Parenting behaviors are strong predictors of socioemotional, behavioural, and cognitive child outcomes (Altschul, Lee & Gertshoff, 2016; Scaramella & Leve, 2004; Shaw et al., 2003; Treyvaud et al., 2015). This means that, from the moment of conception, as parents we hold a significant influence over our children’s development; not only are we among the most important individuals in our child’s life, but what we do within this role is crucial for our child’s development. How’s that for sitting in the hot seat?
This idea can become quite overwhelming, as there are definitely moments in the day when we find ourselves reacting in ways we do not deem best (e.g. yelling over spilled milk), and we then spend time backtracking, feeling guilty, wondering if we were too lenient or too harsh, and ultimately feeling like we’ve failed. Parenting can feel like this sometimes… like rocket science… like an ever-changing abstract problem that continues to transform the moment we feel we are starting to figure it all out.
Can you think of a time when you know you could have better handled a situation?
Well, here is the news: there is no such thing as the Perfect Parent. All parents make mistakes… parents are human, after all (despite superhuman talents in multitasking). The significant point here is, however, how we respond to our mistakes. If we model how to take responsibility for our shortcomings and take the time to repair relationships afterward, even our little slip-ups can become valuable lessons, and provide children with the opportunity to deal with difficult situations and develop new skills.
In this way, the impact and significance of parenting on children’s development becomes the gateway through which we can provide our children with continuous opportunities to learn to make good choices, instill positive self-regulation strategies, and teach them skills that they will carry forward throughout their life in order to become kind and successful individuals.Thus, it is clear that when navigating through our daily routines, our parenting must be both purposeful and intentional.
One important way to engage in a more informed and intentional parenting style, as opposed to reactive behaviours, is by beginning to reflect on the purpose of our parenting practices. A particular aspect of parenting that holds a great impact on development and achievement is discipline.
Let us take a moment to reflect on the concept of discipline. What does discipline in your home look like? Oftentimes, when our children are misbehaving and doing things they know they should not be doing, we sometimes result to the following: we raise our voices, we yell, we wave our finger back and forth, we take an item or activity away, we send our children to their rooms or to time-out… we provide consequences.
This is completely understandable. At times, we cannot help but feel frustrated, angry, and exhausted when we walk in on our child jumping up and down on the new couch in our living room while holding his crumb-filled (or no longer filled) plate. And after all, these immediate actions or consequences do tend to put an end to the misbehavior in that moment. And then that’s it… we’ve laid down the law, the behaviour stops and we have a moment of (what we can attempt to call) peace.
In the short term, we have succeeded. However, what was our long-term goal in this strategy? What has our child taken away from this experience? Is the goal of our discipline practice to meet each misbehaviour with a consequence?
As explained by Dr. Siegel and Dr. Bryson in “No-Drama Discipline” (2016), the goal of discipline is to teach. Thus, when disciplining, it becomes important to think about what lesson it is we want to teach in that particular moment.We use these discipline moments to build skills so that our children can handle themselves better both in the moment and in the future. When disciplining, there are often better ways to teach than providing consequences.We want our short-term goal to include cooperation and doing the right thing. We want our long-term goal to involve the development of new skills in order to make better decisions and develop self-control.
As we hold such an important role in the life of our children, and as our actions have a longstanding impact, it is imperative that we take the time to start reflecting about the purpose of our parenting approach and about the lessons we want to teach through discipline.
Below are a number of questions outlined by Dr. Siegel and Dr. Bryson (2016) that can help guide your discipline approach and help you reflect on engaging in more purposeful parenting:
Do I have a consistent discipline philosophy that I implement when my child misbehaves?
Is what I’m doing working? Am I able to teach the lessons I want to teach?
Do I feel good about what I’m doing? Am I enjoying the way I am engaging with my children?
Do my kids feel good about it? Do my children feel love through my approach?
Do I feel good about the messages I’m communicating to my children?
How much does my approach resemble that of my parents? Am I repeating old patterns?
Does my approach ever lead to my children apologizing in a sincere manner?
Does it allow me to take responsibility and apologize for my own actions? Am I a model for my children?
Margarita Miseros is a PhD Student in the School/Applied Child Psychology at McGill University in Montreal, Quebec, and a therapist at Connecte Montreal Psychology Group. The team at Connecte loves writing about ways to boost our mental health and bring psychology into our everyday lives. For more helpful tips, check out Connecte’s blogs, podcast, follow @connectepsychology on Instagram, or like us on Facebook.
Altschul, I., Lee, S. J., & Gershoff, E. T. (2016). Hugs, Not Hits: Warmth and Spanking as Predictors of Child Social Competence. Journal of Marriage and Family, 78(3), 695-714. doi:10.1111/jomf.12306
Scaramella, L. V., & Leve, L. D. (2004). Clarifying parent-child reciprocities during early childhood: the early childhood coercion model. Clinical Child and Family Psychology Review, 7, 89–107.
Shaw, D. S., Gilliom, M., Ingoldsby, E. M., & Nagin, D. S. (2003). Trajectories leading to school-age conduct problems. Developmental Psychology, 39, 189–200.
Siegel, D., & Bryson, T. P. (2016). No-Drama Discipline Exercises, Activities, and Practical Strategies to Calm the Chaos and Nurture Developing Minds. Ashland: PESI Publishing & Media.
Treyvaud, K., Doyle, L. W., Lee, K. J., Ure, A., Inder, T. E., Hunt, R. W., & Anderson, P. J. (2015). Parenting behavior at 2 years predicts school-age performance at 7 years in very preterm children. Journal of Child Psychology and Psychiatry, 57(7), 814-821. doi:10.1111/jcpp.12489