When I was in college, I spent several summers working as a counsellor at a summer camp (primarily for rich kids on the east coast whose parents wanted to get rid of them for the summer, the “dont kiss me, you’ll muss my makeup” on visitors day syndrome.)
Major lesson I learned: I began by being a disciplinarian, insisting on quiet during rest time, on hard work during clean up time. I had a co-counselor who was far more relaxed, and said, hey, the kids are here to have fun. I loosened up, we went on mud hikes (where the point was to get as filthy as possible), frinstance. (Yes, we were responsible about it, we did the mudhike the day before laundry day, and we showered the kids thoroughly afterwards.)
That lesson stuck with me through what I think of as very successful parenting. We were relaxed and loose about things that didn’t matter. Safety is one thing, of course, but the rest, the heck with it. Sure, you want the kids to learn good manners and cleanliness and morality and all, but you teach those by example, not by lecture, not by discipline. “A spoonful of sugar” has got more depth to it than one would imagine.
My kids (now 24 and 22) still tell about the time our son (then about 8 or 9) was misbehaving at the dinner table, teasing his sister almost to tears, and I said, “Behave yourself or I’ll dump your stew on your head.” He persisted, so I dumped the stew on his head and said, “Never call a father’s bluff.” (Safety first: it was mild warm to cool at that point.) Everyone cracked up, my son included, and instead of an angry screaming fight we had a laugh fest. He learned the lesson – he learned lots of lessons – from the incident.
So the lesson I learned was not to take things too seriously.