You always swore you'd discipline differently than your pushover mother or relentlessly rigid father. So why do you feel as if you're channeling your parents every time your child pushes your buttons? Breaking old patterns takes conscious effort, but it's worth trying, especially if yelling, spanking, or turning a blind eye is your default response to misbehavior. Begin by asking yourself:
* Am I disciplining in a way that helps my child's self-esteem?
Yelling and put-downs demoralize a child. "It's important to speak, even to babies, in a respectful tone, using respectful words," stresses Philadelphia psychologist and family therapist Jeffrey Bernstein, PhD. You want to discourage your child's bad choices, not your child herself.
* Is my discipline style helping my child to develop self-control?
Here's where both overly permissive and harshly authoritarian styles falter. If you never say no to your child, you never teach him to say no to himself, warns psychologist David Walsh, PhD. "Permissive parenting doesn't teach self-discipline, yet self-discipline is twice as strong a predictor of success in school as intelligence," he says. "When we don't say no to our kids, we are really handicapping them for later in life."
But, ironically, overly authoritarian parenting also keeps children from learning how to function within limits. Kids who are given no control never learn self-control; kids who are tightly micromanaged never learn how to make their own decisions. "The authoritarian style hinders kids from being able to exercise some of these self-management muscles," observes Walsh.
So how do you strike the right balance? By setting clearly defined rules and expectations for your children -- and having the self-discipline to consistently enforce them with reasonable consequences intended to teach, not punish.
Copyright © 2007. Used with permission from the November 2007 issue of American Baby magazine.
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