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How children shape their parents’ parenting style

In the media, there is a lot of speculation about the effects of different parenting styles on children and even which is the ‘right’ way to parent.

This can not only cause confusion but also leave us feeling under pressure to live up to a certain style of parenting.

However, research has shown that, in fact, the influence of parenting style is smaller than we are led to believe. Researchers at the University of Illinois have recently gone as far as to suggest that the parent-child dynamic should be seen as more than a one-way relationship.


What did the researchers find?


The research found that children who are more pleasant and mindful (i.e. those who scored higher on agreeableness and conscientiousness) tended to have parents who parented with greater warmth. Meanwhile, children who were a little more argumentative had parents who had a more stressful parenting style.

This data backs up something that as a parent, you probably already know: being a patient parent is far easier when your child is being an angel and far harder when they are acting like a brat!

Of course, with this research, there is an element of chicken-and-egg – what came first, the child’s personality, or the parents’ nurturing style? To address this, the researchers used twins for the study so they could show the effects of nature (biological causes) versus nurture (environmental causes) on parenting style.

But it’s worth keeping in mind that this is a two-way cycle. Lead researcher Mona Ayoub says that it is more accurate to think of both parents and children having an ongoing influence on each other.



How to handle conflict with your child 

Firstly, we can start thinking about parenting as a collaborative process. Let the fact that your child can influence your parenting encourage you to communicate with them.

By listening to what they see and observe, you can understand the situation from your child’s point of view. While younger children may not yet be able to articulate if something is wrong, they might reveal it through their behaviour or emotions.

It is only natural for you to have conflicts with your child – but think about how their behaviour may be affecting you. While it may be tempting to lash back out at them, this, in turn, will teach your child to react the same way in future arguments.

Instead, modelling positive behaviour and coping strategies can help your child learn from you. By demonstrating appropriate and positive ways of dealing with different situations, you can teach your child to copy and use these methods.

It is important to work through these situations together and remember that as an adult, you have the advantage in years of experience of managing your emotions! This means you can help your child to express their feelings of frustration or anger in more constructive ways.

While you and your child may have some similarities (good and bad!) you will inevitably have some differences too. Respecting and embracing your child’s differences will help them learn to do the same with others. This mutual respect will allow them to adapt to different people’s approaches to life and place them in good stead for communicating in school and in the workplace.



Despite the media trying to convince us that there is a ‘right’ or ‘wrong’ way to be a parent, research is increasingly showing that the influence of parenting style is much more modest than we think.

Instead, remember that this is a give-and-take process that needs communication from both sides. By listening to your child and respecting the things that make them unique – even if that’s their stubbornness! – you can be a positive role model for them.