How Parenting Style Makes a Difference

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My book The Optimal Life Experience ascertains what it means to live the best possible life. It also derives the path to achieving such a life. It draws upon concepts from psychology, philosophy, and economics to fully understand how human beings function, and how well-being can be maximized. The purpose of writing that book was to understand how parents can help their children take the path to maximized well-being.

The Well-Being Cycle

The path to maximized well-being is a cyclical series of four steps. See Figure 1. Continually traversing this well-being cycle is how people can create their best lives.

 Figure 1. The Well-Being Cycle

Figure 1. The Well-Being Cycle

Starting at the top of the well-being cycle, the first term is matter and impact. This term represents self-beliefs. When we have confidence in our ability to grow relationships, we believe ourselves to matter. When we have confidence in our ability to grow capabilities, we believe ourselves to be able to make an impact.

Emotional intelligence is the second term of the cycle. People having matter and impact beliefs develop emotional intelligence skills to fulfill those beliefs. Emotional intelligence includes abilities and traits such as impulse control, delayed gratification, empathy, and self-recognition. When those abilities and traits are used in the right amounts, at the right times, with the right people, and for the right reasons, they result in virtuous behaviors.

Virtuous behavior is the third term of the cycle. Virtuous behaviors are what we use to manage lower personal desires, such as those for hunger, comfort, or security, in service of the higher needs for relationship and capability growth. Vicious behaviors that are selfish, lazy, or manipulative simply do not promote growth of relationships and capabilities. Behaviors that are generally recognized as virtuous are required.

Relationships and capabilities are the fourth terms of the cycle. Real growth of relationships and capabilities reinforces the beliefs that we matter and can make an impact. The path to well-being is a virtuous cycle.

The Well-Being Buildup

By repeating the cycle many times, the outcomes become additive. Through many rotations, a person does not simply display emotional intelligence, that person has emotional intelligence. By using that emotional intelligence over many more rotations to perform virtuous behaviors, a person becomes attached to those behaviors and they become the person’s character. The germinating relationships and capabilities that result from virtuous behaviors, over countless cycles, grow into senses of relatedness and competence. The beliefs that one matters and can make an impact within the context of a single event, over the course of many events, evolve into beliefs on a broader scale; they evolve into a high level of self-esteem.

Well-being is the cycle’s momentum. Each revolution both contributes to a person’s well-being and reinforces the well-being already accrued. Years of virtuous cycle growth results in a healthy, self-sustaining level of well-being.

Each trip around the cycle, no matter how insignificant it may seem, contributes to one’s well-being. Each success and failure, as long as it results in a realistic assessment that feeds into the next attempt, is progress. It is progress because it is experience. When accumulated in a sufficient amount, that experience is the material through which one can thread together a story that explains one's life, and weave a picture of what that life means.

Through experience, preferences are discovered, strengths are built, beliefs are formed, and values are established. Revolution after revolution around the cycle, a person’s identity gradually emerges. A person learns what he or she truly cares about, reflects upon mistakes, and can articulate what he or she would regret not doing in her life. It is all part of the process through which one can compose a life purpose that is beyond oneself, a purpose that can keep one's endeavors in alignment, a purpose that can guide one to maximized well-being.

There is no magic, no shortcuts, and no quick fixes. Well-being is the cumulative result of a history of deliberate, hard-won, productive exertions. Small advances, made consistently and often, result in big things.

The Parent’s Influence

Parents have great influence over a child’s ability to traverse the well-being cycle. In fact, we have certain “access points” where we can help transfer momentum and keep our children progressing along the cycle.

The virtuous behavior term is one of those access points. Up until now, the posts on this website focused mainly on how a parent can influence a child’s adoption of virtuous behaviors. But parents have another access point on a child’s well-being cycle.

Truly effective parents help a child cultivate beliefs that he or she matters and can make an impact. The way a parent interacts with a child gives the child a sense of "mattering". The expectations extended to a child cultivates the sense of being able to make an impact. These matter and impact “signals” are reflected in common models of parenting styles.

In the series of posts over the next six weeks, we will look at three different models of parenting styles.

  • Baumrind parenting styles
  • Self-determination theory parenting styles
  • Gottman parenting styles

We will explore how these different parenting styles send signals of matter and impact to a child, and how those signals translate into adolescent and adult outcomes. We will begin next week with the Baumrind model.

How to Properly Cite this Article: Brian Vondruska, “How Parenting Style Makes a Difference”, The Kind of Parent You Are, accessed [date],