Thursday, August 4, 2011

What is the main principle of parenting?

Parenting is one of the hardest job in the world, so investing more time in this area is definitely worthwhile for ourselves and our children's well-being.  The best part is that if we become more effective parents, then our stress levels will go down, and there is good evidence, that this will also help with depression or anxiety.

So what is the "best" way?

Depends is probably the best answer, but let's look at the general principles.

I often ask my patients to reflect on what kind of parents they are.
  • Are you passive?  With this style, you may "go with the flow".  You may be warm, nurturing, caring, but lacks the assertiveness or the ability to set clear boundaries for your children.
  • Are you authoritarian? With this style, you tend to expect them to follow strict rules and regulations, and if they don't, there is usually some form of consequences.  It is more of a "military" style of parenting.
  • Are you somewhere in between, and some may refer to this as the "balanced" type.
  • Do you tend to be passive and then, when things get out of hand, become more authoritarian, and when you feel sorry for your children, you swing back to being passive again?
Can you relate to any of the above?

There are pros and cons with any of the above strategies.  The question is, which one is more helpful for you and your family?

In my opinion, the nurturing, caring, and responsive approach, is the foundation of good parenting.  It is about building that relationship.  Just like building a house, you need to have a good foundation.  A house without a good foundation might be okay for a short period of time, but eventually, will probably collapse.  At the same time, building a house requires erecting a good roof and walls, and this is analogous to the "discipline" part of parenting.

So in essence, both are very important, but my general advice here is to focus on the relationship as the core parenting strategy.  Then reinforce this with behavioural strategies to help with the assertive discipline for your child.  From my clinical experience, parents tend to search for good parenting techniques on discipline, but do often forget to focus on what is also extremely important, which is, to develop that good, loving relationship with your child as highlighted above.

Most parents will understand that if you are too "passive" without the assertive discipline, then the child may go "off the rails".  On the other hand, if you are too authoritarian, you may have a rebellion on your hands.  In my opinion, without a good relationship as your foundation, it is often difficult to implement effective, assertive discipline, without giving the wrong message.  Imagine a child who does not "feel loved", and you ground him/her as a consequence.  What message are we giving him/her?  Is it "Mum and dad hates me and it is so unfair." or is it, "I have done something wrong and now I have to live with that consequence. I will try better next time?"