Parenting with Discipline: What Type of Parent Are You?

Father and son sitting on a park bench

Father and son sitting on a park bench

As parents, we frequently focus on learning how best to “discipline” our children. Yet I find the greatest challenge in learning how to be, as a parent, disciplined.

Parents must become savvy in the implementation of effective disciplinary strategies that are clear, reasonable, and enforceable, but—more importantly—parents first must test their own discipline as people. Disciplined parenting calls for heightened self-awareness.

Much of the research on parenting styles has studied the ways in which parents are responsive as well as demanding. Responsiveness is about understanding and meeting needs, while demanding-ness is about establishing and enforcing expectations. Skillful parenting in these ways undergirds two fundamental, equally necessary forces in human development: attachment and autonomy.

To the extent we are securely attached, we experience trust and emotional connection which are critical to enhancing our capacity for relating well to others. To the extent we are responsibly autonomous, we are able to self-soothe and engage in independent tasks which are critical to living well in society.

Parenting challenges such as attention-seeking behaviors and power struggles are nearly always expressions of underlying and unresolved needs functioning toward a child’s development. As parents, we must recognize in facing such behavior that we stand at a crossroads—externally control our children’s behavior or positively influence their intrinsic development?

The American theologian Reinhold Niebuhr became famous for a prayer he often repeated in one form or another: “Lord, grant me the courage to change the things that I can, peace to accept what I cannot, and the wisdom to know the difference.” In the context of parenting, at least, change is about control.

We must learn there are limits to the effectiveness of external control in cultivating the development of our children’s character and resiliency, yet we can provide a great amount of powerful influence.

When kids misbehave, wise parents respond in ways that guide the development of the person hidden underneath the monstrous mood and the impulsive behavior. In other words, we can change the way we respond to our children’s behavior in positive ways that demonstrate greater insight, courage, and skill.

We must understand, for instance, that we cannot purely control our children’s disobedient behavior, refusal to do chores, sneakiness, shyness, moodiness, tantrums, demands, overreactions, unresponsiveness to affections or praise, or unwillingness to participate or connect.

What we can control, however, are the ways in which we establish rules and set limits, link privileges to responsibility, allow space and privacy, show interest and inquire into their lives, provide regular choices, use a calm yet firm voice, give our affections and praise, and plan and spend quality time together.

When kids misbehave, wise parents respond in ways that guide the development of the person hidden underneath the monstrous mood and the impulsive behavior. In other words, we can change the way we respond to our children’s behavior in positive ways that demonstrate greater insight, courage, and skill.

The Couch Potato

Some parents are disengaged from their children’s lives and tend to be emotionally detached, practically uninvolved, and negligent in establishing expectations and guidance. I call these parents “couch potatoes.” They are characterized by unresponsiveness to needs, few demands, and little communication.

There are several ways to traumatize with neglect. Provide food and shelter, if that, but little else. Remain emotionally distant. Be selfish and uncaring. Do not enforce any standards of any kind. Uninvolved parenting practically ensures that a child will fear and sabotage close relationships, experience heightened anxiety, and have significant deficiencies in his or her capacity for empathy and even ethical decision-making.

The Dictator

Some parents are highly demanding of their children but not responsive to their emotional needs. I call them “dictatorial” parents. These parents are generally characterized as more rigid, harsh, and demanding and tend to engage in provocative and punitive forms of discipline.

There are several ways we can make children behave—force, fear, and punishment. Dictatorial tactics serve to overpower a child. These methods may result in the restoration of order and compliance, yet far from nurturing unmet developmental needs, they simply make a child angry, resentful, fearful, and dependent upon force.

The Peer

Some parents are highly responsive to their children’s perceived emotional needs but not very demanding. They are overly responsive to a child’s wants and seldom establish or enforce consistent rules or limits. I call them “peer” parents. Others may characterize them as soft or pathetic in their approach to discipline.

There are several ways we can get children off our backs—whine, appease, avoid. Permissive parents are warm and nurturing with their children, yet may fail to engage in effective guidance. By overvaluing friendliness and undervaluing other aspects and principles, parents may inadvertently reward or reinforce immature or deviant behavior.

The Disciplined Parent

Parents who are highly attuned and responsive to their children’s needs and are also highly demanding of them in guiding them toward maturity and independence are, by necessity, disciplined in their parenting. Disciplined parents are firm but not rigid; they are willing to make an exception when the situation warrants.

Disciplined parenting engages in responsive and restorative discipline that focuses on instilling key values and skills, including self-soothing, delaying gratification, constructive communication, fairness, and citizenship. Disciplined parenting serves to empower a child, focusing on responding to developmental needs (the responsive aspect) and teaching how to make things right after they’ve gone wrong (the restorative aspect).

How would you describe your own approach to parenting and discipline?

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  • Erin

    Erin

    May 2nd, 2015 at 5:58 AM

    I would love to find that perfect balance of friend and mom. But I don’t want to lose any part of my parenting because I am too much one or the other. I had a great relationship with my mother growing up because I think that somehow she was always able to strike that perfect balance, knowing what I needed and when.

  • Chase

    Chase

    May 2nd, 2015 at 11:01 AM

    I had dictators as parents growing up
    Believe me when I tell you that it Was Not Fun

  • Salma

    Salma

    May 4th, 2015 at 10:32 AM

    I grew up with very strict parents and so as a result I went the very opposite direction with my own children. Would I rein them in a little? Now if I had to do it all over again I probably would have, but having parents like I did I didn’t want my children to be afraid of me or be afraid to talk to me about anything. I think that we have still had our struggle but I can promise you that their childhood was so much more pleasant than my own and that was my very goal all along. Why bring children into the world when it seems like your sole purpose is to control them instead of trying to love them and understand them?

  • Harold

    Harold

    May 6th, 2015 at 1:32 PM

    I am sorry, but in order to be successful and learn right from wrong, kids need discipline.

  • chadd

    chadd

    May 7th, 2015 at 4:09 PM

    I would someday love to have a relationship with my children that speaks to compromise, give and take, and not about me feeling like I have to run around being a control freak,

  • Talia

    Talia

    May 9th, 2015 at 10:59 AM

    How could you ever be a parent if all you want to do is be a couch potato and sit to the side when someone else does all the work? If I didn’t want to do that kind of work then I am certainly not going to choose to have a child.
    A child needs to have 2 interested and involved parents in his life.

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