Updated: Aug 24, 2020
One of the most demanding jobs facing any parent is the task of raising a child and helping that child learn good behaviors that will sustain his or her character development into adulthood. Yet, parents get into this job with no formal training and in our present cosmopolitan world with families dispersed all over the place, mentors (parents, grandparents, uncle, aunts, etc.) that were available to young parents in the past are now a scarce commodity. A lot of parents therefore just imitate what they experienced growing up, while some others just make it up as they go.
The Bible tells us that, a well-behaved child is an honor to his/her parents. Therefore, learning how to effectively discipline your child is an important skill that all parents need to learn. In talking about discipline, the reference is not about punishment. Discipline has to do with character formation. It is a teaching process that instills an understanding of the law of cause and effect, that actions have consequences, and helps children develop the life skills necessary for survival and success in life. When discipline is meted out punitively, it fails miserably. It might make children stop their behavior in the short term, but children need to learn how to make positive choices for a lifetime.
Learning how to discipline children is not an easy task because there are many factors that combine to make discipline effective or ineffective. Let us consider some of these factors.
Discipline tends to work better when parents speak honestly with their children about the realities of life. Those realities include the following truths:
There are consequences to every action, and those consequences are either positive or negative;
We make choices every minute about what we are going to do and see and we are individually responsible for our choices, and
Societies are organized by enforceable rules and so also is the home.
How you behave when disciplining your child will help to determine how your child is going to behave or misbehave in the future. If you give in to something that you have already determined is not good for your child after your child repeatedly argues, becomes violent or has a temper tantrum, then the child will learn to repeat this behavior believing from experience that you may eventually give in (even if it is only once in a while that you have done this). If you are consistent and firm then the child will learn that it doesn’t pay to fight you on your decision or what he or she is eventually going to have to do anyway. Children have a strange way of thinking even to the point of feeling a sense of victory if they can succeed in putting off doing something that they didn’t want to do for even a few minutes. Therefore, consistency in your method of discipline is the key. Your child will test the limits, they will go as far as they can without getting into real trouble and if you are inconsistent in what these limits are, then you will be encouraging more misbehavior.
There are three predominant styles of parenting that have been identified – authoritarian, permissive, and authoritative – and while there may not be any one right way to discipline and raise your kids, these styles tend to produce different outcomes.
Authoritarian Parenting Style
Authoritarian parents are militant in style. They are overly strict and bossy, believing in ‘absolute obedience to authority’. This style of parenting tends to create children who are afraid of their parents and fearful of new challenges and experiences. They are likely to misbehave when away from their parents; revolt when they are no longer under parental guidance; experiment with things they believe they have been deprived of; have difficulty confiding in their parents about problem situations for fear of punishment; may develop parental love that is dominated by fear; and may become bullies themselves over those they can lord it over. They are also prone to lying for fear of punishment and learn hide and seek behaviors as a way of coping with the hostile environment in which they are being raised.
Permissive Parenting Style
Parents who are permissive tend to be overly lenient and have difficulty setting any limits for their children. They tend to satisfy their children with whatever they want and whatever they need and rarely allow their children to experience suffering and delayed gratification. These parents are afraid to discipline their children because they confuse discipline with lack of love. In their attempt to unlimitedly love their children, they deprive them of the most important thing in life – character formation. This kind of parenting style produces children who are spoiled and disrespectful and unable to make their own choices in life. They want things to be done and given unto them and see things more as rights than privileges. These parents are more likely to run into trouble with their children’s future behavior as these children may always believe that mum and dad will get them out of trouble. They are more likely to experiment with high-risk behaviors since they can afford the means to experiment with them. They may have difficulty holding down a job or even become self-reliant. Dependence on parental means tends to dominate their lives.
Authoritative Parenting Style
The authoritative style of parenting is characterized by appropriate rules, boundaries, and limit settings. These parents explain the need for rules and limits in the formation of character and why specific sets of rules and boundaries should be in place. They consult with their children in certain decision matters and take their children’s opinion into account. They communicate regularly with their children and encourage them to be independent. They know when to be firm and tend to be consistent in their discipline styles. These parents are not afraid to discipline their children because they know that true love for a child involves discipline. Children from authoritative parents tend to be more open to their parents and share more personal information with them. They are more likely to embrace new challenges and experiences in life; tend to be more self-regulated with or without parental oversight, and much more self-confident in their ability to make personal decisions. They are not afraid to question things they do not understand and are much more likely to resist peer pressure to engage in high-risk behaviors. This type of parenting is more likely to be successful in the long run.
In a nutshell, therefore, authoritarian parents are overly controlling, permissive parents have little control over their children and authoritative parents have just the right amount of control. If you love a child to the point that you can’t give him or her freedom, then you may need to rethink that love. If you don’t love a child to the point that you can discipline him or her, then you may need to rethink that love too. There is something called, “tough love” – the love that allows you to discipline your child for the benefit of his or her own growth and maturity in life.
Important Reminders about Discipline:
The old adage stands true: If you fail to plan then you plan to fail. Every family needs a discipline plan. A plan eliminates all the conditions that typically cause disciplining to fail. It puts in writing what is expected and the positive and negative consequences that may result.
It is important to remember that children learn best from what actually happens, not from what is said to them. Children will always test limits to find out if what you said will happen if they behave well or misbehave will actually happen. They will whine and argue or even refuse to do what they are told to find out how you react. If these negative behaviors are rewarded to any measure, they will use the negative behaviors again.
Also, children learn by copying what they see others do. Be sure to pay more attention to the child who is behaving well than the child who is misbehaving. Children like attention and if the only way they can get it is by misbehaving; if the only time you pay attention to them is when they are misbehaving, they will learn to get your attention (even if that attention is punishment) through misbehavior. It is important to pay attention to children when they are doing the right things and to let them know that you are pleased with such behavior. Compliments are very powerful in getting children and even adults do better at what they are being complimented about. In the same token, avoid too much praise. You don’t need to be continuously praising your child, especially for routine activities, because it will make your comments less effective. Also, make sure to understand the difference between reward for good behavior and bribes. A reward is something your child receives after he has done something as a way of encouraging the child to continue such behavior and internalize it, while a bribe is given beforehand, to try and motivate your child to do what you want. Avoid bribe completely.
It is important that you avoid bringing your child to shame because of misbehavior, for you could damage your child’s self-esteem by such aggression and most likely the child will not improve his or her behavior by such embarrassment. Therefore, stay calm and do not get carried away when your child misbehaves. If necessary, take a break until you regain your composure.
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