Parenting Styles and Discipline

Each child is different, but all children occasionally do things that are harmful or destructive, requiring correction or punishment. How do parents handle these situations? Diana Baumrind (1971) did classic research on parenting styles. She found three distinct strategies of discipline.

What three parenting styles did Baumrind identify?

1. Authoritarian parents demand unquestioning obedience. They do not feel explanations to children are required. Often they believe harsh punishment is the cure for misbehavior. Parents make all the decisions; children have little input in decision-making by the family. Parents are typically not very affectionate. They seldom praise their youngsters.

2. Permissive parents allow children to do almost anything. Punishment is rare or inconsistent. Children are given much the same decision-making power as adults, but little of the responsibility; the children simply do what they want to do.

3. Authoritative parents are knowledgeable, reasonable, rational, and consistent. They are willing to explain the reason for rules to children, and they are attentive to children's opinions and needs. They give children a sense of being loved, but they also convey to children a clear idea of what is expected of them.

How did these parenting styles correlate with behaviors of children in school?

Baumrind found that these parenting styles were correlated with differences in the school performance and personalities of their children. Authoritarian parents had fearful and avoidant children who did not seem very happy. Permissive parents had children who tended to be undisciplined, immature, and also not very happy. Authoritative parents had children who were more likely to be friendly, cooperative, and self-reliant.

What factor might offset negative effects of the authoritarian approach?

Becker (1964) found that the amount of love expressed by parents toward children could apparently offset some of the bad effects of authoritarian parenting. Parents who were strict disciplinarians sometimes had happy and well-adjusted children, if they expressed lots of love for the children.

How should a parent handle discipline, to avoid harming the child while still maintaining order? Parke (1977) suggested that effective parental punishment had five characteristics:

What were Parke's recommendations regarding parental discipline?

—It is prompt. (Delayed punishment may be perceived as cruel.)

—It is moderate. (Punishment should not be too severe or too weak.)

—It should come from a parent who has good relations with the child.

—Explanations should accompany the punishment. (Explanations must be geared to the child's age level, so the child clearly understands the reason for punishment.)

—Punishment of forbidden behaviors should be reasonable and consistent, not erratic or impulsive.

Traditionally, in European cultures, fathers took responsibility for punishment, while mothers gave unconditional love. Fathers were often regarded as remote and terrifying. Eibl-Eibesfeldt (1989) points out that this pattern is not found in all cultures. In many fierce native cultures, for example, one can observe tender moments between fathers and very young children.

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Copyright © 2007 Russ Dewey