Why discipline is important for kids?

If you find it hard to take the reins and be the boss at home with your kids, watch out! Someone needs to be in charge and when you give up your position of authority, your child may decide he will be the one to call the shots.

Most of us nowadays are reluctant to take on an authoritarian or autocratic stance with our kids. Rigid and severe parenting is seen by many as old school and outdated. In the Western world we’re very fond of democracy, and this extends to parenting. We’re big on children’s rights and we like to think of ourselves as raising them in an egalitarian environment where they know their value early in life. Thank goodness many children – especially in developed communities where there is greater access to resources – are now being raised in a more child-centered world where the concept of being seen and not heard has been demolished. But when taken to the extreme, parents sometimes refuse to take charge of their kids at all, causing a new set of different problems.

Why it can be hard to take charge

Some parents don’t feel comfortable being in charge because they lack confidence and self-esteem. They don’t believe that they have any right to tell their kids what to do or to expect a certain level of behaviour from them. Other parents are just plain exhausted. Danielle, a worn out, working mom of four children under the age of seven says, “I’m just too tired to fight, so I give up and give them their way most of the time. The problem is though that important things don’t get done and often their basic hygiene falls by the wayside. They also don’t respect me. They are rude to me and they don’t listen to a thing I say. Sometimes it’s a relief to walk out the door and go to work.” Being too worn down to set limits is where lots of parents find themselves, particularly if they have been blessed with one or more strong willed children, or if they are stressed out themselves. Taking the path of least resistance can mean consistently letting your child get away with rude, antisocial or destructive behaviour. It’s hard to be around these kids and they aren’t being taught the vital lessons about how to be a civilized human being.

Some parents fall into the trap of always wanting to be Mr Nice Guy. They are not willing to be the bad one in the child’s eyes and so they don’t want to take authority. They are afraid of upsetting their kids and perhaps afraid that their children will reject them if they set limits. These parents have a desperate wish to be liked and accepted by their kids. They don’t trust that the bond will survive when their children are disappointed about not being able to do everything their own way. Other parents seem to be more comfortable serving their kids than taking charge and making demands. They make every attempt to satisfy their kids’ needs and expectations. This kind of parent is used to being a doormat and she expects nothing more from her children.

Guilt can cause parents to fail to take charge of their kids. Parents who travel, work long hours, or treat their kids unkindly might tend to be too lenient because they feel they have to make up for their absence or failures. Single parents also sometimes feel terribly guilty about causing their children pain. They often go to great lengths to appease their kids. It’s hard to say “no” when you only see your kids once a week and every second weekend. It’s also hard to sadden them further by insisting on bed by 8pm when they have just been crying for their daddy who they haven’t seen for a long time.

And finally, it can be hard to be firm with children who are special or compromised in some way. Children with a chronic illness or disability or a history of a life-threatening experience or trauma are extremely precious and it’s hard not to treat them with kid gloves. Parents who have struggled with infertility or multiple miscarriages also often find it hard to take authority with their kids. They are just so grateful that their child finally arrived and survived. The same problem can exist in only child families. Only children are often extremely highly valued and it can be hard to expect them to comply with the general laws of civilization. Also, it is sometimes easier to get kids to co-operate when there are more than one of them because they can be treated a bit more like a team or a herd. When there are three or more kids, everyone has to sit down and eat at the table at the same time, otherwise the poor mom loses track of who has eaten what and things can become chaotic. But when there is just one child, there isn’t the same need for order and so the child is often left to do his own thing at his own pace, and in the style of his choice.

What happens when you don’t take charge?

Children with too few limits can become tyrannical. If your child feels the absence of an effective leader in the home, she might decide to fill that gap and become the leader, and there is no guarantee that she will have any respect at all for your democratic or constitutional rights. She will most likely be a far more autocratic boss than you could ever be, and she may resort to violence when you misbehave.

Also, when you refuse to be the boss, it gives your child the message that there is nobody stronger than him who can rein him in and protect him from danger. Sometimes, ‘danger’ for kids lies inside of themselves. Before they have been taught the rules of civilization, kids have access to powerful and intense feelings. It is natural for children to be overwhelmed with rage at times, and they need help and guidance in understanding their rage and how to express and direct it. So a child who is allowed to hit, bite, scream uncontrollably and destroy things is probably going to become very afraid of his own destructiveness. Undisciplined kids can become too powerful and this can cause them severe anxiety.

Importantly too, undisciplined children usually behave in ways that society does not accept. Other parents, relatives, teachers and friends generally don’t like rude, badly behaved kids. The result is that your child feels unliked and unpopular and this has a devastating effect on his self-esteem. When you are too afraid to set limits, your kids can become over-entitled and much too big for their boots. Children aren’t yet equipped to rule the world, their house-holds or their parents. They are just not yet ready. They first need to learn the ropes. They need a few years before they can take over the reins.

What happens when you take too much charge?

Being over-zealous in your discipline and being too bossy has consequences that are just as bad for your kids as failing to take charge. Kids of an extremely bossy parent can be so highly controlled and regulated that they suffer psychologically in a range of different ways. Some overbossed kids develop anxiety, and they fail to develop initiative, creativity and their own sense of self. They become emotionally stunted, bland and colourless. Besides the fact that this isn’t very appealing to others so it makes it hard for these kids to make friends, it is also exceptionally hard to feel like this on the inside. These kids grow into troubled adults who are plagued with psychological problems and end up spending years in psychotherapy. But not all kids are so easily controlled or broken. Some will fight their parents’ bossiness, causing great conflict in the home and lots of tears and drama. Others become exceptionally bossy themselves, having used their parents as role models. But it is not only the overbossed kids that copy their parents’ attempts at discipline.

Years ago, mothers used to tell their children, “Do as I say, not as I do!” When children tried to copy their parents’ methods of discipline, they would smartly be told, “You’re the child. I’m the parent. I’m boss of you!” In our attempts to get far away from this autocratic approach, I think many of us have swung to the other extreme.

Finding the balance

Perhaps a more sensible approach to discipline should be to set limits in a way that is, for the most part, largely respectful. Discipline should not be frightening or violent. This is much more easily said than done, particularly for parents blessed with strong-willed, adventure-loving children. No doubt your child probably will copy your discipline style, so you’ll be better off if you’ve taught her the humane approach. That way, when she gets cross with you, perhaps she’ll react by giving you a choice, “Mom, you can buy me the jelly tots or the smarties…you decide!) rather than her giving you a hard slap and yelling at you till she’s hoarse. Your child learns lessons all the time from watching you. Your style of discipline will probably one day be used against you. If you give up completely on your role as the boss of your child, she might decide to take on that role for herself. Let’s face it, being in charge can be quite a thrill! Particularly when you’re a child.