Feature Archive

10 Commandments of Good Parenting

Does your child have behavior problems? Your relationship with your child likely needs some attention.

By Jeanie Lerche Davis
WebMD Feature

Reviewed By Brunilda Nazario, MD

You know the checkout line scenario: 3-year-old child wants this toy, this candy, this something -- and she wants it nooooow! The crying starts, escalating into a full-blown tantrum.

In his new book, The Ten Basic Principles of Good Parenting, Laurence Steinberg, PhD, provides guidelines based on the top social science research -- some 75 years of studies. Follow them, and you can avert all sorts of child behavior problems, he says.

After all, what is the goal when you're dealing with children? To show who's boss? To instill fear? Or to help the child develop into a decent, self-confident human being?

Good parenting helps foster empathy, honesty, self-reliance, self-control, kindness, cooperation, and cheerfulness, says Steinberg. It also promotes intellectual curiosity, motivation, and desire to achieve. It helps protect children from developing anxiety, depression, eating disorders, anti-social behavior, and alcohol and drug abuse.

"Parenting is one of the most researched areas in the entire field of social science," says Steinberg, who is a distinguished professor of psychology at Temple University in Philadelphia. The scientific evidence for the principles he outlines "is very, very consistent," he tells WebMD.

Too many parents base their actions on gut reaction. But some parents have better instincts than others, Steinberg says. Children should never be hit -- not even a slap on a toddler's bottom, he tells WebMD. "If your young child is headed into danger, into traffic, you can grab him and hold him, but you should under no circumstances hit him."

Ruby Natale PhD, PsyD, professor of clinical pediatrics at the University of Miami Medical School, couldn't agree more. She offered a few of her own insights. "Many people use the same tactics their own parents used, and a lot of times that meant using really harsh discipline," she tells WebMD.

A parent's relationship with his or her child will be reflected in the child's actions -- including child behavior problems, Natale explains. "If you don't have a good relationship with your child, they're not going to listen to you. Think how you relate to other adults. If you have a good relationship with them, you tend to trust them more, listen to their opinions, and agree with them. If it's someone we just don't like, we will ignore their opinion."

Steinberg's 10 principles hold true for anyone who deals with children -- coach, teacher, babysitter, he says.

The 10 Principles of Good Parenting

1. What you do matters. "This is one of the most important principles," Steinberg tells WebMD. "What you do makes a difference. Your kids are watching you. 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?'"

2. You cannot be too loving. "It is simply not possible to spoil a child with love," he 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."

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 to do. Be there mentally as well as physically."

Being involved does not mean doing a child's homework -- or reading it over or correcting it. "Homework is a tool for teachers to know whether the child is learning or not," Steinberg tells WebMD. "If you do the homework, you're not letting the teacher know what the child is learning."

4. Adapt your parenting to fit your child. Keep pace with your child's development. Your child is growing up. Consider how age is affecting the child's behavior.

"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," 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."

For example: An eighth grader is easily distracted, irritable. His grades in school are suffering. He's argumentative. Should parents push him more, or should they be understanding so his self-esteem doesn't suffer?



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