Newswise — What you do matters. You cannot be too loving. Be involved in your child's life. Adapt your parenting to fit your child. Establish rules and set limits. Help foster your child's independence. Be consistent. Avoid harsh discipline. Explain your rules and decisions. Treat your child with respect.
Temple University psychologist Laurence Steinberg can't guarantee that if you follow those principles, you'll be a perfect parent. But he can promise that the more consistently you practice the principles, the better off your child will be. Perfect parents, he says, just don't exist.
"Most parents are pretty good parents," says Steinberg, a nationally prominent expert on adolescent development and parenting. "But I've never met a parent who is perfect 100 percent of the time. We all can improve our batting average."
That's why Steinberg, the Distinguished University Professor and the Laura Carnell Professor of Psychology at Temple, wrote the newly released The Ten Basic Principles of Good Parenting (Simon & Schuster). Chapter by chapter and principle by principle, the succinctly written, easy-to-follow guide outlines what top social scientists know about how to raise happy, well-adjusted children.
"Raising children is not something we think of as especially scientific," says Steinberg. "But parenting is one of the most well-researched areas in the entire field of social science. It has been studied for 75 years, and the findings have remained remarkably consistent over time.
"The advice in the book is based on what scientists who study parenting have learned from decades of systematic research involving hundreds of thousands of families. What I've done is to synthesize and communicate what the experts have learned in a language that non-experts can understand."
When he first considered writing the book, Steinberg researched the parenting book market. He found three types of parenting books: those based on people's opinions, which, he says, "were often just plain wrong" ; those that were "highly detailed treatments of single development periods" like infancy or preschool and, sometimes, adolescence; and those that focused on "specific problems" like sleep difficulties, ADHD or drug use.
"I could not find a single book that covered parenting in general and that was evidence-based," says Steinberg, whose other books include You and Your Adolescent: A Parent's Guide for Ages 10 to 20 (HarperCollins, 1997), Crossing Paths: How Your Child's Adolescence Triggers Your Own Crisis (Simon & Schuster, 1994), and Beyond the Classroom: Why School Reform Has Failed and What Parents Need to Do (Simon & Schuster, 1996). "Few popular books are grounded in well-documented science."
And even fewer are written in a style that is easy for today's busy parents to read, adds Steinberg, whose concept for the book stemmed from his own desire to improve his golf game.
"I was reading, probably for the 10th time, Harvey Penick's Little Red Golf Book," he says. "It is built around a series of very short essays that cover very basic principles.
"As I was reading it, I was thinking that this might be a good way to teach people how to be better parents. I thought that today's parents are too busy to read long books and are used to reading material that has been 'chunked' into short, manageable, memorable parts."
Good parenting, says Steinberg, is "parenting that fosters psychological adjustment—elements like honesty, empathy, self-reliance, kindness, cooperation, self-control and cheerfulness.
"Good parenting is parenting that helps children succeed in school," he continues. "It promotes the development of intellectual curiosity, motivation to learn and desire to achieve. It deters children from anti-social behavior, delinquency, and drug and alcohol use. And good parenting is parenting that helps protect children against the development of anxiety, depression, eating disorders and other types of psychological distress."
According to Steinberg, the fundamentals of effective parenting are the same regardless of the age, sex or birth order of a child.
"And they are the same regardless of whether the primary parent is a mother, father or some other caregiver," says Steinberg, a former president of the Society for Research on Adolescence. "They even hold true for people who work with children, like teachers, coaches and mentors. The evidence is that strong." Himself the father of a son who is now a young adult, Steinberg recognizes that not all parents do a lot of thinking about their parental skills. With this book, he wants to change that.
"A lot of parenting is driven by instincts, our gut responses. But some parents have better instincts than others.
"The more parents practice good parenting when they do have time to think before they act, the more natural good parenting will become during those moments when they are responding instinctively," he continues. "Although the principles certainly make sense, their use is anything but common. In fact, many parents violate them all the time.
"There is no more important job in any society than raising children, and there is no more important influence on how children develop than their parents."
Below, Steinberg explains his Ten Basic Principles of Good Parenting:
1. What you do matters. "Tell yourself that every day. How you treat and respond to your child should come from a knowledgeable, deliberate sense of what you want to accomplish. Always ask yourself: What effect will my decision have on my child?"
2. You cannot be too loving. "When it comes to genuine expressions of warmth and affection, you cannot love your child too much. It is simply not possible to spoil a child with love. 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."
3. Be involved in your child's life. "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 you to do. Be there mentally as well as physically."
4. Adapt your parenting to fit your child. "Make sure your parenting keeps pace with your child's development. You may wish you could slow down or freeze-frame your child's life, but this is the last thing he wants. You may be fighting getting older, but all he wants is to grow up. The same drive for independence that is making your three-year-old say 'no' all the time is what's motivating him to be toilet trained. 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."
5. Establish and set rules. "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. 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."
6. Foster your child's independence. "Setting limits helps your child develop a sense of self-control. Encouraging independence helps her develop a sense of self-direction. To be successful in life, she's going to need both. Accepting that it is normal for children to push for autonomy is absolutely key to effective parenting. 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."
7. Be consistent. "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. Your most important disciplinary tool is consistency. Identify your non-negotiables. The more your authority is based on wisdom and not on power, the less your child will challenge it."
8. Avoid harsh discipline. "Of all the forms of punishment that parents use, the one with the worst side effects is physical punishment. 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."
9. Explain your rules and decisions. "Good parents have expectations they want their child to live up to. Generally, parents overexplain to young children and underexplain 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."
10. Treat your child with respect. "The best way to get respectful treatment from your child is to treat him respectfully. 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. Your relationship with your child is the foundation for her relationships with others."
An online version of this release is available through the Office of News and Media Relations at: http://www.temple.edu/news_media/bb0404_604.html.
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The Ten Basic Principles of Good Parenting