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Health & Parenting

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16 Signs You're Too Strict With Your Kids

If this sounds like you, it may be time to change your discipline style.
WebMD Feature
Reviewed by Laura J. Martin, MD

If your 4-year-old gets sassy at the dinner table, what do you do? Give her a time-out? Take away a prized possession? What about your fifth grader who is not doing well in school and refuses to do his homework -- do you take away his television or video privileges? And what do you do when your teen starts missing curfew?

Discipline dilemmas plague all parents. How can you tell if you are taking your discipline techniques too far or not far enough?

Elizabeth J. Short, PhD, associate director of the Schubert Center at Case Western Reserve University, says, "In America, we tend not to be strict enough, and everyone wants to be friends with kids." But being too strict is risky because it could undermine their efforts to do the right thing. "They are eager to please and worried about parental approval," Short says, "so you end up with kids that are anxious and indecisive. Or sometimes, they know there is no way they can hit the bar you have set so they don’t even try."

Here are 16 signs that you are too strict with your kids along with suggestions for what you can do about it.

1. You make too many rules.

Nancy Darling, PhD, a psychology professor at Oberlin College, says, "It's a sign that you are too strict for everyone’s good if you set so many rules that you can’t possibly enforce them all." Instead, she says, set fewer rules and be consistent in reinforcing them. "Follow-through," Darling says, "is really important."

2. Your threats are over the top.

"Saying ‘I am going to destroy all your toys’ or ‘throw you out of the house’ won’t work," Darling says. "If your kid says ‘fine,’ all you can do is back down. What you have done is make an empty threat and taught your child to misbehave." Think carefully about consequences before you spell them out.

3. Your rules overstep your parental boundaries.

"Parents can and should set rules about how a child does in school, how she treats other people, and safety issues," Darling says. But rules about personal issues -- for example, what instrument the child should take up -- may not be appropriate.

The problem is parents and kids don't always agree about which issues are personal and which are related to safety or morals. For instance, music with violent or demeaning lyrics may strike parents as something to set rules about. But teens may say it's just their personal taste. Because boundaries are not always clearly defined, it's important to discuss and weigh both sides when deciding what to do.

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