Thursday, August 4, 2011

What is the main principle of parenting?

As mentioned in my previous articles, parenting is one of the hardest job in the world, so investing more time in this area is definitely worthwhile for ourselves and our kids' well-being.  The best part is that if we become more effective parents, then our stress levels will go down, we will enjoy parenting much more, and there is good evidence, that this will help with any preexisting depression or anxiety.

So what is the "best" way?
Depends is probably the best answer here, but let's look at the general principle.

When faced with this question, I often ask my patients to reflect on what kind of parents they are.  Through my observation, parents often parent the way they were parented or sometimes, the complete opposite.  Can you relate to this??
  • Are you passive? ie you maybe warm, nurturing, caring but lacks that assertive discipline
  • Are you authoritarian? ie you love your kids but tends to expect them to follow strict rules and regulations and if they don't, then there is usually some form of punishment.  It is more of a "military" style of parenting.
  • Are you somewhere in between and some refer to this as the "balanced" type
  • Or do you tend to be passive and then, when things are getting out of hand, become more authoritarian, and then, when you feel bad or "sorry for your kids", you swing back to being passive again....?
Can you relate to any of the above?

Now remember, there is good and bad in any of the above strategies.  What I want to emphasize here is that, it's not my job to judge whether your strategy is right or wrong.  The question is, "Is whatever you are doing at this point in time, helpful or not helpful?"

From my perspective, the "passive", 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 what I compare to as, the "disciplinary" part of parenting.

So in essence, both are very important, but my general advice here is to focus on that relationship as the "core" parenting strategy, and then reinforce this, with behavioural techniques to help with the assertive discipline for your child.  From my clinical experience, parents tends to search for good parenting techniques on discipline, but do often forget to focus on what is also extremely important, which is, on how to develop that good, loving relationship with your child as highlighted above.  I often recommend The 5 Love Languages for Children and Teenagers by Dr Gary Chapman.  I have included a link on this article and also, My Self Help Book Club

Most parents will understand that if you are too "passive" without assertive discipline, then the child might go "wild" and may even be mistakenly, labelled with having ADHD (Attention deficit Hyperactivity Disorder) or ODD (Oppositional Defiant Disorder).  On the other hand, if you are too authoritarian, you may have very "compliant kids" on the surface, but when they reach teenage years, you might have problems on your hands.  In my opinion, without a good relationship as your foundation, it is often difficult to "dish out" effective, assertive discipline, without giving the wrong message.  Imagine a child who does not "feel loved" and you ground him as a "punishment".  What message are we giving him?  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"?

Some food for thought.

Until next time, happy parenting....

Dr Vin MBBS FRACGP
Family Doctor
Australia