How ‘democratic parenting’ may bring harmony to your home

Gone are the days of authoritarian child-rearing. More parents are adopting a democratic parenting style: a more gentle approach where everyone has a say.

Remember the “my way or the highway” approach to parenting?

Before the turn of the century, this authoritarian style of parenting was popular and children were expected to obey parents, no questions asked.

These days, many families are choosing a more supportive and respectful approach to parenting.

There’s even a term for it: democratic parenting.

It’s where kids take part in decision-making, there’s mutual respect among family members, and everyone has a voice.

The benefits of democratic parenting

Democratic households are an effective environment in which to raise children, according to Positive Minds Australia director Madhavi Nawana Parker.

They are households that tend to be warmer, happier and more connected, the parenting coach says.

“Democratic parents are caring and questioning and have a better chance at developing a genuine, close and mutually respectful relationship with their child.

“Studies have found this type (of parenting) is strongly associated with fewer behavioural problems, better family connections, better school performance, higher empathy, more prosocial behaviour and better emotional regulation,” Madhavi says.

It is not about letting your kids run wild

While democratic parenting emphasises independence and the right to make decisions, that doesn’t mean children are allowed to run wild.

“Parents often fear democratic parenting – thinking of out-of-control kids who do whatever they want,” Madhavi says

“(But) democratic parents do set rules and boundaries.

“It’s just that the children can participate in rule-setting and are allowed to have a voice.

“(Parents) explain rules to their children, helping (them) understand why co-operation is important.”

She says this allows children to learn how to make decisions independently under the guidance of their parents.

The drawbacks of democratic parenting

While considered a favourable approach, democratic parenting can have its pitfalls.

Madhavi explains it can be more time consuming, and negotiating and discussing rules can be hard.

“If you’re tired and stressed out, this can get overwhelming,” she says.

Relational Minds founder Dr Alberto Veloso says the biggest pitfall is when parents aren’t prepared to accept their children’s feelings and wishes, which can worsen your relationship.

“Incorporating limits and boundaries will rely on a positive and strong connected relationship to start with,” the child and family psychiatrist says.

“Otherwise there will be a huge trap to fall into, which is a battle of wills – or worse, conflict and aggression.”

Is democratic parenting right for your family?

Dr Veloso says before deciding whether it’s right for your family, parents should consider whether they’re open minded enough to collaborate with their children.

“It is very different to traditional methods we have grown up with,” he says.

To succeed, Dr Veloso says, parents need to be committed to trying a different approach and prepared to regulate their own emotions.

What age should children be for democratic parenting?

“I would recommend starting as young as possible and being consistent throughout,” Dr Veloso says.

Madhavi says implementing a democratic household is most effective from preschool, when “children have better language and communication skills as well as more self-control” than when they are really young.

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Written by Sarah Vercoe.