The word democratic brings conflicting images to mind. On the one hand there is pride and respect for independence and freedom. On the other hand fear of chaos and anarchy. So it is understandable that some people may shy away from the term when it is applied to parenting. Democratic parenting can bring to mind a harmonious give and take, or a chaotic mess of voices ineffectively trying to get things done.
When done right democratic parenting leads to a positive home environment when everyone feels respected. As that is the core value of this parenting style. Parents who adopt this style have a deep fundamental belief that children deserve as much respect as the parent themselves does. This is not to be confused with the idea that children should be in charge because most proponents of the style strongly advocate parental responsibility and leadership.
In matters of behavior and discipline parents strike a delicate balance by stating what must be done but empower children by giving them a choice to how, where, or when something is done.
For example, a democratic parent states that a child’s room needs to be clean. The child can choose to clean now and watch a movie later or clean their room later, but miss out on the opportunity to watch the movie. So the child has a choice to continue their present occupation but lose out on an opportunity later, or to clean now and be rewarded later. In addition, democratic parents strive to make punishment logical and fair. They also focus on helping children understand why their behavior is wrong.
Christa Gatewood writes that:
“Punishments should not be arbitrary or punitive. Rather, they should fit the offense and teach lessons about why the behavior is unacceptable.”
Christa also points out that rewarding good behavior on a consistent basis helps children to make it a habit. She also suggests that children should participate in making household rules and the consequences for breaking them. This allows them to accept responsibility for their actions and feel like a valued member of the family.
The positive aspects of democratic parenting are that it encourages children to be independent and make their own choices. Many children raise in democratic homes excel in school and have a strong self-confidence. It is also seen as a path to avoid permissiveness or an authoritarian style, which negatively impact children. Democratic parenting style does take time and effort. Parents must be consistent, follow through on consequences, and be mindful of the way they phrase requests for compliance. Those that do not come by this behavioral system naturally may find that it takes consistent practice to implement the strategies necessary to make democratic parenting successful.
Dr. Brian Macdonald wrote an article about one of the possible weaknesses inherent in democratic parenting. The style is more difficult to apply to small children. He comments on a study by saying:
“It’s possible that parents who want their kids to benefit from a democratic parenting style should realize that their kids might require more direction when they’re small; young children of democratic parents might be more likely to question parents’ instructions or to get off-task because they’re used to being a bit more independent than other kids.”
For example, explaining the reason behind punishment might be hard to put into practice for an 18 month year old. They very likely may not understand what you are saying. So, making democratic parenting age appropriate may be challenging when your child is young.