Whether you're a lifelong rule-follower or more loosey goosey about the finer points probably says a lot about how you parent your children. But how do you know your own discipline style? Experts say that identifying and understanding the way you operate as a parent might help prevent potential head-butting with your partner and your children as the need to correct your child's behavior arises.
The only way to truly understand your discipline style is to evaluate how you react when in a situation with your child. That's because discipline is a reactionary event, not necessarily a predictive approach, even if how you react is already coded within your personality. Licensed clinical therapist Joseph Tropper, MS, LCPC, CCTP, tells Romper that understanding how you discipline is an important key to unlocking how you can best navigate the murky waters of parenting, because "oftentimes we are left to our own devices to figure out what works best for our child."
"Always be open to learning and changing your attitude and beliefs about best practice parenting," he says. Evaluating yourself is the first step.
But what are the basic styles of discipline? Are they universal? It turns out that much like anything involving parenting, that there are some pretty established categories. Dr. Jessica Myszak, a child psychologist and director of The Help and Healing Center, tells Romper that there are a few main styles of discipline and most parents will fall somewhere within their boundaries: "authoritative, authoritarian, permissive, and neglectful." Other therapists might not use these exact words, but the sentiments are similar.
"Authoritative parents are parents who have high expectations for their children, but are also highly responsive to their needs," Myszak says. "They enforce rules but also help their children as they need it." This is the parenting style I most align with. I say that "I have a firm hand but give warm hugs." Yes, my kids have limits and I have high expectations, but I try to provide all the tools necessary and positive reinforcement to help them achieve their goals. Do I absolutely lose my crap sometimes? Of course. I also have been known to let things slide. But overall, this suits me.
Authoritarian parents take this a step further, notes Myszak. She says that they "are parents who have high expectations for their children, with less support. They often view that children should do what they are told, or they will be disciplined." This is more in-line with how I was raised. As the grandchild of immigrants, I feel like much of this style is cultural. It's a sink-or-swim style of disciplining, and whether I liked it or not, I definitely learned how to swim. (Even if I had to learn to develop my own strokes.)
As for permissive parents, they're just what you'd expect. Myszak says that these "parents often treat their child as a friend rather than acting like an authority figure. They are loving and caring, but don’t enforce rules and may either ignore or give in to their child when they act out." I know for a fact that at some point in every parent's life, they are the permissive parent. Maybe you're just over the day, or maybe you're not feeling great and you give in. The only problem is if it becomes a habit, and if you're letting your child routinely run roughshod over your limits.
Most of us aren't neglectful parents, which Myszak defines as parents "who are generally uninvolved with their child’s life. They do not enforce rules or structure, and are not present to provide support and loving guidance." I'm not talking about a parent with ADHD who forgets a test, or permission slip to the zoo. (Hello, me.) This is a parent who just cannot be bothered.
But no parent fits neatly into any of these categories. Yes, you might feel like you are more one than the other, but they're not monoliths of discipline. They are, like anything else, a shifting set of markers that help us find our way, and clinical psychologist Dr. Sarvenaz Sepehri agrees.
"Your discipline style as a parent is often determined by who your child is," she says, adding that "parents with a self-motivated teen who sees responsibility and independence as a package deal likely doesn't encounter the bad cop too often. So does that mean they have a laissez-faire parent? Not necessarily." Just as a parent of a strong-willed child might be forced to become more authoritarian, or the parent of someone who needs more help socially or academically might be more authoritative.
Parenting is truly difficult at the best of times. Determining your discipline style is just one more tool that you can use to help you figure out how best to proceed.
Joseph Tropper, MS, LCPC, CCTP, licensed clinical therapist
Dr. Jessica Myszak, child psychologist and director of The Help and Healing Center
Dr. Sarvenaz Sepehri, clinical psychologist