These days, technology advances at a dizzying pace – almost as fast as children outgrow their shoes. Navigating the modern world can leave many moms and dads searching for some good old-fashioned advice.
But there is bright news: When it comes to raising kids, the more things change, the more they stay the same.
According to psychologist Laurence Steinberg, the newest gadgets or latest trends do nothing to affect core child-rearing practices.
In The 10 Basic Principles of Good Parenting, Steinberg offers insights that apply to kids at every stage – and endure throughout the ages.
“One of the points of the book is not to be driven by the fad of the day and the latest parenting advice, but grounded in what science has told us about the effective ways to raise children,” says Steinberg, a distinguished psychology professor at Temple University and expert in adolescent development.
Basically, Steinberg says, it boils down to giving your child lots of love, attention and respect. Here are some of Steinberg’s tried-and-true tips – and insights from some Metro Parent Facebook followers.
1. What you do matters
In the age-old battle of nature vs. nurture, rest assured the environment you provide for your child matters as much to his success as heredity.
“There isn’t a more important influence on your child’s development than you, including your child’s genes. What you do matters. Tell yourself that every day,” Steinberg writes.
Set a good example and don’t underestimate your power to influence your child’s choices.
When you make mistakes – and you will – admit them and move on.
“Parents mess up all the time, which is why we read tips. So remember to apologize to your kids if you didn’t handle something as gracefully as you would’ve liked.”
– Angie Markel
2. You cannot be too loving
It’s scientifically impossible to spoil a child with love, so scoop them up and shower them with hugs and praise. “Children need plenty of physical affection from their parents; not just when they are infants, but throughout childhood and adolescence,” Steinberg writes.
Children develop a strong sense of self from the security of feeling genuinely loved, he says, and nothing can replace that.
“Show love to your child, to your spouse in front of your child, to yourself. … Your child will learn how to love from watching you.”
– Sophia Sboukis
3. Be involved in your child’s life
Time spent with your child is never wasted – and it doesn’t matter what you do together, but how you do it. According to Steinberg, quality time is defined by a state of mind, not a set of activities.
Don’t miss any opportunity to get involved in your child’s interests and academics.
“The strongest and most consistent predictor of children’s mental health, adjustment, happiness and well-being is the level of involvement of their parents in their life,” Steinberg writes.
“The dishes and vacuuming can wait. All kids want and need is to spend time with their parents. Go outside with them, play a board game. Show them that you are listening to them talk. Ask questions. Actually be with them in the moment.”
– Melanie Galambos Young
4. Adapt your parenting to fit your child
Even though good parenting practices are universal, they must be tweaked to suit the individual characteristics of each child in a family – and to adapt to changes in each child over time.
Make it a point to learn about each stage of development before your child gets there. And as your child grows, create situations that take advantage of his innate strengths and avoid those that accentuate his weaknesses.
“Trust your instincts. You know your child better than any book, family member, friend, nosy stranger, etc.”
– Tiffany Vosburg
5. Establish rules and set limits
Structure makes children feel safe. Over time, boundaries help your child develop the ability to manage her own behavior. When setting limits, be firm but fair. Explain that you have rules for a reason. If your guidelines are grounded in what makes sense, your child is more likely to cooperate.
“Never make a rule or consequence you can’t or won’t enforce.”
– Maria Mitchell
6. Help foster your child’s independence
According to Steinberg, children need a mix of freedom and constraints. Pick your battles and pre-approve your child’s choices. Help him think through difficult decisions, praising good choices and occasionally letting him learn from bad ones.
Above all, give your child space to grow.
“When your kids are grown, let them live their own lives.”
– Mary Lee Major Poole
7. Be consistent
The easiest way to help a child learn to act appropriately is to make good behavior a habit she doesn’t even need to think about. Set routines, present a united front and identify your non-negotiables.
“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,” Steinberg writes.
Being consistent doesn’t mean being rigid, though.
“The difference is that consistent discipline is adapted to fit the situation, whereas rigid discipline is the same regardless of circumstances,” Steinberg says.
“Follow through. Whatever you say you are going to do, do it. Otherwise you lose all credibility with your kid(s).”
– Jennifer Lavender-Schott
8. Avoid harsh discipline
Never use physical punishment or verbal abuse. Don’t discipline when you’re angry.
The right way to punish needs to include five elements, Steinberg says, usually in the following order: Identify the specific act that was wrong, describe the impact of the misbehavior, suggest alternatives to the undesirable conduct, state clearly what the punishment will be and let your child know you expect better next time.
“Lay the foundation for expectations and stick to them.”
– Kathy Adelini
9. Explain your rules and decisions
Be clear about what you want from your child, and set the bar high.
“Good parents have expectations of what they want their child to live up to,” Steinberg writes.
Use reasonable, logical and consistent explanations in line with what your child can understand, then hear them out. Listening to your child’s point of view makes her feel like part of the decision-making process.
“Teach them empathy by taking time to really understand them. Not just listening with your ears but also with your heart.”
– Jaimee Saputo-Fristedt
10. Treat your child with respect
It’s important that you give your child the same courtesy you would offer anyone else, and you can start with your next conversation.
“When researchers ask children and adolescents to name the things they wish were different about their family life, one of the top things on the list is almost always that they wish their parents would spend more time just talking with them,” Steinberg writes.
So pay attention, ask your child what she thinks and feels in ways that require more than one-word answers, and don’t interrupt.
She’ll learn to treat others the way you treat her.
“Don’t break their spirit. Guide them.”
– Tara Williard
Classic things parents say
And, finally, a little bit of fun levity. Forget the latest parenting maxims. Sometimes you just have to put on that old broken record and let it play. Here’s a look at some favorite parenting catch phrases from Metro Parent’s Facebook friends.
- “If you did it right the first time, you wouldn’t have to do it again.” – Maria Mitchell
- “Not today … ” – Jenn Lynne
- “You’re gonna poke your eye out!” – Jessica Adams
- “Are you broke? Are you bleeding? Are you dying? No? Then you’re fine. Go play.” – Meg Buckley
- “You get whatcha get. Don’t throw a fit.” – Jennifer Burnette
- “No one ever said life was fair.” – Holly Willenborg Hengstebeck
- “You’d forget your head if it wasn’t attached.” – Patricia Tsune Ballard
- “I brought you into this world; I’ll take you out!” – Cheryl Craft DeFilippi
- “Don’t make me stop this car!” – Katie Fennelly Wiseman
- “Don’t come home stupid!” (from Everybody Hates Chris) – Jaime Lyn Moy
- “You heard me!” – Syndia Mendez
- “Don’t make me start counting.” – Christina Sebert
- “What did I just say?” – Alison Richard Ristovski
- “You’re bored? I can find you something to do.” – Alison Vick Pilatti
- “Don’t dillydally” – Jackie Sokel Conrad
Illustration by Bob Daly
This article originally appeared in the May 2013 issue of Metro Parent and is updated regularly.