Sunday, November 21, 2010

Is discipline harming my child?

Last Sunday, 14th November was Children's Day. The papers and supplements were full of articles about children and how to parent them. The need to let the child do whatever he or she wanted to do was stressed. Some articles went so far as to highlight families where the child's every whim was indulged. Until a worried parent of a five-year-old asked our counsellor
Is discipline harming my child?

The message from these articles being
If you love them set them free - from your control

Does it actually matter as to how you parent your child?
Well, there are some associations between parenting styles and outcomes for the child.

Parenting Styles
4 Parenting Styles based on Responsiveness and Demands
The concept of parenting style has evolved through three major influences
  1. The differentiation of parenting style into four types based on "parental responsiveness" and "parental demandingness" by Maccoby and Martin (1983). The neglectful style where the parents display no warmth and exert no control or demands over their child; permissive style where warmth is displayed but no demands or behaviour control is displayed; authoritarian where there are only demands without parental support or warmth; and the authoritative type where there is parental warmth and also high expectations and demands on the child.
  2. How much should parents control their child?  Diana Baumrind (1967, 1980, 1989, and 1991) showed that children brought up in a neglectful style tend to do poorly on behavioural, emotional, social and academic measures. Children and adolescents from permissive homes are more likely to be involved in problem behaviour, and perform less well in school, but have higher self-esteem, and better social skills. An authoritarian style produces children and adolescents with no problem behaviour and good academic functioning, but they have poor social skills, and emotional problems. With an authoritative parenting style children do well on all behavioural, emotional, social and academic measures.
  3. The role of psychological control of the child is the third major influence on the concept of parental styles (Barber, 1996). Authoritarian and authoritative parents both exert behavioural control over their children. They differ in the degree of psychological control they exert on the child's mind. Authoritative parents acknowledge that their children and adolescents could have opinions and values that are different from their own, while authoritarian parents do not allow this. Availability of the parent for communication and discussion is probably the crucial difference that enables children and adolescents of authoritative parents to be consistently more competent in behavioural, social, emotional and academic spheres.

The story would be incomplete if I did not mention that each child is born with a temperament of his or her own. Parental style is partly a response to the child's temperament. Not every troubled child or adolescent is the product of poor parenting.

So, should I discipline my child?
Well, you must discipline the behaviour, but remain open for dialogue on their opinions. Indulge their dreams, ensure they work towards that dream in the real world. Control the behaviour not the mind.


  1. Barber, B. K. (1996). Parental psychological control: Revisiting a neglected construct. Child Development, 67(6), 3296-3319.
  2. Baumrind, D. (1967). Child care practices anteceding three patterns of preschool behavior. Genetic Psychology Monographs, 75(1), 43-88.
  3. Baumrind, D. (1980). New directions in socialization research. Psychological Bulletin, 35, 639-652.
  4. Baumrind, D. (1989). Rearing competent children. In W. Damon (Ed.), Child development today and tomorrow (pp. 349-378). San Francisco: Jossey-Bass.
  5. Baumrind, D. (1991). The influence of parenting style on adolescent competence and substance use. Journal of Early Adolescence, 11(1), 56-95.
  6. Maccoby, E. E., & Martin, J. A. (1983). Socialization in the context of the family: Parent–child interaction. In P. H. Mussen (Ed.) & E. M. Hetherington (Vol. Ed.), Handbook of child psychology: Vol. 4. Socialization, personality, and social development (4th ed., pp. 1-101). New York: Wiley.