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Are you a strict parent? Learn why it matters

The secret to effective discipline is a loving environment with firm limits. Psychologist Robert Brooks shares his expert advice.
/ Source: TODAY

What is the best way to discipline children? From strict to permissive, there’s a multitude of parenting strategies. Dr. Robert Brooks, a psychologist specializing in family relationships and the author of “Angry Children, Worried Parents,” was invited on “Today” to share his thoughts on the most effective ways to keep kids within set boundaries, and ensure that your house doesn’t become a battlefield.

What is your parenting strategy? Most parents' attitudes can fit into one of three categories.

Authoritative:  Parents in this category are warm and involved, offering emotional support but also establishing guidelines, limits and expectations.  They listen actively to their children, and when appropriate let them make their own decisions. Research shows that this style correlates with the best emotional and psychological outcomes for children; parents recognize that discipline is most effective when housed in a loving relationship and that one of the most powerful forms of discipline is positive feedback and encouragement.

Authoritarian:  Parents in this category are not as warm or nurturing, do not take child's feelings into consideration, and tend to be more rigid, imposing rules without discussing rationale with the child: "You do it because I told you to, and I am your mother." Basically, compliance and obedience are sought. These children can appear as "good" children, but anger is present and if the child has a "difficult" temperament, power struggles are likely to set in.

Laissez faire or permissive:  Parents in this category fail to set up clear guidelines for children, often giving in or overindulging them. Some of these parents do not necessarily give in, but rather are more neglectful and have little emotional contact with their child. The children who are overindulged tend to become so-called spoiled children who are very demanding and lacking in self-control. Those growing up with parents who are neglectful often encounter the greatest difficulties in terms of emotional and behavioral problems.

The purpose of disciplineI often discuss two main purposes of discipline. The word "discipline" stems from "disciple," meaning it is a teaching process.

One purpose is to insure a safe, secure and comfortable environment where there are reasonable and clear-cut guidelines and expectations. The next is to help our children develop self-discipline or self-control, so that even if we are not present they will make sound judgments and think before they act. Developing self-discipline is an important aspect of being more optimistic and resilient.

Effective disciplineBe empathic and nurturing: Ask yourself questions such as, "Would I want anyone to say or do to me what I just said to my child?" Or, "Am I saying or doing things in a way in which my child will learn from me rather than resent me?"

Recognize that discipline begins early: From birth you want to nurture a loving relationship, and start to set some limits by the time the child is a year old. Parents must realize that self-control doesn't appear by osmosis when the child is older. Rather, your discipline style with your toddler will determine how effective you will be as the child becomes a teenager. The goal is to give increasing responsibility to the child, as they can handle it.

Parents need to work as a team: Parents need not be clones of each other, but if differences in philosophy exist, they should talk about it privately and try to have a more unified approach. Children are experts at "splitting" parents when they realize they can get something from one parent and not the other.

Be consistent, not rigid:  Don't change rules and expectations from one moment to the next based on how you feel at that particular moment. As the child gets older there is a need to be more flexible. For example, if a teenager has a dance, you could allow him or her to stay out later as long as you know where he or she is.

Remain firm and calm:  If you resort to yelling or hitting, you are not serving as a model of self-discipline.

With a young child you can say, "You can keep whining, but it won't make me change my mind." With a teenager you can say, "I want you to have a good time with your friends, but I don't think hanging out at the mall is the best place to be. Maybe you can think of another place."

Turn more responsibility over to children as they get older:  If one of the main goals of discipline is to promote self-discipline, then as children get older, you want them to begin to make more decisions.  You can start with letting the child make simple choices as a toddler. You can say for example, "Do you want me to help you put your toys away or do you want to do it by yourself?" Or you could ask, "It's your choice, if you write with the chalk on the wall, we have to take the chalk away."

As teenagers, parents can still remain firm, but can ask, "I don't want to nag you about your homework, what do you think will help you to get it done?" Or, "You can drive the car, but you must let me know where you are. Will that be a problem?" Basically, you use natural and logical consequences so children and teenagers learn that their behavior, which they have control over, results in certain consequences.

Select battlegrounds carefully: Everyone has heard this, but it’s not easy to follow. When dealing with toddlers, lessen battlegrounds by not having a multitude of rules, and make certain that the house is "child friendly." Don't have expensive objects all over the house so you are constantly telling your child not to touch something.

As children get older, increasingly ask yourself, "What is really important?"  In my clinical practice and workshops, I ask parents to list all of the things they expect their kids to do each day, and for some it is a very long list.  I suggest that as kids develop, issues of curfew, drugs and respect for others deserve more focus than whether the bed is made perfectly or whether a child is a straight-A student.

Remember that the most powerful form of discipline is positive feedback and encouragement. At all ages kids need unconditional love, they need us to be there for them and to offer realistic praise.  While toddlers are more likely to accept this, in my experience teenagers — even as they are pushing parents away — want parents to be there for them.  One teenager, whose parents set few limits and who became pregnant, said, "If they had set limits I may have fought them, but at least I would have known they cared about me."

For more information on Dr. Robert Brooks' parenting techniques, you can go to his Web site at .