Friend or Disciplinarian?


Being a parent means having to fulfill many roles in our children’s lives. Sometimes we are caught between the need to connect with our children, and the need to set limits for them.

You may have been told that the secret is finding a balance between being a friend and being a disciplinarian. I have a different take—you don’t need to be either. It’s better to be something else entirely.

Let’s start with being a friend. There are certain aspects of being a friend that a parent should embody. A friend is trustworthy. A friend is supportive. So far, so good. But a friend is also a peer, and that disqualifies parents from filling the role of friend. Although peers set relationship boundaries with one another, they don’t place general limitations on each other. As parents, we do need to set apply general limits.

That brings us to the disciplinarian part. A disciplinarian trains people to conform to a behavior standard. The main tools of the disciplinarian are control measures—punishments, lectures, and directives. It is well established that control measures are harmful to children, so being a disciplinarian is out. How then do we set limits effectively? We can do so with structure and support.

The common denominator is support. We don’t need to be a friend or a disciplinarian. Rather, we need to be supportive in all that we do.

What does it mean to be supportive to our children? It means caring for our children and treating them with warmth. It means giving them our time, attention, and interest. It means understanding things from their viewpoint. It means expressing our love freely. It means communicating boundaries and giving reasons, while also allowing choice and voice. It involves giving real-time feedback as children navigate those boundaries and then live out their own consequences.

Being supportive is different from being a friend because it involves more teaching. It is a responsive kind of teaching, where we need to be in the right place at the right time to provide information in just the right way for our children to understand it. Doing so provides children with a different kind of structure than what a disciplinarian would give. While a disciplinarian creates structures like walls to keep a child contained, a supportive parent creates structures like scaffolding, step stools, and bridges to enable a child to pull themselves up, to climb higher, and to explore further.

Being a supporter involves doing things that are probably more difficult than being either a friend or a disciplinarian. Whatever you call those things, they’re what children need. Maybe doing those things should just be called being a parent.

How to Cite this Article: Brian Vondruska, “Friend or Disciplinarian?”, The Kind of Parent You Are, accessed [date],