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Parental Discipline

The NPM Editor-in-Chief, Hamilton Odunze, had posted the comment of one of our children who said that “the Nigerian parenting style comes “From the pit of hell”. We do not need to condemn the kid nor praise him/her for we do not know where he or she is coming from. What we can do is to look at the different styles of parenting and the options we are choosing, hoping for the best outcomes for our kids.

When you look at the human race, it is not hard to figure out that our parents are the first model of authority figures that we encounter in life; and how they exercise this authority is significantly important. Our parenting style can affect everything from how much our children weigh to how they feel about themselves. The way we exercise authority, in the discipline of our children, will influence them for the rest of their lives.

Diana Baumrind, a developmental psychologist, way back in the 1960s, identified three different parenting styles—the authoritarian, permissive, and authoritative. It is important for us to consider these, as we do the best we can, to make sure our children turn out right. The authoritarian parenting style depends on a model of parenting that the parent knows it all. It uses power to enforce obedience by instilling fear of punishment or threat of violence in one of its many forms. It gives little or no room for dialogue. It only allows for a one way communication through strict rules and orders. Any attempt to reason with parents, who follow this model, is seen as back-talk. Often, stern discipline and harsh punishment, such as corporal punishment, are frequently used as a way to obtain behavioral control. Disciplinary methods are coercive, arbitrary, peremptory, and domineering. I once had a kid in therapy who asked me why his mother was always right. I told him it was better for us to find out together. So, when his mum came to pick him up, I related the question her boy had asked me, and her answer was, “You listen to me, boy, when I am right, I am right, when I am wrong, I am right, you better do what I say”. The poor kid interjected, “How about if I don’t wanna do it”, and her answer was quick and swift, “You will be sorry!” This type of parenting is usually unresponsive to children’s needs and are generally not nurturing. What research has shown is that children raised under this model of parenting tend to exhibit unhappy dispositions, are less independent, appear to be insecure, exhibit low self-esteem, tend to have more behavioral problems, exhibit poorer social competence, are more prone to mental issues and drug use, and tend to have poor coping skills.

To counter these pervasive tendencies in this model, many parents tried the opposite approach. They put very few demands on their children, avoiding any sort of parental control. This is known as the “Permissive Parenting Style”. Kids are not given much responsibility and are allowed to regulate their own behavior and make the majority of their own decision. This parenting style is lax and rarely makes or enforces any type of rules or structure, and makes little or no attempt to control or discipline kids. The child is basically looked upon as a colleague, rather than a child. This type of parenting does not like to say no or disappoint kids. Children raised under this parenting style tend to have difficulty following rules, have difficulty with self-control, tend to be very self-centered, and are more likely to encounter more problems in relationships and social interactions than their peers.

A model that seeks a middle ground between the two approaches discussed above is the “Authoritative Parenting Style”. It fosters self-discipline, responsibility, and independence, in an environment of nurturing care. It is both nurturing and yet firm in setting limits and boundaries. It has high expectations for achievement and maturity, and expects to get compliance based on reason rather than fear. It exacts control over children’s behavior by explaining rules; discussing, reasoning, and clarifying intentions; so that children develop a sense of awareness about values, morals, and goals. It provides children with lots of responsible freedom and encourages independence. Children from this parenting model appear to be happy and content, more independent and active, tend to be higher academic achievers with good self-esteem​ and better interaction skills with their peers, have better mental health — less depression, anxiety, suicide attempts, delinquency, alcohol and drug use—and exhibit less violent tendencies​ when angry.

All these models of parenting, we can say, mean well for kids and hope for the best outcome. But while both the permissive and authoritative parenting styles are responsive, nurturing, and involved, the authoritative parenting style does not allow kids to get away with murder. It demands growth and success, sets limits, takes firm stands, and expects kids to behave responsibly. The authoritarian parenting style, on the other hand, goes about this business through threats, coercion, and punishment; devoid of responsiveness, communication of warmth, and reasoning. But the authoritative parenting style does it by being responsive to the child’s need; communicates warmth and avoids using harsh or arbitrary punishments; offers concrete advice and emotional support and fosters positive feelings by teaching the child the reasons for rules and discipline; and recognizing and encouraging a child’s sense of individuality and autonomy, while keeping that child under parental guidance and control.  

It is important to note that there is no one size fits all in this matter. The outcome from these parenting styles can vary from one family to the other, depending on the environment, culture, and social status. What is most important is for parents to think through what they are doing and what style of parenting will serve them best; considering the environment in which we are, without compromising the essentials. Many a time, we don’t just fit into one category; we tend to be ecliptic, sometimes permissive and other times authoritative, or even authoritarian. Studies, however, are clear that authoritative parenting tend to have the best outcome. The most important point here is to maintain a positive relationship with our children while still establishing our authority in a healthy manner. Over time, our child will reap the benefits of our authoritative style. As Scripture says “For what child is there whom a parent does not discipline? Now, discipline always seems painful rather than pleasant at the time, but later it yields the peaceful fruit of righteousness to those who have been trained by it” (Hebrews 12:7-11).

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