Wednesday, 3 November 2010

15 Guiding Principles for Parents

 By Jonathan D. Sherman, LMFT

    I often divide my work with clients into Guiding Principles and Practical Techniques. Both are necessary as each brings something different to the table. People naturally want in-the-moment practical techniques that really work. However, techniques alone are not enough as they lack the heart needed to guide them well. Principles provide the heart, but lack the teeth and specific direction that brings success.

In this article we will examine just a few of the Guiding Principles that are addressed in my Parenting Mastery Groups. In the next article we will examine 12 Practical Techniques for parents.

1. Use “Love and Logic.” The basic Parenting with Love and Logic approach is simply this:
    •    Take good care of yourself as a parent;
    •    Give choices you can live with;
    •    Let consequences do the teaching;
    •    You respond with love and empathy.

2. Get off the lecture circuit. Don’t argue, lecture, yell or nag. Lecturing is one of the least effective and the most draining of traditional parenting methods. Interestingly, these common parenting methods actually reinforce the very behaviors we are trying to extinguish—thus we are working against our own goals when we lecture, argue, yell and nag. If you must lecture, reduce your talk to what I call ultra-brief “One-sentence lectures”.

3. Problem ownership. Who owns the problem? Who is more worried about grades, chores and manners? You or your child? Learn how to make these problems for your child  to own instead of you.

4. Heed ancient wisdom. The following passages from the Bible offer timeless and sage advice to parents regardless of religious background:
    •    “Train up a child in the way he should go: and when he is old, he will not depart from it.” Proverbs 22:6
    •    “Despise not one of these little ones.” Matthew 18:10
    •    “Provoke not your children to anger, lest they be discouraged.” Colossians 3:21

5. Focus on hard muscles (actual behaviors) vs. soft muscles (brain, thinking, feelings, attitudes, etc.).

6. Set consequences up so your child can make a better decision. Remember that children need to experience consequences to make good choices.

7. Discipline vs. punishment. Discipline says, “I trust you can learn from your consequences.” Punishment says, “You screwed up, I’m mad at you, and you’re going to get it.”

8. United parenting. Get united or get divided. Don’t blame your kids if you get divided—it’s not their job to set your parenting structure and boundaries for you.

9. “Hugs and praise raise good kids.” See this article by Ann Landers at

10. German Shepherd 101. Train your children consistently as would a good dog trainer: 1. Shape the behavior you want; 2. Model the behavior you want; 3. Track the positive behavior you want; 4. Draw out the behavior you want.

11. Do one thing different. Do one skill, approach, technique or mindset consistently for a month and trust the ripple effect. Trying to do many things poorly or partly usually leads to nothing being accomplished but frustration.

12. Catch them being good more than you catch them being bad.

13. Remember, their brains are working. If your kids are making mistakes and bad choices that usually means their brains are working—as they have to fall and fail in order to learn. This is normal. Thus it’s workable. Remember: We all learn by making mistakes.

14. Pick your battles. Identify what really matters. Focus your parenting energies into those few and drop the rest (at least for now).

15. Get rid of energy sapping parental blame and guilt and just deal with what is put in front of you. So you screwed up yesterday. Today is today. Truth is, you’re probably doing good enough and will probably just keep getting better over time. So ease up off of yourself. Get off your back. You’ll learn it in time. We all do.

Watch a future post where we will examine 12 Practical Techniques for parents that will give some teeth to these principles.
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