Written by: Cally Worden
Disciplining kids is never easy, and as parents we spend most of the time flying by the seat of our pants, winging it, making it up as we go along. The way we respond to our little ones when they are acting out is dependent on how we ourselves were brought up, how we are feeling on any given day, and the nature and relative seriousness of the behaviour we are being confronted with. With so much advice around, seeking guidance can be a minefield in itself. It seems to me that parenting discipline falls into 3 broad styles, each of which deliver a different message to our kids.
Parents adopting this approach take the view that kids need to be controlled if they are to behave. The way they achieve this is to be very prescriptive in directing their children, often giving orders that they expect to be obeyed. They favour the system of punishments and rewards to keep their kids in check. There are many variations on this theme, from yelling to time out, and rewards that extend from a simple hug to a treat.
Pros and Cons
This approach has its merits in that it often works. And at the soft end of this spectrum a consistent and firm approach would seem to have the desired effect without causing undue upset to parent or child. At the harsher end of the line, yelling at kids simply makes them afraid, and their compliance is borne of fear, not a desire to please for its own sake. Critics of this type of approach in general, believe that it prevents children from gaining a sense of satisfaction from doing the right thing because THEY choose to. Critics also suggest that kids who suffer from strict discipline can grow to become resentful and defiant later.
Overly Permissive Parenting
This style of discipline is where parents regularly give in to their kids, and fail to establish consistent boundaries and guidelines within which their children can operate. Eager to please, permissive parents capitulate to their children’s wishes, putting their own needs aside.
Pros and Cons
We all want to do the best for our kids, and some days it can feel like ‘No’ is the only word in your vocabulary. Making children temporarily happy is pretty easy – give them what they want and you avoid tears and tantrums. I challenge you to find any parent who hasn’t employed this technique at some point! Yet kids thrive on routine and consistency. A regular ‘no-limits’ approach can be scary for a young child, and lead to unsavoury behaviours that are driven by a need for structure. When parents always give in, they are not preparing their children for the real world. Kids used to getting their own way will struggle to fit-in with their peers, and may ultimately lose respect for their parents.
Positive or Democratic Discipline
This middle-ground approach is of course the one we all strive for. It’s a utopian style of parenting that establishes respectful relationships between parents and children. It’s the approach that teaches kids their value as human beings. Parents adopting this approach are able to establish and maintain boundaries and limits for their children, while simultaneously teaching them freedom and responsibility. This is achieved via a combination of offering choices, holding firm on appropriate consequences, and helping children to learn from their mistakes.
Pros and Cons
This is wonderful in theory. Calm, respectful parents show their kids the way and the little lambs follow and behave precisely as desired. It does happen this way sometimes, and those days are great. But when faced with a screaming toddler or stroppy preschooler or tweenie, it’s often impossible not to lose it and resort to an authoritarian approach, or simply just to give up in that moment and give the kid the flippin ice cream because, well, today has been stressful enough already. Positive discipline is great when you’re in a good place yourself.
Everyone has a view on the ‘best’ way to parent and discipline kids – personally I just try to do my best every day, and don’t beat up on myself too much if I feel like I’ve got it wrong from time to time. We’re all only human. This model of Strict vs Permissive with Perfection in between is nothing new. I think most parents are aware of much of the theory around this. Putting it into practice is another matter. I found that researching this helped simply as a reminder of the ways in which I respond to my kids. Like a little red flag in my brain. Next time I’m about to lose it, the little flag may appear just in time to stop me over-reacting. Or maybe it won’t. But at least I’ll be aware of it!