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.”
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.
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.”
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.