Parenting Guide: Healthy Principles that Work

Introduction to Healthy Parenting

It is not easy to raise happy, healthy children. It is not enough to rely on your instincts or follow the example of your parents. Parenting requires you to know what works for your children and why. Laurence Steinberg (Professor of Psychology at Temple University in Philadelphia) offers practical advice about raising confident, well-adjusted kids in The Ten Basic Principles of Good Parenting.

It’s what you do that matters.

Children learn from their parents how to behave. Parents are important role models. Steinberg says, “This is one the most important principles.” “What you do matters… Don’t react to the impulse. Ask yourself: What are my goals, and how likely is this to help me achieve them? Children are looking to their parents to learn how to behave, whether exercising, eating healthy food, or treating others with kindness or honesty.

You can’t be too loving.

There is no such thing as “too much” in love. It is important to remember that love and material possessions are not the same as love. Steinberg writes that it is impossible to spoil a child without love. It is not the result of giving too much love to a child that we consider spoiling them. This is often the result of giving children things instead of love, such as leniency, lower expectations, or material possessions.

Participate in the Life of Your Child

Parenting is a huge responsibility. Being involved as a parent is a time-consuming and hard task. It often requires reorganizing your priorities and thinking about what you should be doing. This often means giving up what you love to do to help your child. Steinberg writes, “Be there mentally and physically.”

Parents should be there for their children but not take over all the tasks. Steinberg states that homework is a way for teachers to see if the child is learning. You are not letting teachers know what your child is learning by doing homework.

You can adapt your parenting style to fit your child.

How a child behaves can be greatly affected by their age. Learn what behavior changes are normal for children and support them in their personal development.

Steinberg writes that the same drive to independence drives your 3-year old to say “no” all the time and is also what motivates him toilet-trained. Your 13-year old is also becoming more argumentative at the dinner table because of the same intellectual growth spurt.

Establish and set rules

It is important to teach your child how to manage his behavior when he is young. Steinberg states that if you don’t manage your child’s behavior early on, he will struggle to learn how to manage his behavior later in life. You should be able to answer the following three questions at all times: Where is my child? Who is my child with? What’s my child doing? Your child will learn from you the rules that he must follow.

Parents should remain involved as their children grow older and are independent. “…you can’t micromanage your child,” Steinberg writes. “Once they are in middle school, it is important to let them do their homework and make their own decisions, not interfere.”

Foster Independence in Your Child

Children need to know their boundaries. Your child will learn self-control by setting limits. Encourage independence in your child to develop a sense of self-direction. Steinberg says that for a child to succeed in life, they will need both independence and self-direction.

It’s normal for children and their parents to want autonomy. Parents often mistakenly associate independence with rebellion or disobedience. Because it is human nature to desire control over others, children push for independence. Although these behaviors can be difficult for parents, they are essential for children’s development.

Be consistent

Be consistent with your rules. Steinberg says that if your rules change from day to day in an unpredicted fashion, or if they are only applied intermittently, then your child’s behavior is not your fault. Consistency is the most important tool for disciplining children. Identify your nonnegotiables. Your authority should be based on wisdom, not power. This will make it less likely that your child will question it.

Avoid harsh discipline

It is not an option to discipline children with physical force. Children who are spanked or hit are more likely to fight with their peers. Steinberg writes that bullies are more likely to use aggression to resolve disputes with others.

Other methods to discipline children include “time out”, which works better and doesn’t involve aggression.

Explain your Rules and Decisions

Set clear expectations for your child that are age-appropriate. Make sure they are communicated to him in a way that he can understand. Steinberg says that good parents set high expectations for their children. Parents tend to over-explain to children younger than they do to teenagers. A 12-year-old may not see what is obvious to you. He may not have the same priorities, judgment or experience as you.

Treat Your Child with Respect

Respect your children and teach them to respect their parents. Steinberg writes that respecting your child is the best way to earn his respect. It would help if you showed your child the same respect you would show to others. Talk to him politely. Respect his opinions. Listen to what he has to say. Be kind to him. Do your best to please him whenever possible. Children should treat each other the same way as their parents. Your child will model the behaviors you display. Your child’s relationship with you is what will build her relationships with other people.

The rewards of good parenting

Steinberg believes that the more you practice good parenting skills, the easier it will become, even when reacting instinctively. Good parenting promotes psychological adjustment. It encourages honesty, empathy and self-reliance. It also promotes cooperation, success at school, intellectual curiosity, the desire to learn, and achievement. Steinberg says that good parenting helps children avoid antisocial behavior, such as drug and alcohol abuse, depression, anxiety, and eating disorders.

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