Counsellor Tips: Principles of Good Parenting
Have you ever wrestled with a problem, walked away from it for a period, and then ended up having an epiphany while you were officially “off duty” from the problem? Laurence Steinberg, an internationally renowned expert on psychological development during adolescence, talks about having such an experience leading to the development of his book on parenting. He says that he was reading “probably for the 10th time” (Slideshare, n.d.), Harvey Penick’s Little Red Golf Book, built around a series of short essays treating very basic golfing principles, when it dawned on him that the same approach could work for parenting. The Ten Basic Principles of Good Parenting (Steinberg, 2005) was born.
We summarise the principles below, in lay person’s language. Steinberg writes that, while no parent is perfect, all parents (he includes himself) can improve their batting average. These principles are valid for anyone dealing with children, from parents to teachers, coaches, and even babysitters.
What you do matters
How you treat and respond to your child matters; your child is watching you! This important principle urges parents not to react spontaneously, but with a deliberate sense of what they wish to accomplish with a given response or intervention. The $64,000 question is: “What effect will this decision/action/remark have on my child?”
You cannot be too loving
Steinberg insists that parents cannot love a child too much, as determined by expressions of warmth and affection. Rather, when we talk about “spoiling” a child with too much “love”, we are actually referring to the consequences of giving a child too many things in place of love, be they leniency, lowered expectations, or material gifts.
Be involved in your child’s life
This principle involves showing up for the relationship, being “there” for the child mentally as well as physically. The consequences of adopting this one are that parents are constantly re-prioritising and re-arranging their lives, sacrificing what they would like to do for what their child’s needs mean that they should do. It does not mean taking over the child’s duties, such as homework (or for that matter correcting it before it goes to the teacher who, after all, needs to see if the child is learning). It does mean that the parent who has not stepped inside the sports complex by the end of the season to watch a single game of their child is not following this principle, and is probably also hugely disappointing the child.
Adapt your parenting to fit your child
Parents who love having a baby around may be loath to see that baby develop, but grow the child must: no parental “freeze-framing” allowed. Frustrated parents have difficulty seeing suddenly rebellious two-year-olds frequently utter their favourite new word: “No!” But the drive toward individuation that underlies that refusal to cooperate is the same as the one that launches the late adolescent, prepared, into a responsible adult life. The drive toward mental and psychological autonomy that generates a sense of intellectual curiosity is also the one that makes the fourteen-year-old argumentative at home. It is easy to come down hard on children, enforcing parent-generated rules inflexibly and without regard for developmental milestones being reached, but a second look at what may be motivating behaviour is important for the child. For example, an irritable twelve-year-old who can’t seem to concentrate could be depressed or sleep-deprived. Steinberg advises parents to let professionals diagnose whether the problem is depression or, possibly, difficulty structuring time in order to get homework and other duties completed in time to get sufficient sleep.
Establish and set rules
Mental health helpers realise (but not all parents do) that self-discipline springs eventually from appropriate external discipline (read: boundaries set and rules followed) earlier on, as children learn to govern themselves based on how they were managed when younger. Steinberg tells parents that they should always be able to answer three questions: (1) “Where is my child?” (2) “Who is with my child?” (3) “What is my child doing?” Children who were reared without (reasonable) rules or boundaries enforced will have difficulty disciplining themselves later on. Note to parents: this is not an excuse for micro-managing, which may achieve the opposite effect!
Foster your child’s independence
Similarly to dealing with rules, the limits set externally by parents when the child is young are what allow the child to develop the internal limits (self-control) later. When parents also encourage independence, children gain a sense of self-direction. Successful, autonomous adult life requires both. You can be on the lookout for a common parental mistake: assuming that a strong drive for independence is rebelliousness or disobedience. You can help parents recognise, rather, that it is human nature to want to feel in control rather than be controlled by someone else.
Steinberg insists that, when parents’ rules vary from day to day (or situation to situation?), then the child’s misbehaviour is the parents’ fault, not the child’s. Consistency, he claims, is the parent’s most important disciplinary tool, suitably sharpened by clear identification of the parent’s non-negotiables (e.g., a stance that a child might sometimes be allowed to stay up a bit later, but she is never allowed to jump into the swimming pool right on top of her little brother). The more the parent’s authority is based on wisdom, not power, the less children will challenge it. Inconsistency is confusing for children.
Avoid harsh discipline
Parents invoke many forms of excessive discipline, but the worst is that of physical punishment, says Steinberg. 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. Parents should never hit a child; spanking causes aggression, which can lead to relationship problems with others. “Timeouts” are much more effective.
Explain your rules and decisions
Good parents have expectations for their child to live up to, but those may not be obvious to the child – or even teenager – with their lesser life experience and different priorities. While parents tend to over-explain to young children and under-explain to adolescents, it is still worth noting that explanations help to engender cooperation. When children know why a parent needs or wants something done, they are more likely to cooperate (note Principle 7 on consistency here; rules based on wisdom are more likely to be cooperated with).
Treat your child with respect
If parents wish to get respectful treatment from their child, they must extend respect to them. Children should be extended the same courtesies as anyone else, including our friends, parents, and bosses. Parents should speak politely, pay attention when the child is speaking to them, and treat him or her kindly. Parents should try to please children when that is possible. Children will treat others the way their parents treat them and their relationship with their child is that child’s foundation for relationships with others (Steinberg, 200S; Davis, 2005; Slideshare, n.d.).
- Davis, J.L. (2005). 10 Commandments of good parenting. WebMD. Retrieved on 16 January, 2017, from: hyperlink.
- Slideshare. (n.d.). Ten basic principles of good parenting: There is a science to raising children. Slideshare.net. Retrieved on 16 January, 2017, from: hyperlink.
- Steinberg, L. (2005). The 10 basic principles of good parenting. New York: Simon & Schuster. Retrieved on 9 January, 2017, from: hyperlink. ISBN-10 0743251164 ISBN-13 9780743251167.