4 Kinds of Parents: Do You Believe in Discipline?

Discipline is the method by which parents teach their children appropriate behavior. Setting boundaries for children and illustrating what is and isn’t acceptable behavior is achieved through various parenting techniques. The parenting techniques chosen by a particular parent generally align well with that parent’s nature and behavioral norms, which can vary widely from parent to parent.

While different parents will use different methods to discipline their children, the goal is probably universal: children who are considerate and respectful of others. Through the adoption of basic norms of behavior, children can grow up to be successful, well-liked and happy adults who function well in society. The parent’s task is to impart these norms of behavior to their children.

Instilling discipline and imparting behavioral norms can be an active or a passive task and is often a combination of the two. An important part of parenting is, for instance, is setting an example. Parents should try to remain conscious of the fact that they are at all times modeling behavior for their children. Not eating sweets before dinner is part of that, as is making the bed each morning. For lenient, more passive parents, modeling behavior is the only form of discipline with which they feel comfortable. These parents feel that modeling behavior is sufficient discipline for their children.

While most parents would agree that modeling standards of behavior for their children is critical, many of them feel that in addition to demonstrating appropriate behavior, parents must act as moderators regarding the behavior of their children. Moderating a child’s behavior may be as simple as reminding a child to use his napkin instead of his sleeve, or it may take the form of a firmly-voiced intervention, “No, no! We don’t hit. We use our words.”

time out, discipline
The time out is a time-honored method for teaching discipline.

No One’s Perfect

Every parent wrestles with how and when to discipline children. Parents may fear to be too lax; while at the other end of the spectrum, parents may worry they are being cruel or abusive. Like Goldilocks and the Three Bears, all parents want to find a way to discipline their children that is “just right.” But no parent is perfect. As parents, we can only do our best.

It can take trial and error to find the best way to discipline a child. And parents with more than one child may discover that what worked with Child A most definitely will not work with Child B.

A parent who is gentle by nature may find it difficult to actively discipline his child while a brash and extroverted parent may have to consciously subdue his tone when teaching his child appropriate behavior.

discipline
You’re Grounded!

Public Meltdowns

How many of us have watched a small child having a breakdown in the supermarket and wondered at the apparent failure of the parents to discipline the child? It would be more charitable and more realistic to acknowledge that discipline is an ongoing effort: one that differs in the form it takes from parent to parent and from child to child. Rather than judge an assumed outcome, we might view a public tantrum as a passing incident, the child as a work in progress. We might be kinder to commiserate and appreciate the difficulties of the parent in instilling discipline, the child in learning the hard lesson of limits.

How many of us have watched a teenager sass his mother? How many of us have vowed it won’t be that way when our own children reach that age? The best advice here is, don’t criticize a parent until you’ve walked a mile in his shoes.

Some of us think of discipline as a synonym for “punishment.” Punishment is definitely a tool that can effectively be used to discipline a child. Think of giving a child a “time out,” a time-tested punishment that is both effective and not excessively harsh.

But punishment is only one aspect of discipline, while reward is another. Parents should always attempt to catch a child in the act of doing something good. When you see positive behavior, be sure to offer praise and a reward. The reward should be suited to the triumph. For instance, the fact that your child says “please” is nice, but doesn’t deserve a front row seat to the newest Disney on Ice show. You’d only be setting up a situation in which the child manipulates the parent into offering outsized rewards for normal behavior. The meaning of the reward, in such a case, would be utterly lost. In many cases, praise for positive behavior is the only reward a child needs.

Parenting experts have described three parenting styles: authoritative, authoritarian, and permissive. Some parenting experts add a fourth parenting style: neglectful. Sometimes the “neglectful” parent is said instead to be “uninvolved.”

Authoritative

The authoritative parent is clear when it comes to his expectations regarding his child’s behavior. He is equally clear when it comes to outlining the consequences should the child fail to behave as expected. At the same time, however, the authoritative parent is flexible and loving and will strive to work together with his child to solve the issues as they arise. The authoritative style of parenting is widely considered to be the most effective parenting style.

Problem solving, praise
Problem solving as a family is more effective than telling your child, “Deal with it!”

Authoritarian

The authoritarian parent is clear regarding expectations and consequences, but he is inflexible, his manner can be stern, and he prefers to dole out punishment rather than allow a child to suffer the natural consequences of his behavior. This is the parent who when asked to supply the reasoning behind an imposed limit, is likely to respond, “Because I said so.” Authoritarian parenting is considered less effective than authoritative parenting.

authoritarian parenting style
“Oh yeah??” An authoritarian parent invites conflict.

Permissive

The permissive parent either doesn’t believe in active discipline or finds it too difficult to carry out. As a result of the parent’s mindset, the child is left to his own devices, to behave as he pleases. When the child misbehaves, the permissive parent says nothing.

Permissive parents may believe it is natural for children to misbehave. Some permissive parents may find it sufficient to model appropriate behavior and believe that as the child ages, he will learn how to behave as a function of aging.

Children raised by permissive parents may struggle in with their studies because they are unused to sticking to schedules and taking responsibility for their behavior and work. They tend to have little respect for authority or for rules and regulations. School can be a confusing and disheartening place for the children of permissive parents.

Like authoritarian parenting, permissive parenting is thought to be inferior to authoritative parenting as a method of discipline.

Neglectful

The neglectful parent may not be willfully abusive, but is abusive all the same. This is the parent whose children are hungry, dirty, and in clothing that is torn or doesn’t fit. The parent simply does not provide for his child’s basic needs, both material and emotional. It may be that the neglectful parent lacks an understanding of what it is a child needs or he may feel overwhelmed by the child’s needs. Such a parent may be incapable of caring for or loving a being other than himself. The outcome for the child of neglectful parents is dim, both in terms of academic and life success. These are the children who tend to exhibit behavioral issues in school.

A Mix?

Most parents can, to an extent, see themselves in all these four parenting styles. Perhaps the key to being a good parent is found in understanding our parental strengths and weaknesses and being on the lookout to improve whenever possible. It’s also important to be true to your natural style of parenting, and consistent, too. Children can sense an act. It makes no sense for an authoritarian parent, for instance, to suddenly turn permissive. Such a turnaround will never ring true to your child and will likely be unsuccessful.

Be Willing

It makes more sense for the authoritarian parent to work on becoming more flexible and for the permissive parent to impose some limits on a child’s behavior. The secret to becoming the best parent you can be is found in being willing to try new techniques and to give them your best shot.  Your child will see your efforts and reward you in kind.

 

 

 

 

 

Predicting Coparenting Ability and Why it Doesn’t Matter One Bit

Predicting coparenting ability shouldn’t be rocket science. And it isn’t. Yet someone found a way to make it so.

Coparenting is the way in which parents relate to each other in their roles as functioning parents. For instance, let’s say you, as the mother of your children, go out to see a movie with a girlfriend. You leave instructions for your family that under no circumstances are the kids to have ANY candy before dinner, which is currently warming in the oven, courtesy of your hard work and devotion.

The minute you walk out the door, your husband winks at the kids and pulls out a giant open bag of candy from behind his back, puts a finger in front of his lips and says, “Shhhhhhhh. Don’t tell Mom.”

Predicting Coparenting Ability and Why it Doesn’t Matter One Bit

Dad’s coparenting behavior pattern is, without a doubt, one of undermining Mom. Not an especially effective coparenting method, right? That should be clear to anyone with half a brain.

Yet somewhere, somebody decided that we need to find a way to TEST people before they become parents so we can see if their behavior as parents is predictable.

Like DUH.

The scientists gave expectant parents dolls to play with. That’s right. Dolls.

So at first the study participants felt kinda stupid, playing with Barbie and Ken or whatever anatomically correct facsimile thereof they were equipped with for this purpose. But soon enough, they got into it, the playing-with-dollies thing. And it seems that, WONDER OF WONDERS, the way they played with the dolls turned out to be exactly the way they would coparent, 9 months postpartum and again at one year on.
Predicting Coparenting Ability and Why it Doesn’t Matter One Bit

They really needed a study for that? Come on. I knew at age 3 that my sister was bossy and that when we played house, she got to be whatever she wanted and told me what to do. She’d still be telling me what to do 5 decades later. And guess what? I didn’t need scientists to tell me that. I observed it on my lonesome. At THREE.

Similarly, when my husband and I were dating, I recall with excruciating clarity a discussion we had while walking to a park to sit and take in the nice fresh air. We were talking about coparenting. But we didn’t call it that in those days. In fact as it turns out, we didn’t even have a name for it. But we knew what it was all the same.

So, there we were, my husband-to-be and I, walking along and I say, “It’s really important that when you say ‘no’ to your kids, you meant it. Otherwise, ‘no’ becomes meaningless and you have no power as a parent and your kids will suffer because no one is in control and it’ll all feel random and kind of insecure for them.”

(Forgive the run-on sentence. I was 18, full of opinions, and of myself, but yeah. That’s probably how I sounded.)
Predicting Coparenting Ability and Why it Doesn’t Matter One Bit

So my husband-to-be—now my husband these past 35 years—says to me, “I don’t agree. Sometimes you need to bend and kids have to see that you can bend and be flexible.”

Let’s say you ground a kid,” he continued, “And then you see he’s contrite. You totally should let him off the hook. Especially if there’s something important he’ll miss as a result of being grounded.”

“Wow,” I said. “I so don’t agree with you there. All you’ll be doing is showing that you can be manipulated so that a no becomes a yes, with a bit of cajoling.”

“And I don’t agree with YOU,” said my then husband-to-be. “Showing children you can be merciful, teaches them to extend MERCY to OTHERS.”

We had reached a standoff. Clearly we were not meant to, um, coparent. Our styles were at variance (to sound all scientific and so forth). One of us, ME, would say no. And the other one would give in. Every. Single. Time.

(Or most of the time, anyway.)

And guess what? Neither of us decided to call off the romance. Nor did we decide we’d get married but never have children.

SPOILER ALERT

In fact, we not only got married, but had 12 children together.

We did that 35 years ago. We didn’t play with dolls together under the watchful eyes of scientists either then or 9 months or even a year after our children were born. And somehow we’re still making it as a couple and as, um, coparents.

Do we have disagreements? Of course we do. But we get past them. Do we have the same disagreements over and over again on a regular basis?

Yup. And we get past that, too.

And you know what? Our bond is stronger than ever and our kids aren’t damaged. That’s the main message I want to share here, and one you wouldn’t get from playing with dolls with quasi scientists looking on.

People aren’t perfect. Not separately and not together. And neither is life. We’re dealt a hand and we, um, DEAL with it.

Nothing more, nothing less.

My point?

We all get upset from time to time with our coparenting partners because of fundamental differences of style. That’s because, as my fave movie scene puts it, “Yes. We are all individuals!”

I just figured I’d put this out there, having seen that study with the dolls written up. Not to mention we’re nearing the end of summer vacation, it’s hot, and parental nerves can get a bit frayed. Be strong and of good cheer.

There will be clashes between you and your parenting partner and that’s bound to be for the simple reason that you are two different people. But you can get past the differences to move on and stay together.

It’s not a reason to split up.

And that’s a good lesson for your children to witness, with or without a side order of science.

Parenting With a Chronically Ill Spouse

You and your spouse have plans, big plans for your retirement, for your children, and for your family. You have expectations. Suddenly, everything changes. Your spouse develops some mysterious symptoms that evolve into full-blown illness. It’s a persistent, chronic illness that leaves him weak and in pain, irritable, and emotionally unavailable. While his doctors play with different medications and suggest different courses of treatment, you are responsible for his palliative care and for keeping him comfortable.

The burden of care is on your shoulders.
The burden of care is on your shoulders.

At first you remain hopeful and vigilant. The doctors WILL come up with a treatment plan, because you WANT it to be so. You’re positive with the kids, despite their concerns that you’re not telling them something. You rally them the way a commander rallies his troops before going into battle. While your spouse sleeps, you bake cookies with them, take them to the park, and snuggle with them extra time. As the days turn to weeks, nothing changes. His mood worsens. You become despondent and wonder how long you can sustain this?

Months into the illness, you lose your cool, and yell at him. It wasn’t his fault. His moaning and kicking kept you awake and you didn’t sleep. In fact, you haven’t really slept in weeks. Then your oldest daughter’s teacher calls. Your daughter hasn’t been turning in assignments. Then your mother calls and wants to talk.

“How could you talk about nonsense when I’m dealing with something important!” you say.

“You don’t need to be sharp with me,” she says. “I’m only trying to help. Perhaps you should find someone to talk to.”

All you want to do is scream, “why can’t everyone do what they’re supposed to do?’

That’s when it hits you. This is your “new normal.” You are co-parenting those children that you both made and you’re doing it alone. And you’re the caregiver for your spouse too.

At this point, you consider options. You could run away. You could ignore the problems. Or, you could accept this new normal and find ways to make life better for you, your spouse, and the kids.

Before you can make lots of changes, you must grieve. In fact, both of you must grieve the loss of life you had hoped for. Perhaps, because of the illness, your spouse had to give up his livelihood. You’ve possibly lost the freedom to come and go. Perhaps you’ve had to take a leave of absence from your job to care for him. Whatever the changes, acknowledge that both of you must work through the loss.

Next, make up a master calendar, one that the entire family can see. No doubt, your spouse will have additional doctors appointments. You will have more responsibilities relating to his care. Have your children add their afterschool activities and social activities to the calendar. Involving your children in the calendar will empower and involve them.

Communicate any challenges you’re having, either with his illness or with family problems. You are still a partnership and while you’re the caregiver and he the patient, treating your marriage like a partnership will help maintain an emotional intimacy. Also, don’t be afraid to express challenges to other family members. You don’t have to be a superhero in the caregiving business. You’re human. You have emotions. And, you have limitations too. A dear friend and former army wife gave me sage advice during my husband’s first year-long deployment. Make a list of 100 friends and acquaintances who’ve offered “let me know if I can do anything.” Hold them to it. When you have a hard night, if you need a cup of coffee, or someone to vent to, move down the list. It’s good to know you have people to talk to, you don’t have to over-burden best friends, and you show those on the list that you value them.

By adapting to a new normal, you can become an effective parent for your children.
By adapting to a new normal, you can become an effective parent for your children.

If you can, ask friends to solicit help from your community either in the form of car-pool or meals. In 2007, I had knee surgery and couldn’t get off the couch. We had seven children at home, some of whom had jobs and needed rides. While I’m not great at asking for help, I did follow this advice. I called anyone I knew, told them the situation, and asked for a helping hand. While not everyone could offer rides, some did. Others paid me visits or called to send wishes. A few ran errands or did my shopping. CareCalendar.org is a great organizational tool that helps members of a community to organize meals and other services to people in need.

Take care of your own health. According to Linda Carroll of Today.com, it’s not uncommon for the spouse/caregiver of an ill spouse to die suddenly. Caregivers tend to neglect their own health and place the needs of the ill spouse first. You can’t be an effective parent for your children if you die suddenly. That also means taking care of your emotional health. Don’t forget about friendships. Carve out time for yourself, talk on the phone, socialize, and maintain hobbies.

Let your kids be kids. They should know when you’re having a hard day; but they don’t need to know the intricacies of the struggles you face (unless they’re adults and are emotionally capable of participating in the care).  Despite the illness, you should communicate firm boundaries, what you and your spouse expect of them, and take an authoritative parenting approach. According to Psychology Today, an authoritative parent is firm but warm. An authoritative parent knows how to parent from a distance and knows when to step in and let go.

One important note. It’s scary for a child when a parent is ill and while some kids are naturally empathetic, some children might be afraid to go near the ill parent. While your spouse cannot be the same person, it’s important for both your children and your spouse to embrace the time together. If your child seems reticent, have an open and honest conversation with him and guide him back.

Finally, despite the change in roles, treat your marriage like a marriage. Schedule time for a date, even if it’s a movie in the living room. You and your spouse need to fortify hard times with moments of intimacy.

 

 

Does a Child Really Need a Father?

As anthropologist Margaret Mead famously said, “A father is a biological necessity, but a social accident.” Does a child really need a father or is the father merely an accessory before the fact? Handy for the genetic material he provides, but completely irrelevant in a child’s life? What can a father give a child that a mother cannot?

Once upon a time, the father’s role, at least in the Western world, was clear-cut. He was the breadwinner. He gave manly advice, pitched baseballs, and dispensed punishment at mom’s behest. But things were different in those Leave it to Beaver days of yesteryear.

Fathers Do Childcare, Moms Work

Today, the idea that gender influences who will earn and who will manage childcare is less clear. There is no reason that fathers can’t change a diaper, cook a meal, or do a load of laundry. There is no reason that mothers can’t work fulltime.

So other than the obvious biological contribution of a father to a child, do dads bring something to the table that is unique, compared to moms? Or is he just kind of there or perhaps in the way, after he does his initial part?

Note that these are rhetorical questions. They’re rhetorical because all you have to do is watch a dad with his kids and you can see there’s a different dynamic in play. It’s something you’ve always known without having put much thought into the subject.

Unless you’re a researcher with an interest in parenting styles, that is.

Have I piqued your interest yet? Okay. I’ll stop being coy and I’ll out with it: researchers have found more similarities than differences between moms and dads when it comes to parenting. At the same time, the differences that are apparent are important. Children that have a combination of both types of parenting, i.e. are raised in a two-parent home in which there is both a father and a mother, have an edge over those children who do not. It is the combination of both styles of parenting—mothering and fathering—that offers children the richest parenting experience.

Let’s take a look at four parenting patterns that have been identified as displaying the distinct differences between mothers and fathers:

1) Type of Interactionshutterstock_150591431

The Difference: Moms do more care-giving. They dress children, wipe their noses, feed them, and make sure they do their homework. Dads engage in more playful activities. In particular, dads throw kids up in the air, roll on the floor, and play sports with their kids.

Dad’s Added Benefit: The father’s more physical interaction with his children can add to a greater sense of self (proprioception) which can in turn contribute to spatial awareness, physical grace and fitness. Physical interaction and activity also generate endorphins, the feel-good brain chemical. In other words, spending time with their fathers makes children happy.

2) Verbal Interactionshutterstock_140979544

The Difference: Moms talk more and repeat themselves. They ask a lot of questions and they explain things to their children. Dads talk less and do more with their kids. When they speak to children, it’s more about giving directions and making demands. Mothers work at anticipating needs, but with fathers a child may have to work harder at getting across wants and needs.

Dad’s Added Benefit: Fathers expect more from their kids and this may contribute toward readying children for the outside world, such as at school and in the workplace, where they may be challenged to find a more effective manner of presenting and articulating themselves.

3. Tolerance and Patienceshutterstock_167007815

The Difference: Fathers are impatient when it comes to children whining or crying for help with tasks they well know how to perform. This is particularly true in the case of sons.

Dad’s Added Benefit: As long as the impatience isn’t expressed in an abusive or demeaning way, the father’s lack of patience with dependent behavior may lead to greater independence and ready a child for separating from his parents.

4. General Behavior

The Difference: Fathers tend to behave in an unpredictable manner. Children tend to know what their mothers will say and do. With fathers, the sky’s the limit. A mom, for instance, will always pick up her child the same way. A dad, on the other hand, may pick up a toddler by his feet or by the side of his shirt.

Dad’s Added Benefit:  Kids express their excitement at a dad’s approach from a young age. Dad surprises them and that’s fun. They also know to be prepared for anything when it comes to dad. Once again, this is good practice for the outside world, where the unpredictable is the norm.

By now, there is a wealth of information relating to the benefits of a father’s contribution to his child’s life. Children with fathers do better in social situations, have an improved self-image, and do better in school. That’s just the tip of the iceberg as more advantages to having a father are revealed each day. Children with both fathers and mothers have a wider interactive experience and learn that there is more than one way to handle every situation. That means that children with fathers and mothers are more willing to hear about alternative solutions, are more flexible. They have larger skill-sets, too.

In other words, just maybe, Margaret Mead was wrong. Fathers are no social accident but are instead, an excellent addition to a child’s life, bringing vibrant physicality, unpredictability, greater independence, and exciting challenges to the formative years of children.

Vive la difference!

Parenting Styles: Know Thyself

A parent should have a firm grasp of his own parenting style. He should know how he wants to parent. Because more than anything, kids respond to self-confident parenting. What exactly does that mean?

It means that as long as a parent remains true to his own vision of parenting, the kids will come out fine. Think of the old adage, “Know thyself.” The ancient Greek aphorism could well be applied to parents in search of a signature style.parenting styles

Years ago, I read an intriguing article about parenting styles. A research trial was cited in which half the parents were strict and half were lenient. The kids came out about the same no matter which style the parents had adopted as their own. In other words, strict or lenient, it made no difference. Both are fine ways of parenting, as long as parents remain consistent.

Never Really Sure

Problems began, however, when parents tried out different parenting methods because they felt unsure of themselves. Rather than sticking to one parenting style or another, they bent to advice from one parent or parenting expert or another, never really sure they were doing the right thing. The result of this sort of inconsistent parenting parenting syles1led to children with all sorts of issues: issues with school work, delinquency, drug abuse, and mental health issues.

The moral of the story? A consistent parenting style leads to emotionally healthy, emotionally stable children.

It makes sense if you think about it. If the parents are insecure about their parenting skills, their children are bound to pick up on that and feel, well, insecure. Insecurity causes anxiety, confusion, poor self-esteem, and in general a negative outlook. Kids want predictability. They don’t want to have to guess when dinner will be on the table or whether they can stay up only until 10:30 or as long as they want.

Parenting Styles Consistency

Which takes us back to “Know thyself.” Knowing yourself is the key to being a consistent parent. If flexibility is your style, be that kind of parent. Be open to discussion about bedtime. Feel free to allow kids some freedom in terms of their behavior at table if you’re that kind of parent.

If bad manners at table, on the other hand, really bug you, don’t let chewing with an open mouth go unremarked because you’re trying to be a different kind of parent than you really are. If you leave it be you run the risk of giving your child a confusing double message. It’s okay, on the other hand, to realize that your child needs a softer touch on occasion. As long as you’re not trying to be someone you’re not.

Personality Test

I thought of this today when a friend posted a personality test online, the 16 personalities test. This test is based on the premise that there are 16 personalities comprised of various combinations of the following characteristics:

  • Extraverted (E)
  • Introverted (I)
  • Intuitive (N)
  • Sensing (S)
  • Thinking (T)
  • Feeling (F)
  • Judging (J)
  • Prospecting (P)

Online tests are often a silly waste of time. But this one proved surprisingly accurate, perhaps because instead of the usual ten or fifteen questions, this test asks 60 questions and takes some 15 minutes to complete. I came out as an IFSJ personality or introverted, feeling, sensing, and judging.

I was impressed with my results. Taking the test and reading the interpretation of my results gave me insight into my personality as a parent and in general. Take the test here and tell us what you learned about yourself. Did the results accurately reflect your personality?

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