Do You Have “Socially Competent” Children? What’s the Impact of Your Parenting Style?

Your Child’s Social Skills – What’s a Parent’s Role?

How You Parent Impacts Your Child's Social Skills
It’s no surprise that parents play a role in teaching their children social skills. From reminders to say please and thank-you to basic interventions to get kids to share, part of parenting will always include a bit of education related to social interaction. However, a recent study in the Journal of Child and Family Studies sheds light on the interaction between parenting style, child temperament and social competence.


Specific parenting styles were first described by Diana Baumrind in the 1960’s. According to her work:

  1. Authoritative Parenting is healthy parenting.

    Parents balance warmth and structure, or love and limits.

  2. Authoritarian Parenting is unhealthy parenting.

    Parents value and demonstrate strict control over children and show little warmth in the process. This does not mean that these parents do not love their children–they do. However, they tend to interact with their children in a cold and punitive manner, expecting obedience at all costs.

This recent study (Reichard, et al. 2014) explored the role that Authoritarian parenting can have on how preschool children play. In particular, the authors wanted to understand how a child’s manner of play may be impacted by the interaction between this style of parenting and a child’s temperament.


Temperament has been described in many ways. At its essence it is seen as one’s inborn style of interacting with the world–how we come out of the womb, let’s say. Two specific extremes of temperament have been described as high and low reactivity.

  • A highly reactive child tends to withdraw from new situations and have intense negative and positive emotional reactions.
  • A low reactive child isn’t as quick to react and instead of withdrawing in new situations, tends to approach these experiences without intense emotions.

He might play better with others if you changed your parenting style.Research has shown that highly reactive children, in general, show fewer positive social behaviors and they experience difficulties with their peers. The interesting results of the current study show:

  • Highly reactive children with Authoritarian parents tend to be more disruptive in their play. They are more likely to demand to be in charge and become more aggressive than do highly reactive children with Authoritative
  • When highly reactive children have Authoritative parents, the difficulties they experience with peers diminish.

Tweet this: Emotionally reactive children with demanding, controlling parents don’t play well with others.

The take-away from these findings is this:

Assess your own parenting style: Are you more Authoritative or Authoritarian?

Remember, an Authoritarian parent may think or say things like this:

  • “Kids need to obey with questioning.”
  • “I don’t care if my kids are unhappy with me.”
  • “I’m the parent.”
  • “They better follow the rules.”
  • “If they get off track, I’ll show them whose boss.”

On the other hand, an Authoritative parent may respond in this way:

  • “I have rules but I’m willing to be flexible.”
  • “Discipline is a way to teach children.”
  • “I’m available when my kids need me.”

Not everyone aligns with one end of this continuum or the other. However, if you tend to fall on the Authoritarian end of the parenting continuum, your style may be modeling unhelpful behaviors that your child may mimic in his/her play.

Tweet this:  Authoritarian parents model controlling & demanding behaviors that children may mimic in their play.

Assess your child’s temperament.

Does your child tend to be highly reactive? In a new situation, does your child pull away? Does he/she react with an intense response when faced with difficulties? Does your child tend to be aggressive or demanding with peers? Children with these experiences lean toward high reactivity.

Model socially acceptable behaviors.

Highly reactive children need to see how to interact in healthy ways. A change in parenting style may provide just what is needed to help a child develop social competence. Parents can do this by adjusting a few things:

  • Increase listening – when a child reacts negatively, listen for the feelings behind the reaction. Express that you hear him/her and reflect back his/her experience. For example, “I see that you’re angry, Billy. You get mad when the other kids don’t share.”
  • Be slow to react – as the parent, take a breather before reacting to your child’s negative behavior. Slow and patient responses will model how to handle negative emotions.
  • Avoid harsh punishments – child behavior can be managed in a variety of ways, try out tools such as time out (one minute per each year of the child’s age, removal of privileges (for short time periods) and limit setting (provide few but clear rules)

Finally, if you want your child to play better with others, practice playing with him/her yourself. Positive playtime, without rules our punishments, can be an important part of showing children how to get along with others.

A Christian Perspective

Hebrews 12:11 – “For the moment all discipline seems painful rather than pleasant, but later it yields the peaceful fruit of righteousness to those who have been trained by it.”

Biblically, parents are instructed to discipline their children–to teach them to serve Him, to care for others, to avoid sin and to live a life worthy of the Lord. However, Christian parents may at times interpret verses such as this one in Hebrews to encourage the adoption of an Authoriaran style.

We need to search the whole of scripture to understand God’s heart for parenting. God as a “parent” himself–our Heavenly Father–ultimately demonstrates how parenting should look. The Lord himself is JUST (expecting his people to live within certain limits) but at the same time He is, himself, LOVE. A striking balance between love and limits is demonstrated. Yet, before we say that we can completely understand human parenting by using this model, we have to remember that our understanding of both love and structure is limited by our humanness. We can only understand God’s love to the extent that we compare it to our own. However, God’s love and his justice are higher than ours and deeper than ours. We get a glimpse of it as we read the scripture and remind ourselves that we can, in our parenting, seek to portray these qualities. (Click here to visit my Bible Study Blog)

Until next time – Veola

Limitations of this study:

  • A small sample of 63 children
  • The majority of children were Caucasian (87%)
  • The majority of parents were highly educated (65%)

References/Further Reading

Baumrind, D. (1968). Authoritarian vs. authoritative parental control. Adolescence, 3, 255–272.

Evans, C. A., Nelson, L. J., & Porter, C. L. (2012). Making sense of their world: Sensory reactivity and novelty awareness as aspects of temperament and correlates of social behaviours in early childhood. Infant & Child Development21(5), 503-520. doi:10.1002/icd.1754

Gagnon, S., Huelsman, T., Reichard, A., Kidder-Ashley, P., Griggs, M., Struby, J., & Bollinger, J. (2014). Help me play! Parental behaviors, child temperament, and preschool peer play. Journal of Child & Family Studies23(5), 872-884. doi:10.1007/s10826-013-9743-0

* all verses taken from the English Standard Version of the Holy Bible

 Click here to view my Bible Study blog.

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