely getting her to focus. I explained the importance of what she was listening to and wetted her appetite, then she was eager to listen to more. This is what conceptual interaction is all about. You begin by teaching your children through your daily conversations and spontaneous moments the essential truths that will impact their lives. They change behaviors because they start to understand why they should change.