The “strict” parent conjures up an image of an over-controlling and ill-tempered mom or dad. But strict parents aren’t cold and uncaring. In fact, according to experts, being strict — when done right — and knowing the importance of disciplining a child is all part of good parenting.
“Calm, consistent discipline is as much an ingredient of having happy children as nurturing,” says family therapist Marilyn Wedge, Ph.D., in an article for Psychology Today.
A child needs a grown-up who can provide limits and clear guidelines because it prepares him to know what to expect of the real world. “The lack of guidance and absence of leadership is very unsettling for kids,” says Amy Morin, a psychotherapist and best-selling author of 13 Things Mentally Strong People Don't Do in an article for VeryWell Family. “Discipline isn't just about giving kids consequences. Instead, it ensures children are gaining the skills they need to become responsible adults.”
Disciplining a child isn’t solely about giving lectures and punishment. Here are important things to remember on how to be the “strict” parent your child needs:
1. The goal is to teach your child — not to punish or control him A discipline style that uses scare tactics, intimidation, and shame to get a child to behave will ultimately fail to encourage positive change in a child, says Jeffrey Bernstein Ph.D., a psychologist who specializes in child and family therapy, in an article for Psychology Today.
“Child discipline, when done correctly, is not about trying to control your child but about showing her how to control her behavior,” adds parenting writer and editor Katherine Lee. “It is not about punishing a child for doing something wrong but about setting clear parameters and consequences for breaking the rules so that she learns how to discipline herself.”
2. It’s hard, but try to keep calm You’re probably already aware that disciplining when hot-headed doesn’t work or can even quickly go wrong. “Discipline isn’t effective when it’s a matter of releasing your own frustration,” said Lisa Firestone, Ph.D., a clinical psychologist. This is when you yell, shout, and snap at your child.
When you “lose it,” you forget that your aim is to teach. Moreover, releasing your frustration on your child can be very scary for her. “When children are yelled at, they rarely remember the lesson their parent was trying to get across. What they do remember is the fear that overcame them when that parent lost his or her cool,” said Dr. Firestone.
Resist the urge to react on impulse, and take a moment to release your emotions before you approach your child. “Think about what you really want to achieve in the situation, the lesson you want them to take away from the experience,” added Firestone.
3. Come from a place of understanding There can be three reasons your child is misbehaving, says Laura Markham Ph.D., a psychologist and parenting expert. First, it’s because your child doesn’t know the rules yet and has to be taught what they are. The solution to this is, of course, to take the time to talk and explain the rules to your child.
Second, she knows the rule (e.g., no hitting) but is feeling big emotions that she can’t control yet (such as anger and frustration). It affects her behavior (that leads her to hit mom), and when it happens, it's a sign “that the child needs help to process her emotions so she can better regulate them,” according to Dr. Markham. (You can say something like, “You’re mad. But, hitting is bad and hurts mom. Show me you’re mad by stomping your foot or yelling ‘mad’ but no hurting.” More on this tantrum technique here.)
And last, the child does not want to follow the parent because a parent-child connection has not been established. “The answer is to strengthen the parent-child connection,” Dr. Markham explains. “Kids who feel connected to their parents naturally want to please them.”
4. Always be clear and consistent with your rules Consistent, clear rules are key to effective discipline. It tells your child exactly what behavior is expected of him and sends the message that this rule applies all the time. For example, don’t allow your child to have his tablet while eating on some days, and not allow it on others. It confuses your child and makes it more difficult to control his behavior when you don’t want the tablet with him.
Similarly, when behavior is deemed inappropriate, it should stay that way. “There has to be a consequence every time a child does something he shouldn't. You can't do it sometimes and not others. Initially, it's a lot of work for the parents, but it pays off in the long run,” says Jodi Stoner, Ph.D., a clinical psychologist and co-author of Good Manners Are Contagious, to Parents.
5. Set a good example Children are big copiers. They learn from how their parents act and respond. “Spoiling kids or overparenting sets them up to have a skewed sense of importance,” says Dr. Firestone. “On the flip side, rejecting them or being too strict may make them feel distant from you or compelled to rebel. The best thing to do is to be your best self. Lead by example. Act like the person you’d like them to be.”