Raising happy and healthy children is a tough job. Parenting involves not just relying on our instincts or doing what our parents did before us, but knowing what works best for our children, and why. In The Ten Basic Principles of Good Parenting, author Laurence Steinberg, PhD, a professor of psychology at Temple University in Philadelphia, gives practical advice on how to raise confident and well-adjusted children.
Parents are important role models for their children, who learn how to behave by watching mom and dad. "This is one of the most important principles," Steinberg explains. "What you do makes a difference...Don't just react on the spur of the moment. Ask yourself, What do I want to accomplish, and is this likely to produce that result?" Whether it's eating healthy foods, exercising, treating others kindly, or being honest, children are paying attention and look to their parents for cues on how to behave.
There is no such thing as "too much" love. Remember that material possessions or lack of rules and limits is not the same thing as love. "It is simply not possible to spoil a child with love," Steinberg writes. "What we often think of as the product of spoiling a child is never the result of showing a child too much love. It is usually the consequence of giving a child things in place of love -- things like leniency, lowered expectations, or material possessions."
Parenting involves a lot of responsibility. "Being an involved parent takes time and is hard work, and it often means rethinking and rearranging your priorities. It frequently means sacrificing what you want to do for what your child needs to do. Be there mentally as well as physically," writes Steinberg.
At the same time, while parents need to be there for their children, they should not do everything for them, including homework. "Homework is a tool for teachers to know whether the child is learning or not," Steinberg says. "If you do the homework, you're not letting the teacher know what the child is learning."
The age of a child can greatly affect how he or she behaves. Know what behavioral changes are normal and help support them in their personal growth and development.
"The same drive for independence that is making your 3-year-old say 'no' all the time is what's motivating him to be toilet trained," writes Steinberg. "The same intellectual growth spurt that is making your 13-year-old curious and inquisitive in the classroom also is making her argumentative at the dinner table."
When a child is younger, it's important to help manage his behavior, which teaches him how to manage himself. "If you don't manage your child's behavior when he is young, he will have a hard time learning how to manage himself when he is older and you aren't around," Steinberg says. "Any time of the day or night, you should always be able to answer these three questions: Where is my child? Who is with my child? What is my child doing? The rules your child has learned from you are going to shape the rules he applies to himself."
As children age, parents should be involved while allowing their children independence. "…you can't micromanage your child," Steinberg writes. "Once they're in middle school, you need to let the child do their own homework, make their own choices, and not intervene."
Boundaries for children are important. "Setting limits helps your child develop a sense of self-control. Encouraging independence helps your child develop a sense of self-direction. To be successful in life, he's going to need both," says Steinberg.
"It's normal for children to push for autonomy. Many parents mistakenly equate their child's independence with rebelliousness or disobedience. Children push for independence because it is part of human nature to want to feel in control rather than to feel controlled by someone else." These behaviors may be challenging for parents, but they are an important step for childhood development.
Set rules and be consistent in applying them. "If your rules vary from day to day in an unpredictable fashion or if you enforce them only intermittently, your child's misbehavior is your fault, not his," says Steinberg. "Your most important disciplinary tool is consistency. Identify your nonnegotiables. The more your authority is based on wisdom and not on power, the less your child will challenge it."
Physical discipline is never an option. "Children who are spanked, hit, or slapped are more prone to fighting with other children. They are more likely to be bullies and more likely to use aggression to solve disputes with others," Steinberg writes.
"There are many other ways to discipline a child -- including 'time out' -- which work better and do not involve aggression."
Have clear expectations that are age-appropriate and make sure they are clear to the child in a way he understands. "Good parents have expectations they want their child to live up to," Steinberg writes. "Generally, parents over-explain to young children and under-explain to adolescents. What is obvious to you may not be evident to a 12-year-old. He doesn't have the priorities, judgment, or experience that you have."
Treat children with respect and they will learn to respect others, including their parents. "The best way to get respectful treatment from your child is to treat him respectfully," Steinberg writes. "You should give your child the same courtesies you would give to anyone else. Speak to him politely. Respect his opinion. Pay attention when he is speaking to you. Treat him kindly. Try to please him when you can. Children treat others the way their parents treat them. You are modeling behaviors that your child will emulate. Your relationship with your child is the foundation for her relationships with others."
The more you practice good parenting skills, Steinberg says, the more natural it will be even in the times you respond instinctively. For Steinberg, good parenting fosters healthy psychological adjustment and it promotes positive behaviors and attributes such as honesty, empathy, self-reliance, kindness, cooperation, success in school, intellectual curiosity, motivation to learn, and the desire to achieve. Steinberg states good parenting also helps deter children from antisocial behaviors, drug and alcohol abuse, anxiety, depression, and eating disorders.
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- Steinberg, Laurence PhD: "The Ten Basic Principles of Good Parenting."