How To Be Firm With Your Child

For a parent, it is difficult to strike a balance between being strict and permissive. Read on to know how to achieve that balance, what it means to be a firm parent and why it is good to be one.

By Dr M Nithya Poornima

How To Be Firm With Your Child

Parenting can be like walking a tightrope, the success of which is defined by the balance maintained. Firm parenting is the very essence of that balance, hinging on being authoritative and not authoritarian. Dr M Nithya Poornima, our expert from NIMHANS (National Institute of Mental Health and Neurosciences), one of the world’s best mental health institutions, explains why firm parenting holds the key to raising successful children.

All of us would have used rubber bands for some purpose or the other. So, even as you are reading this, it would be a good idea to get one and try stretching and easing it. Wondering why? The simple rubber band is a wonderful analogy of firm parenting — too tight and it hurts, too loose and it won’t be of any use! Firm parenting helps children learn containment and limits, just as an effective rubber band would.

So, what does being firm in parenting mean?

  • Being firm is resolutely enforcing clear and reasonable limits and being kind while doing so.
  • Being firm is NOT being harsh.

The science behind firm parenting

Before understanding this, let’s look at a series of interesting studies conducted in the 1960s by Dr Diana Baumrind, a clinical and developmental psychologist in the USA. During her research, Dr Baumrind observed that parents could be:

  • Authoritarian (too tight a rubber band),
  • Permissive (too lax a rubber band) and
  • Authoritative (tight enough to hold up and equally, lax enough to stretch).

Those parents identified as being authoritative were observed to combine warmth and emotional responsiveness with reasonable control. They had often modelled caring and self-controlled behaviour, which, in turn, allowed children to develop emotion-regulation skills and social skills. Subsequent studies on the subject too proved that children raised with firm parenting can internalise effective principles for emotional and behavioural regulation.

The science behind firm parenting is simple. It helps children learn to exercise restraint and understand the extent to which limits can be stretched. It conveys that there are clear, reasonable and predictable ways to understand how far limits can be stretched and when they will be ‘strictly enforced’ in a kind and respectful way

The art of firm parenting 

While many parents may be aware of the principles detailed above, they often find it difficult to put the ideas into practice. Well, practice is indeed the key word! It is important to bear in mind that when it comes to parenting, not all skills blossom effortlessly. Being firm is one skill that shows definite improvement with practice. Also, like any art, parenting too requires the use of basic techniques and then experimenting with improvisations.

The best approach is to acknowledge that parenting involves learning new skills, most often, on the job. While addressing routine trouble spots parents should attempt to identify a variety of responses that can be delivered compassionately and creatively. This is an extremely useful exercise in enhancing a parent’s skills, specifically in being firm. Children often seem to train parents to use firmness effectively with their demands and misdemeanours! Like an artist chooses hues and strokes, parents will also need to consciously and intuitively choose when they will be firm and how they will communicate their firmness to their children.

How To Be Firm With Your Child
How To Be Firm With Your Child

An example of firm parenting

Scenario: 11-year-old Pawan wants to watch his favourite programmes on television for most of the day. Attempts to turn off the television set or even change the channel, guarantees a 10-minute argument or severe tantrums lasting over an hour. He often wants to skip school so that he can watch his favourite shows. Sometimes his parents give in, but at other times, they expect him to stop watching the television immediately. His parents try various strategies to wean him away — they distract him, cajole, request, instruct, threaten, and sometimes, even yell at him or spank him. Besides making them feel helpless, angry and miserable, Pawan’s parents have realised these strategies haven’t been successful. This situation is like a very lax rubber band.

Firm parenting in this situation would serve the purpose of establishing clear limits regarding television time. Both parents need to consistently enforce these limits at multiple points of time. Use the ACT principle here.

They can say:

Step 1: “Pawan, your TV time is till 5:00 p.m.; you have ten minutes more!

Step 2: Now, the time is up!

Step 3: Let’s go and have a snack / go out to play.”

If you haven’t picked up that metaphorical rubber band yet, now’s the time to look for one. So, choose one and test it's strength and thereby, learn how to bring balance into your parenting. Why, doing so could even help you figure out how to implement firm parenting, with regard to your own child!

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