I was raised in a fairly strict home with a lot of boundaries. Recently, when my parents come over to visit, they say my children don’t have enough discipline in their lives. I feel like I have tried but if I disciplined them on every little thing there would be nothing but arguing and negativity in my home. How can I effectively discipline my 4- and 6-year-old children and give them structure without calling them out on their behavior all the time.
This is a big question that, for me, boils down to parenting styles. Parenting styles can be classified into four main types:
I won’t go into the details of each style within my answer, but essentially, each style takes a different approach to raising children. Differences with regards levels of nurture, and differences with regards levels of structure and boundaries. Authoritarian approaches tend to focus on obedience, and it sounds as though this is perhaps the style of parenting you grew up with as a child. Contrasting this style is the Permissive style, where parents don’t tend to enforce rules at all; they lack structure. We want to aim to strike a balance here. A style which is high in structure, and high in nurture. There is so much research that this Authoritative Parenting style is associated with the best outcomes for children. Authoritative parenting involves setting limits and enforcing rules in a way that is respectful to your child.
And, I think when parenting children it is helpful to remember this phrase,
“Big pastures, real fences”
Children absolutely need boundaries. But when we find ourselves in continual negative cycles of interactions with anyone… that begins to have a really negative effect on everyone. Children need big pastures. They need freedom to make mistakes, to explore, to learn through natural consequences. And, they need those real fences, too. They need to know that some behaviors are unacceptable, that some rules are non-negotiable. And, for me, that is how we avoid those cycles of constant conflict, while ensuring our style of parenting lands on Authoritarian and not Permissive. I hope that helps.