The Three Common Discipline Styles

The February 2009 Be the Best Nanny Monthly Guide will discuss discipline.

To help you answer the mini-poll to the right on this blog and a more detailed survey on our web site at here are the definitions of the most common discipline styles.

These definitions can be found at:

Strict discipline style. Authoritarian [caregivers] always try to be in control and exert their control on the children. These [caregivers] set strict rules to try to keep order, and they usually do this without much expression of warmth and affection. They attempt to set strict standards of conduct and are usually very critical of children for not meeting those standards. They tell children what to do, they try to make them obey and they usually do not provide children with choices or options.

Authoritarian [caregivers] don’t explain why they want their children to do things. If a child questions a rule or command, the [adult] might answer, “Because I said so.” [Authoritarian caregivers] tend to focus on bad behavior, rather than positive behavior, and children are scolded or punished, often harshly, for not following the rules.

Children with authoritarian parents usually do not learn to think for themselves and understand why the parent is requiring certain behaviors.

Permissive [adults] give up most control to their children. [Permissive caregivers] make few, if any, rules, and the rules that they make are usually not consistently enforced. They don’t want to be tied down to routines. They want [the] children to feel free. They do not set clear boundaries or expectations for [the] children’s behavior and tend to accept in a warm and loving way, however the child behaves.

Permissive parents give children as many choices as possible, even when the child is not capable of making good choices. They tend to accept a child’s behavior, good or bad, and make no comment about whether it is beneficial or not. They may feel unable to change misbehavior, or they choose not to get involved.

Democratic or Authoritative:
Democratic [caregivers] help children learn to be responsible for themselves and to think about the consequences of their behavior. [Adults] do this by providing clear, reasonable expectations for [the] children and explanations for why they expect their children to behave in a particular manner. They monitor [the] children’s behavior to make sure that they follow through on rules and expectations. They do this in a warm and loving manner. They often, “try to catch [the] children being good” and reinforcing the good behavior, rather than focusing on the bad.

For example, a child who leaves her toys on a staircase may be told not to do this because, “Someone could trip on them and get hurt and the toy might be damaged.” As children mature, [caregivers] involve children in making rules and doing chores: “Who will mop the kitchen floor, and who will carry out the trash?”

Parents who have a democratic style give choices based on a child’s ability. For a toddler, the choice may be “red shirt or striped shirt?” For an older child, the choice might be “apple, orange or banana?” Parents guide children’s behavior by teaching, not punishing. “You threw your truck at Mindy. That hurt her. We’re putting your truck away until you can play with it safely.”

Tomorrow we will discuss positive discipline.

Be quoted in our monthly poll by taking the survey at:

Do you share the same discipline style as the parents? Have you had any issues disciplining your charges?


  1. My last job as a nanny was horrible because the parents had different discipline styles. The father was authoritative, the mother permissive and I got stuck in between. Kids are so manipulative by nature that they play adults against one antoher. Not because they are mean, but simply because they are kids and they do what works at getting them what they want. Discipline ends up being the most difficult issue with any family I have ever worked for mostly because what methods to use keep changing when you work with rowdy kids. Usually you cannot really tell how parents discipline their kids during an interview though because they always say how they wish they were and how they wish they acted when in reality they do not discipline as they say they do. While I was interviewing with a family the father was yelling at work associates on the cell phone. As much as I needed a job I knew I couldn’t work for them. For my sake I didn’t want to be yelled at like that.Yvonne, live-in nanny NY city

  2. Good to break it down like this. I raise my voice more than I should, shamefully proving that I lose control more than I should.Mary D. CT Nanny

  3. My problem is the mother’s lack of consistency when disciplining the kids! The mother works from home and constantly threatens the children with punishment then does not punish them! Drives me crazy. Yelling and threatening aren’t working. Time to change the approach. They kids behave wonderfully when mom is out of the house but they act differently when she is home (obviously). The kids acting differently with different adults is common and normal. But Mom sabatoges us whenever she is home.Message to all work at home mom’s: stay out of it when your nanny is working!! And be consistent when you get involved.

  4. My first nanny job was really difficult because the father yelled at the kids a lot. It actually got to the point of being mean and inappropriate. I don’t like seeing kids yelled at unless absolutely necessary. I agree in being strict, but he went overboard. I had no idea how to discuss this with the parents. They are the parents and I felt like it wasn’t my place to discuss it. But, I really ask a lot of open ended questions during nanny job interviews because of that first job experience. “How should I handle it if your son hits another child?””How would you like me to discipline your daughter if she grabs toys?” and so on.I think you can teach kids with rewards and punishments but in a respectful way. I don’t want kids crying everyday. Everyone has a slightly different concept of how to discipline children. There is nothing wrong with that unless the parent’s style completely contradicts yours (the nanny). Natural consequences, sticker charters, and rewards for good behavior are the best way to encourage good behavior of children. But that’s easy to do when kids are behaving. Punishment is tricky. Time-outs, typically one minute for every year of age or losing privileges are appropraite punishments for nannies to give.Fran Wallace Nanny Colorado

  5. The kids get into terrible power struggles about everything! It was 7 degrees this morning yet they didn’t want to wear hats and gloves to school. Sorry but when it’s 50 degrees let them learn the consequences of being cold if they don’t wear hats and gloves. But when it is 7 degrees they must wear proper clothing, no discussions. Power struggles about everything!

  6. The parents and I do share the same discipline approach. I have become less strict over the past years of nannying because my former employers had demands of not raising my voice, using the word “NO” and various forms of discipline. But I’ve gotten too permissive. So I am working at being consistent and such like the current parents would like me to do.Erica NJ

  7. I have problems at my job because one of the children kicks and screams. It's never ok to hit or kick another person. Yet, the mother refuses to discipline the boy. I have tried everything from rewarding good behavior, punishing, & time-outs. But the parents set the tone. If the mother won't discipline than it doesn't matter what I do. I don't know how much more I can take. I am considering looking for another job over it.

  8. I can’t believe how common this is for nannies- I’ve been a nanny for 3 years for the same family and at least once a week I have thought- “i gotta get another job” Being a nanny can be one of the most difficult and awkward jobs to be in because you are involved with 1)someone else’s child, 2)someone else’s discipline style and 3) you are involved in someone else’s life- the intimate workings and details of their daily life. Nannies are third parties who have an outsider’s view of the family life. For a nanny to successfully do their job parents have to be conscious of the fact that they are technically not part of the family but when they are on the job they are part of the team who has the same authority as the parent. Children are extremely smart and don’t miss a beat. They will definitely take any opportunity given to manipulate and control a situation if the nanny does not have full support from the parents. And when a nanny does not have full support from the parents then I really begin to wonder why do you employ a nanny? And what is exactly is my job? I relate to every single post I have read here, and thought I was going crazy with my job situation. I have reached out with my boss on numerous occasions alerting her to my thoughts and concerns- and while her efforts are sincere I truly believe if a nanny is in this position there is not much to do about it except stay or leave. We cannot change it, just change which family to work for. Recently I have been using a different technique when the parents are present however- if the child throws a tantrum or misbehaves and a parent is right there, I walk away. Want no business in it- however, of course when I am the sole one in charge I enforce rules and discipline but usually the situation most likely would not have occurred at all.

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