Discipline, whether your child is acting up or not, is tough. It means knowing which rules to set, how to enforce them, and what to do when a rule is inevitably broken. When most parents think of discipline, “cruel” and “harsh” often come to mind. It’s pretty obvious why— the screaming, yelling and fighting make it easy to fear.
What most parents don’t know about discipline, though, is that it’s not supposed to be harsh or difficult. We all know the frustration of feeling like you’re constantly shooting from the hip, parenting out of reaction and still not being heard by your kids. But here’s the thing: Discipline is actually an act of LOVE, and effective discipline teaches your child self-control that’s vital for success later in life.
How do I know? I’m a pediatrician, parenting expert, author and mother of four adult children. I’ve worked with thousands of parents to help them become more intentional in their parenting, and the first step of that journey is always the same— figuring out your parenting style. That means knowing why you parent the way you do NOW, so you can parent more effectively in the future.
The Parenting Spectrum
Most discipline strategies are either too harsh or too lax; parents often feel like a complete doormat, or like they never stop yelling. It can be really difficult to find the right balance when disciplining your children, and there’s a good reason for it.
The truth is, no parent is perfect, and we all tend to fall on either end of what’s called the parenting spectrum. The parenting spectrum was created by a developmental psychologist at UC Berkeley named Diana Baumrind in the 1960s, and it still holds true today. Your habits, parenting perspective, relationship with authority and the way you yourself were raised determines where you naturally fall on the spectrum (which is characterized by three common parenting styles).
The Authoritarian Parent
On one end of the spectrum, there’s the authoritarian parent. This is the parent who is strict, intolerant of disobedience, and uses fear and intimidation to discourage bad behavior. You might call them the drill sergeant, because it’s their way or the highway.
If you find yourself firm in your parental authority, consistent with punishments for bad behaviors but sometimes know you are too tough or reprimand excessively, are obeyed by your children immediately but find that they don’t often want to spend “fun” time with you, you’re authoritarian.
The Permissive Parent
On the opposite end is the permissive parent. This is the pushover, the parent who avoids saying “no” because they want to be liked, and often have kids that are out of control. They can’t stand conflict of any kind, so they basically allow their kids to do whatever they want to avoid any pushback.
If you spend a lot of “fun” time with your kids but hate when conflict arises or your kids say they don’t like you, are uncomfortable wielding your authority as a parent, and rarely stick to the punishments you set for bad behavior (and give in because you’re tired of arguing), you’re permissive.
The Authoritative Parent
In the perfect middle of the spectrum (where we all hope to be) is the authoritative parent. This is the parent who has established respect and obedience, but also has a lot of fun with their kids. When you hit middle ground as a disciplinarian, you’re not a tyrant or a pushover.
Sadly, it’s not natural for any one of us to start in the middle (although if you’d like to learn exactly where you stand, you can take this five-minute parenting style quiz). There’s no shame in landing on either end of the spectrum; it’s just the way life is. Our experiences inform our development as parents, so we all develop differently.
But just because we don’t start in the middle doesn’t mean we can’t reach the middle. With the right training, planning and practice, you CAN become an authoritative parent. All it takes is a desire to learn and the willingness to approach discipline in a new way.
Finding Middle Ground
I’ve made it my life’s work to help parents reach middle ground because I’ve seen the way it eliminates chaos and inspires connection in families across the country. And once you know your parenting style, the next step is to understand a fundamental truth about discipline.
Discipline is a KINDNESS to your children, a way to teach them essential character traits and set them up for success.
Knowing this makes the process a lot easier. Discipline isn’t scary or harsh anymore; it’s just another way to help shape your kids into happy, healthy adults. After this, you can begin applying more intention to your parenting and learning how to respond to your kids in a healthy way, instead of just reacting to them. This part takes practice, and a true commitment to becoming a stronger parent for your kids’ sake.
That’s why I created a discipline course called Discipline with Courage and Kindness, completely online and self-paced, that has helped thousands of parents become more effective in their discipline. This course is the product of years of research, and spells out the exact principles and tactics to becoming an authoritative parent. I’ve designed it with the busy parent in mind, so you can become more authoritative in just a few minutes each day!
If you remember just one thing, let it be this— it is never too late to become a better parent. Wanting to become stronger and more intentional for your family is a beautiful thing, and you have the greatest motivation in the world: your children.
To explore my Discipline with Courage and Kindness course and everything it includes (lectures, videos, podcasts, downloads, and more), you can learn more here.