Getting the Balance Right

A Tricky Balance

Mother and daughter talking

Challenging kids’ growth is important, but it can be tricky. Challenging growth calls for a balance of several things. Getting this balance right—and adjusting when needed—is key for parents.

Not Too Hard or Too Soft

Challenging growth works best when a parent’s approach is caring and supportive. It helps to do a gradual shifting of power and responsibility to the child. This helps the child become more self-directed and motivated.3,4

  • If a parent’s challenges are overly demanding, harsh, or rigid, they will back fire. This style of challenge hurts kids and pushes them away. It can lead to high stress and negative perfectionism.7
  • If a parent’s challenges are too easy with no accountability, they also fail. This style of challenge hurts kids’ motivation and can lead to apathy. Kids may feel that parents don’t care enough to expect much of them.

Challenging growth works best when parents express care and provide support to the child.

Many researchers have described this dynamic as “authoritative parenting,” one of four basic parenting styles.3,6 Authoritative parenting leads to the best outcomes for kids from many different backgrounds.3 It combines a high level of challenge with a high level of care and support.

Not Too Harsh

Some styles of challenge are not healthy. In fact, some practices can cause a child to misbehave, feel anxious or depressed, or have other problems. These unhealthy approaches include:

  • Psychological control, which dismisses children’s experiences, emotions, and sense of themselves.2
  • Inconsistent or harsh discipline.1,3,5

Next Steps

  • Take the quiz to explore the ways you challenge your kids to grow.
  • Learn about how challenging young people to grow works.

Research Sources

1. Alegre, A. (2011). Parenting styles and children’s emotional intelligence: What do we know? The Family Journal, 19(1), 56-62. doi:10.1177/1066480710387486

2. Barber, B. K. (1996). Parental psychological control: Revisiting a neglected construct. Child Development, 67(6), 3296-3319. doi:10.1111/j.1467-8624.1996.tb01915.x

3. Baumrind, D. (1996). The discipline controversy revisited. Family Relations, 45(4), 405–414. Retrieved from

4. Dailey, R. M. (2008). Parental challenge: Developing and validating a measure of how parents challenge their adolescents. Journal of Social and Personal Relationships, 25(4), 643–669. doi:10.1177/0265407508093784

5. Morris, A. S., Silk, J. J. S., Steinberg, L., Myers, S. S., & Robinson, L. R. (2007). The role of the family context in the development of emotion regulation. Social Development, 16(2), 361–388. doi:10.1111/j.1467-9507.2007.00389.x

6. Steinberg, L. (2001). We know some things: Parent-adolescent relationships in retrospect and prospect. Journal of Research on Adolescence, 11, 1–19.

7. Stoeber, J., & Rambow, A. (2007). Perfectionism in adolescent school students: Relations with motivation, achievement, and well-being. Personality and Individual Differences, 42, 1379–1389. Retrieved from