Thursday, 16 May 2019 08:22

No one size fits all

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When the prime minister’s wife, Tun Dr Siti Hasmah Mohd Ali, shared with this newspaper that she was once caned by her father after she took something without paying for it, some friends had “throwback” moments of being punished by their own parents.

And most of them said it was a once-in-a-lifetime thing as they did not dare repeat any misdemeanour for fear of being punished with the cane again.

Back then, corporal punishment at home and in school was a norm. Parents caned their children as a form of discipline or tough love.

We had a “rotan” at home but it was never used on us. It was placed on the cupboard, with the tip of the cane in full view of everyone. It served as a reminder that if we misbehaved at home or elsewhere, it would be used as an instrument to mete out the punishment.

These days, this form of corporal punishment could amount to child abuse. In fact, there are three laws that cover child abuse: Penal Code, Sexual Offences Against Children Act 2017 and Child Act 2001, which covers some of the common punishments and practices we grew up with. In fact, 50-odd countries have banned corporal punishment of children.

And parenting today seemed a little bit harder, especially since both parents are at work. As such, there is little parenting or no parenting at all at home compared with before when one parent is at work while the other tends to the family.

Clinical and developmental psychologist Diana Blumberg Baumrind said there are four types of parenting — authoritarian or disciplinarian, permissive or indulgent, uninvolved and authoritative.

Baumrind, noted for her research on parenting styles in the 1960s, said each parenting style varies in at least four areas: discipline style, communication, nurturance and expectations.

Authoritarian parents are often thought of as disciplinarians. “They use a strict discipline style with little negotiation possible. Punishment is common. Communication is mostly one way: from parent to child. Rules usually are not explained. Parents with this style are typically less nurturing. Expectations are high with limited flexibility,” the Bright Horizons Foundation for Children said in its newsletter of Baumrind’s research.

As for permissive or indulgent parenting, parents mostly let their children do what they want, and offer limited guidance or direction. They are more like friends than parents.

“Their discipline style is the opposite of strict. They have limited or no rules and mostly let children figure problems out on their own. Communication is open but these parents let children decide for themselves rather than giving direction. Parents in this category tend to be warm and nurturing. Expectations are typically minimal or not set by these parents,” it said.

Meanwhile, uninvolved parents give children a lot of freedom and generally stay out of their way. Some parents may make a conscious decision to parent in this way, while others are less interested in parenting or unsure of what to do.

“No particular discipline style is utilised. An uninvolved parent lets a child mostly do what he wants, probably out of a lack of information or caring. Communication is limited. This group of parents offer little nurturing. There are few or no expectations of children.”

It said that authoritative parents are reasonable and nurturing, and set high, clear expectations. Children with parents who demonstrate this style tend to be self-disciplined and think for themselves. This style is thought to be most beneficial to children.

“Disciplinary rules are clear and the reasons behind them are explained. Communication is frequent and appropriate to the child’s level of understanding. Authoritative parents are nurturing. Expectations and goals are high but stated clearly. Children may have input into goals.”

While a few of us fit neatly into one single parenting style, there are those who raise their children using a combination of styles.

“Think of the four styles as a continuum instead of four distinct ways to parent. Ideally, we think about our children and what they need from us at specific points in time. For example, while a parent might not typically adopt an authoritarian parenting style, there might be times in a child’s life when that style is needed. Or you might know an authoritarian parent who is nurturing, contrary to the description above,” Bright Horizons said.

While it is easier for the family when both parents practice the same style of parenting, some research shows that if at least one parent is authoritative, that is better for the child than having two parents with the same, less effective style.

And, new names for parenting styles have also been introduced such as “helicopter parenting”, which is similar to the authoritative style, but with a little more involvement or some might say over-involvement, in a child’s life.

There is also “free range parenting”, which resembles the uninvolved style, but with a conscious decision to allow more independent thinking that is in the best interest of the child.

But we all know that when it comes to parenting styles, one size doesn’t fit all. Dr Siti Hasmah herself acknowledged that there must be an alternative approach to disciplining children if caning is no longer a way of doing so.

The writer is NST Executive Editor, Editorial Business & Lifestyle

Published in: New Straits Times, 16 May 2019

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