Modeling appropriate behavior is critical to your child's development. Exhibiting warmth and setting boundaries is often the best way to teach your child.

By the editors of Child magazine, Photo by Ericka McConnell
Sarah Kehoe

The most effective discipline strategy is to set a good example for your child. Though it may actually seem that your child isn't listening half the time, she's soaking up everything you do and say so she'll know how to act when you are not around. Eventually, your youngster will not only imitate your behavior but internalize your voice and standards.

This is why discipline style is so important. Studies show that parents who are authoritarian -- highly controlling but detached and cold -- produce children who are unhappy, withdrawn, and distrustful. It is harmful to keep a child in line with physical or emotional force: hitting, criticizing, humiliating, or threatening. The child may behave for you out of fear, but he is much more likely to misbehave around others who aren't so frightening. Plus, the message he's learning -- that you can get what you want if you bully people -- is the wrong message.

Poor behavior also results when parents are overly permissive. Even if your style is warm and loving, your child will suffer because she won't get sufficient practice in controlling herself. Kids need adults to help them set boundaries on their behavior. When limits are not set, they push harder and harder to elicit them. Research shows that, frequently, children of overly permissive parents tend to have difficulty as adults with self-control and self-reliance.

The best approach is "authoritative" parenting: when you exert firm but rational control tempered with encouragement, warmth, and respect. Parents who manage to rein in their own anger, keep discipline in perspective, and provide firm but fair guidance have the best luck in raising kids who can control their impulses, empathize, solve problems, negotiate solutions, and achieve their goals in a manner that is socially acceptable.

All content here, including advice from doctors and other health professionals, should be considered as opinion only. Always seek the direct advice of your own doctor in connection with any questions or issues you may have regarding your own health or the health of others.



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