An interactive exercise exploring parenting styles

Parenting style compass

The Alternatives to Violence Project in Newcastle has been exploring workshops on nonviolence and conflict resolution with parents and partners. The following is an exercise Gener Lapina and I have developed (with input from Anne Hoffman) to explore four parenting styles:

  1. Authoritarian
  2. Permissive
  3. Uninvolved
  4. Active (often called Authoritative).

The styles are based on a combination of two dimensions: how responsive (or warm) parents are and how demanding and controlling (or strict) they are. For the workshops, we are using the dimensions of warmth (from very warm to harsh) and expectations (from having high expectations in regards to your children’s behaviour to having very low expectations).

Before the workshop, we prepared a large compass (using four sheets of flip chart) with the labels Warm and Harsh on the vertical axis, and Expectations on the horizontal compass(see above).

The process:

  1. Brainstorm some of the expectations parents can have for their children (particularly in relation to their behaviour). We write their responses outside the compass on the right-hand side of the sheet (and use the left-hand side as well if we need to).
  2. We ask what parents do or say when they try to make their children meet their expectations in a cold or harsh way, and write their responses in the bottom right-hand quadrant.
  3. We ask what parents do or say (or not do and say) if they don’t care what their children do and don’t show very little love towards their children. These responses go in the bottom left-hand quadrant.
  4. We ask what parents do or say if they are very loving towards their children but let their children basically do whatever they want. These responses go in the top left-hand quadrant.
  5. We ask how parents can be very loving towards their children but still have high expectations of them. Again we invite words and actions. These responses go in the top-right hand quadrant.
  6. We often have discussion about the four styles as we go.
  7. We then introduce the names of the four styles (Authoritarian, Uninvolved, Permissive, Active) and write them outside the circles.
  8. If we have introduced four responses to conflict (Turtle, Shark, Teddy Bear, Owl) we ask the group which of the responses to conflict relate to each of the parenting styles, and relate the styles back to the Transforming Power mandala.
  9. We explore how these styles can act like a compass to help guide us. After the last workshop we thought it might be helpful to think about how we can move up and down the scales rather talking about moving between the four styles. (E.g., asking, “When might you want to be more loving or less loving?” and “When might you have higher expectations and when might you be a bit more flexible?”) By doing this we can avoid the group to feel we are judging their behaviour and help them to think about how they have choice in their approach to parenting.

The last time we did this exercise (with a group of 11 participants and 3 facilitators) it took around 40 minutes and worked well.

We’d welcome any feedback about the exercise.

If you liked this post please follow my blog, and you might like to look at:

  1. What are Alternatives to Violence Project (AVP) workshops?
  2. The Alternatives to Violence Project: Reflections on a strengths-based approach to nonviolent relationships and conflict resolution
  3. What are authoritarian, permissive, uninvolved and authoritative parenting styles?
  4. Parenting styles – another look
  5. Seven principles for a strengths-based approach to working with groups
  6. Questions for an Alternatives to Violence Project (AVP) workshop

If you find any problems with the blog, (e.g., broken links or typos) I’d love to hear about them. You can either add a comment below or contact me via the Contact page.

About Graeme Stuart

Lecturer (Family Action Centre, Newcastle Uni), blogger (Sustaining Community), Alternatives to Violence Project facilitator, environmentalist, father. Passionate about families, community development, peace, sustainability.
This entry was posted in Alternatives to Violence Project (AVP), Facilitation & teaching, Families & parenting and tagged , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

6 Responses to An interactive exercise exploring parenting styles

  1. Brain Andersen says:

    Great post, and thanks for sharing this. This will definitely go into a special place in my bookmarks!


  2. A very insightful post Stuart. Do find time to read about snowplow parenting here


  3. Vaughn says:

    This looks like a useful exercise! I like that its linked back to the mandala.
    Of the four labels for the quadrants, “uninvolved” seems to be the most judgemental.
    It would be interesting to hear the views of young people on the compass.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thanks Vaughn. Yes I guess uninvolved does seem a bit judgemental, but I think there is a risk that how we present most of them can be a bit judgemental, and we are certainly encouraging the “active” style as the one to aim for most of the time. To me it seeks to balance respect for self (by having clear expectations in regards to your children’s behaviour and setting limits) and care for others (by being loving and warm). I think at times it can be tricky to balance being nonjudgemental and encouraging behaviour change.
      I’m pretty sure I’ve seen some papers exploring adolescents’ perception of their parenting style.


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