Schedules & Routines

Brick Wall, Jellyfish, or Backbone: What Type of Parent Are You?

Is your parenting style authoritarian, permissive, or authoritative? One provides too much control, one too little, and the third just the right amount. Figure out your caregiver style, and see if it needs to change.

Jellyfish parenting styles don't work for children with ADHD

If there is one universally accepted maxim, it’s this: Kids with ADHD need consistency and reliable structures in their daily life. Still, many parents struggle to find a healthy balance between routine and fun, schedule and independence. The struggle, in many cases, traces back to parenting style. Researchers at the Institute of Human Development, at the University of California, Berkeley, have identified three primary parenting styles. They are:

  1. Brick Wall: Authoritarian parenting style. Parenting expert Barbara Coloroso identified this type of family as having dictatorial parents who demand blind obedience from their kids. Such families combine high expectations, robotic consistency, and high control with low levels of warmth and communication.
  2. Jellyfish: Permissive parenting style. These parents are the opposite of authoritarians. They project high warmth and communication but take little control, tolerate inconsistent daily routines, and provide few clear expectations for their kids.
  3. Backbone: Authoritative parenting style. This parenting approach combines the best aspects of the first two patterns. These parents provide clear and consistent rules and expectations within the context of a caring and loving family.

Consistent Rules and a Loving Family

Research suggests that children who are raised in backbone families show the most independence, leadership, social responsibility, originality, self-confidence, and achievement. Kids from brick wall families, on the other hand, tend to be obedient but less independent and confident of themselves. Children in jellyfish families are the worst off of all: They lack social responsibility, are particularly dependent, are low in self-confidence, and have high anxiety.

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All children need limits and boundaries, and children who are inconsistent in their behaviors need them even more. If a child who feels like a cue ball caroming around on a pool table has to live in a family where meals are haphazard, rules are inconsistently enforced, and events arise without warning, she’s likely to bounce off the table.

A primary responsibility for parents and teachers of kids who have behavior difficulties is to provide a safe and protected space at home and at school, an environment with consistent rules, regular routines, and efficient transitions to clear a steady path through the day.

If your child’s life has been unsettled, and/or rules have been inconsistently enforced, she may initially respond to “new consistency” with irritation or anger. However, when consistency is accompanied by respect and caring for your child, you’re providing her with the backbone she’ll need to make her way in the world as an adult.

Structure to Live By

1. See that your child gets up about the same time every morning, has regularly scheduled meals, and goes to bed about the same time every evening.

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2. Create a daily and/or weekly calendar with your child, on which he writes or draws in events that are coming up. Keep the calendar in the child’s bedroom, where he can see it. A number of computer apps—Cozi and HomeRoutines—are available to do this for you and your child.

3. When unpredictable events come up, prepare your child with a few words: “Today, when I pick you up at school, we won’t be going home. We’re going to the airport to welcome Grandma for a visit.” It might be helpful to suggest that your child visualize the new event, so that when it comes, it won’t be upsetting to his daily routine.

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Adapted from The Myth of the ADHD Child, Revised Edition, by Thomas Armstrong, Ph.D., published by TarcherPerigee, an imprint of Penguin Publishing Group, a division of Penguin Random House, LLC. Copyright © 1995, 2017 by Thomas Armstrong.

Updated on October 12, 2019

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