When Discipline Styles Differ

A general parenting principle on which most experts agree is that children need strong boundaries, otherwise known as rules for behavior. Where it gets trickier is choosing which boundaries to set and determining the consequences for crossing those boundaries. Another unanimously accepted parenting principle is that children need plenty of attention and support while growing up.

However, when parents give too much attention to their children to the detriment of their own relationship, the children often become manipulative, and that can lead to disobedience. Such children often grow up hungry for love, and turn into young adults who look for that love in all the wrong places.

One of the hardest parts of being a parent is finding agreement with your partner about how to guide your children and when to discipline. A complicating factor in coming to terms with a conflict in parenting styles is that norms for child discipline tend to change across different times and cultures. Parents in the 1950s used a strict disciplining style only to create the rebellious baby boom generation of the sixties and seventies; many of whom then became the decidedly permissive parents of today's so-called boom-let generation.

Achieving agreement with your partner about the discipline styles you intend to use (or change to) with your children is a critical step to take that avoids or remedies such problems. Before you can agree on how you'll discipline, you must understand the types of discipline. There are three general styles of parenting:

  1. Authoritarian parents, reflecting a more “top down” model, expect to set forth rules that are not challenged, only obeyed. Children make few, if any, of their own choices. Punitive measures are taken if rules are disobeyed.

  2. Permissive parents tend to go to the opposite extreme and provide very little structure or boundary-setting for their children. Children are then given the power to make their own choices, often with the belief that such permission will encourage a child's creativity.

  3. Authoritative parents fall somewhere in the middle of these two poles; they set rules and enforce them but remain flexible and open to input from their children.

For many modern families, the authoritative model of parenting tends to create the most workable environment. Rather than a “you will do this” message from parent to child, in this model, a child is given autonomy and encouragement to learn self-discipline. At the same time, parents in the authoritative model have the ability to set limits and ground rules for the ways children will behave in the household.

The purpose of good parenting is to take a child from total dependency to independence. This process usually takes 18 years. As a child matures, the parent needs to gradually transfer autonomy to the child, a process that many parents don't fully understand or find difficult.

The hard part comes when child becomes an adolescent and begins to make mistakes. That's when it's critically important for him to learn the consequences of his actions and to feel any self-imposed pain, rather than remove the consequences of his mistakes. It's also critically important to be united with your spouse in this process, to speak with one voice.

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