There are many schools of thought when it comes to parenting styles, ranging from permissive, anything-goes-parenting to strict, authoritarian, do-it-because-I-said-so parenting. One question I often receive from parents centers around when parents should make (or force) their kids do things? For clarity, these parents have asked when is it appropriate to disregard their child’s thoughts, feelings, and sometimes direct verbal resistance, and still force them to experience an activity? “Making” your kid eat his vegetables at dinner is one thing, but should you make your kid go out for football, or act in a school play? While parents can “make” their kids do a lot of things, the question of when parents should force decisions on their kids is important to examine.
Things parents should make their kids do
Let’s start with the easy part of the question relating to things parents should force their kids to do. Beginning with basic survival, parents need to make sure their kids are properly nourished, safe, and have as many opportunities for future success as possible. Examples here might include making sure your kids eat healthy meals, wear a helmet while riding a bicycle, engage in important daily hygiene habits, and attend school to become better educated. While your kids might push back on these experiences, at the end of the day kids need to do basic things in this world in order to survive and have a chance for a long, healthy, and prosperous life.
Now let’s examine things parents sometimes make their kids do that might not be so great. Ideally, presenting your kids with multiple options is almost always a better way to go than to force your kid to do one specific task. For example, if you want your child to be more active and fit, making your child join the cross country team against her will might be one option, but if you think about it there are many more ways to increase personal fitness beyond the cross country team. Your child could instead run on her own, join another cardio-active sport (i.e. soccer), or even work with a trainer at your local gym. Providing your child options will lead to a better outcome — it empowers your child to enjoy the process of making a decision that she wants to make, and she will appreciate your efforts in trying to help. The same is true in school — there is not just one way to acquire an education, but instead many different ways to take classes, pursue degrees, and learn new information (i.e. in person, Zoom, etc). Again, sitting down with your child to responsibly look over all options is almost always better than simply writing out a schedule and forcefully stating, “Here, this is what you are going to do.”
While parents can force their kids to do all kinds of things, including playing on high intensity sports teams and experiencing activities they have no interest in doing, there is a greater chance for long-term future damage for the parent-child relationship. Sure, kids will do what you say, but you can bet their effort will be questionable (at best), and they may likely resent you for giving them no choice in the decision.
Developmental psychologists regularly examine parenting styles and develop theories and applications based on their findings. Diana Baumrind identifies four common parenting styles, including characteristics and pros and cons of each. A summary of her parenting styles is presented below:
- Authoritarian. “Do it because I said so!” is a good example of authoritarian parenting, an approach based on being direct, overbearing, and ready to punish without explanation. These parents are strict, rarely providing opportunity for discussion.
- Authoritative. Regarded by most experts to be the best parenting style, it provides a balance between structure and independence. Authoritative parents generally set high standards, but also lend through trust, support, and care.
- Permissive. The opposite of the authoritarian parenting style, permissive parents basically let their children run wild without many (any?) rules. These parents do not dislike parenting, but are more like friends to their kids, rarely acting like a traditional parent with rules and consequences.
- Neglectful. These parents do not interact much with their children at all, often leaving their kids to fend for themselves. This parenting style is also known as uninvolved parenting.
According to Baumrind and other experts, Authoritative parenting is generally viewed as the gold standard in parenting, and would be the type of parenting that invites kids to offer their thoughts and ideas when it comes to life experiences. Conversely, Authoritarian parents (“Do it because I said so!”) steer clear of democratic thought and instead force, or make, their kids do what they say.
Parents should take caution forcing their kids to do things, especially in situations where getting kid-input can help with decision-making and strengthen parent-child relations. As you can see from popular parenting theories, authoritative parenting is a healthy way to raise your kids and involves working with your kids, as well as explaining the reasons why you are asking them to do specific things. Yes, parents can force their kids to do a lot of things, but it is important to weigh that strategy against the potential for long-term damage to parent-child relations.