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Many parents are torn between the desire to be close to their kids, and the need to discipline them. It’s almost become a common misconception that these two roles – the fun, easy-going friend, and the naggy, rigid disciplinarian – are mutually exclusive.
A healthy relationship with your child is one where they feel comfortable enough to go to you for support and advice, while still respecting you as a figure of authority. Not knowing how to achieve this balance leaves many parents veering toward either extreme, the perils of which can be quite significant. Give your child too much leeway, and you’ll end up spoiling them. Be too stern and unsympathetic, and you’ll end up damaging your relationship with your child.
The foundation of love
Why do we discipline our children? To teach them how to be good, useful individuals. To impart values that will carry them through life’s ups and downs. To mould them to be better and wiser each day. It’s all because we love and want the best for them, even if that means having to punish them at times.
Children need guidance. They need to know right from wrong, and what to do and what not to do in specific situations, from social etiquette to safety hazards. Rules have to be enforced and boundaries have to be drawn. They may not enjoy these restrictions, or be mature enough to understand their importance, so that’s where being a disciplinarian comes into play.
How to discipline your kid
Always practise what you preach, and lead by example to the best of your ability. As a parent, it’s easy to justify yourself with the classic “Because I said so”, but this only ingrains the flawed idea that you are above them, therefore they must obey you.
A more sensible approach, rooted in love, would be to treat them equally. Let’s say your little lad is acting out and gentle reproaches just won’t suffice. You’ve resorted to raising your voice, and threatening to punish him. He finally settles down, though with a slight pout. That’s you wearing your parental hat. But don’t keep it on. In the aftermath of an episode like this, explain why you had to do what you did, and apologise for being overly harsh. This friendlier approach helps correct your kid’s behaviour, and show humility and fairness on your part that you too aren’t excused for making mistakes.
Expressing love after a scolding
Everything a parent does is out of love for their little ones, but it might not seem all too loving in the eyes of their child, especially when they are being reprimanded. So, let them know in a genuine way that you are on their side, be it reasoning with them after a squabble, or simply asking about their day and making time to have fun with them on a regular basis.
There is no hard-and-fast rule to reaching that sweet spot of being both authoritative and amicable, loved and looked up to. Sometimes, the sweet spot isn’t even a permanent position. The dynamics of your relationship will shift and fluctuate as your child grows.
Ask yourself: Would you go up to a stranger, start lecturing them about, say, biting their nails, and still expect there to be good vibes between the two of you? Probably not. Likewise, it’s better to establish an affectionate bond with your kids first, before teaching them lessons through firm (yet fair) disciplinary actions. It’s a good start to eventually finding that happy medium between being a friend and a disciplinarian.