Parenting and Family

Parenting Rules for a Happy Home

  1. Don't tell 'em, show 'em. Don't wear yourself out trying to persuade, convince, get consent. TELL your child what the rule is, what the consequence will be, then follow through as needed.
  2. Your child NEEDS you to be NOT their friend. Don't be afraid of them getting angry with you. This includes not backing down because YOU need them to be happy.
  3. Just because your child is upset with you doesn't mean you've failed as a parent (In fact most of the time it means you're doing your job!)
  4. It's okay to not always want your children around. Children deserve to learn early that they aren't the center of everything, including their parent(s). Your children need to experiment with varying levels of independence, too.
  5. Unconditional positive regard. Even when you don't like how they're acting, even when you don't want them underfoot (see #4), even when you're angry, treat them with respect and care. This means expressing anger without sarcasm, yelling, berating, or hostility.
  6. Spend some time in your child's world. see things thru their eyes. Make regular gestures at bonding. Especially after a discipline has run its course, re-establishing positive mutual feelings is essential to future compliance.
  7. See past the surface of their behavior. If your child is demanding a treat at the grocery store and there is no other answer but no, say something like, "If I put a price on how much I love you I'd buy you the whole store." And leave it at that.
  8. Teach your children how to live by example. If you want the to be physically active, then YOU be physically active. Show them how to eat, cook, clean, have fun.
  9. Allow for unstructured free time. It is needed for learning to control impulses and build creativity. Provide resources for engaging in activities that cultivate the state of "absorbed involvement."
  10. Have clearly defined boundaries and roles between parents and children. This means chores, etiquette, clearly stated expectations and consistent consequences, bedtimes, parents' night out, etc. Convey often and consistently that they are not your "equal" (if you doubt this, then ask yourself who pays the bills? Goes to work? Is ultimately responsible for EVERYTHING in the house?) Children have the right to know that someone bigger, older, smarter, more experienced, is in charge of things.

Rosemond's Bill of Rights for Children

I have to include this because I like it so much. There has been a trend toward a parenting philosophy that says we need to do everything we can to preserve our children's self-esteem and give them every possible advantage, even at the expense of learning how to deal with adversity and how to make do with limits,  which does our kids a great disservice.  One of the most important areas in development of maturity is in learning to tolerate frustration and balance one's needs with those of others.

  • Because it is the most character-building, two-letter word in the English language, children have the right to hear their parents say "NO" at least three times a day.

  • Children have the right to find out early in their lives that their parents don't exist to make them happy, but to offer them the opportunity to learn the skills they - children - will need to eventually make themselves happy.

  • Children have a right to scream all they want over the decisions their parents make, albeit their parents have the right to confine said screaming to certain areas of their homes.

  • Children have the right to find out early that their parents care deeply for them, but don't give a hoot what their children think about them at any given moment in time.

  • Because it is the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth, children have the right to hear their parents say "Because I said so" on a regular and frequent basis.

  • Because it is the most character-building activity a child can engage in, children have the right to share significantly in the doing of household chores.

  • Every child has the right to discover early in life that he isn't the center of the universe (or his family or his parents' lives), that he isn't a big fish in a small pond, that he isn't the Second Coming, and that he's not ever - in the total scheme of things - very important at all, no one is, so as to prevent him from becoming an insufferable brat.

  • Children have the right to learn to be grateful for what they receive; therefore, they have the right to receive all of what they truly need and very little of what they simply want.

  • Children have the right to learn early in their lives that obedience to legitimate authority is not optional, that there are consequences for disobedience, and that said consequences are memorable and, therefore, persuasive.

  • Every child has the right to parents who love him/her enough to make sure he/she enjoys all of the above rights.

Dr. John Rosemond is a parenting specialist and has a regular column in the Living Section of the Sunday newspaper. His Bill of Rights For Children is taken from his website:

"Short term 'solutions' make for long-term nightmares." 

-John Rosemond

Primary Areas of Discipline

Self-regulation: Learning to regulate one's emotions, behavior, routine are all important functions of adulthood.  Without this ability it becomes difficult to keep house, keep a job, keep a relationship.  These abilities don't come naturally.  When we fail to establish and enforce rules, teach etiquette,  or provide consistent routine, kids fail to earn the relationshiop between cause and effect, and this can be disastrous.  All the other items that follow are domains of self-regulation.

Homework: Where we go wrong:  Getting into battles, bribing, over-helping, over-checking, cajoling, etc. Your child's education is their job.  Entirely.  Missed assignments and uncompleted homework should be dealt with primarily between your child and their teacher and/or school.  A detention on the day of  an important soccer practice is going to leave a memorable impression.

Bedtime: (Pass the cursor over the underlined phrases for a link to more about that topic.) Bedtime is important for a number of reasons and has some subtle but important roles in identity development.  How weyou go about it either supports or undermines your role as a parent.  Where we go wrong:  too much time spent soothing your child to sleep, inconsistent bedtimes, not enforcing bedtimes.   Bedtime routines should be calm, predictable and intimate but not take more than an hour or so exclusing perhaps a full bath.  This should be approached as completely expected starting before a child moves into their  toddler bed.

One area I think is absolutely important is reading to your child at bedtime.  This activity is uniquely intimate.  Stories carry important messages and foster imagination.  The process of being read to while simultaneously seeing the text reinforces letter and word recognition while fusing the act of reading with a sense of comfort.

The real reasons why bedtime is important:  Sure we tell kids that they need their sleep so their little bodies can grow.   But much of the benefit is for the adults.   Parents need some down-time of their own  to re-connect at the end of the day when your relationship might have felt drawn and quarted by the divergent demands of your children. For single parents, it's about connecting with yourself or with adult significant others. For kids, it's about imprinting routine and learning how to regulate one's arousal levels.  Allowing children to have some quiet play or reading that is confined to their room or bed is a good idea, and provides a nice transition from daily exploring to light's out.  

Chores: Every household member can and should contribute.  Even toddlers can pick up toys and "help" set the table .  Have a chore chart, tie allowance bonuses and priviliges to accomplishing chores.  It might be easier in the short run to do it yourself, but in the long run you'll pay, and so will they.

Bonding: For all the talk on being a hard-line parent, I'm a firm believer in also being a softie.  Seek out frequent opportunities to remind your child that you appreciate them and why.  This is far better achieved through words and actions than material goods or special treats.  Some ideas for bonding:

  • put a surprise note in luncbox or pockets
  • reframe disappointments, failures, embarrassments to highlight value and self-esteem. 
  • make each other laugh.
  • spell out messages by "writing" letters on each other's backs.
  • play "put the shoe on the foot."  Your child tries to put your foot into a shoe while you hold your feet and toes at awkward angles. Reverse roles.
  • Create opportunities to hang out.
  • brag about your child within earshot.
  • teach your child something.

Don't think these suggestions don't go for teens;  teens might need these approaches, especially those that foster closeness, even more.   Teens aren't too old for late night bedside talks, or even being read to.

Rules for getting along with In-Laws

or any family constellation for that matter

no snide comments or even a roll of the eyes

partner first, then in-laws, then siblings and children

watch tendencies to revert to childhood roles

have clear boundaries

be flexible

choose your battles

plan ahead for potential pitfalls

Parenting is one of the most frustrating but rewarding roles there is.  Kids don't come with instructions and what works for one kid might not work for another.  Children can also push every button you got and resurrect your own childhood hurts and disappointments.  If you're having trouble in your role as a parent, getting counseling soon when you recognize a problem can prevent serious problems later.

How to Talk to Your Teen

From a position of benevolent authority

The teen years are all about testing and questioning the rules and values you were brought up with. Much of teen's distancing behaviors are normal and necessary for preparing for adulthood. While few teens will admit or even be aware that they want and need llimits, this is an age where they need them most. Teens are facing pressures to engage in activities that are beyond their development and being faced with these choices can be scary. Your teen needs to know where the line is drawn, and needs to count on you to draw it. Your teen needs your backup to be able to say, "I can't do that, my parents would kill me!"

Don't threaten with consequences you can't or won't enforce. Make every effort to not lose composure.

When you make threats, get into shouting matches or back down when your teen escalates their behavior, you relinquish authority. Better to issue a lesser, or enforceable consequence, or do nothing and allow for natural consequences, than to try to overpower your teen with aggressive but futile behavior. Your teen is younger than you and has more energy and so trying to fight them on their own turf is going to be a losing battle.

Be confident about parenting

If you're confident in your role as benevolent authority figure, you'll be more able to stay calm and not take their acting out personally. I highly recommend John Rosemond's book, "Teen Proofing" for guidelines and strategies on how to navigate these turbulent years with good outcomes all around.

Don't tell them show them

but tell them ahead of time

Strike while the iron's hot, but plug it in when it's cold. Rather than lecture, warn, threaten or argue, especially in the heat of the moment, it's better to contract with your teen about expectations. Contracting is not a democratic act but a statement of your rules as a parent, though your teen should have some input if possible. The contract should be short and to the point in concrete terms. This can be done verbally or in writing, depending on the situation.

Your teen needs you to be a parent, not a friend.

So that you don't worry about looking "uncool" or lose favor with them. It's impossible to set and enforce limits if you're afraid of losing their friendship. So don't be afraid to make decisions that are going to upset them.

Show unconditional positive regard even when angry.

You still love them even when they're being disrespectful and defiant. You show this love by treating them with respect even when they're disrespectful. You also set an example of how to deal with conflict. This means no name-calling, shouting, statements of abandonment or attack of character. Your confrontation should be couched in terms of the behavior and its impact. If you're too angry to control how you express it, gently avoid the teen until you are calmer.(this might help you come up with a more creative consequence, and part of the consequence might be the suspense your teen has to endure) Even if it means the teen runs off or violates a rule, unless it's a matter of safety, the consequence can wait. Staying calm in this way demonstrates to them that their escalation of the situation has no effect.

Listen nonjudgentally

Most teens would love to be able to open up to their parents but some say that when they do, they get lectured or ridiculed, or otherwise feel shot down. Your teen is starting to develop a whole new level of thinking and in the process might come up with some wild and seemingly uninformed notions. Remind yourself that you don't always need to fix or correct your teen, that not everything requires action. Remind yourself that if their view tends toward the extreme, or directly opposite of your values, chances are that as they mature, their views will moderate or even come full circle.

Most importantly, recognize that by being approachable and responsive to their needs, they might also open up to you if they're feeling suicidal  or have something else serious going on.   By having a ready ear, you just might save a life.

Moody, impulsive, messy....What's normal, what's of concern?

Rather than view behavioral issues as "normal," try to see things in the context of functional or effective, not just for your teen, but for those around.  It's common for teens to be moody and distant at times, or to experiment with new behaviors and styles.  If your teen's moodiness is transient and not causing significant disruption, or they are able to be open about problems they experience, keeping an attentive  and sympathetic ear open will  usually be all that's needed.

Signs that behaviors are not just a part of adolescence(* indicates risk of safety to your teen or others and need for immediate assessment):

  • behavior started around the time of an upsetting event or within 18 months after and persists.
  • behaviors are uncharacteristic of your teen typically.
  • moods that are persistent and troubling to the teen.
  • behaviors interfere with functioning and are disruptive to daily life.
  • physical or behavioral symptoms disrupting daily routine like insomnia, loss of appetite, poor hygiene, fatigue, etc*
  • statements harm to self or others, preoccupation with topics or groups involved in violence*
  • Finding unexplained objects, dangerous objects such as medications, weapons, chemicals, tools suggesting substance use, suicidal intent or harm to others*

*If you observe anything that concerns you that your teen might not be safe, call 911 or bring your teen to the most available emergency room or medical provider.

How Counseling Can Help

For depressed and anxious children or teens:

Counseling provides a supportive nonjudgmental setting for youth to express their thoughts and feelings.  Teens are guided by their own motivation and assisted in adapting their behavior to their stated goals.  

For parents who are initiating therapy for a reluctant  child or teen, I provide a collaborative structure to help parents establish effective boundaries and expectations of their teen, and help the teen with learning to manage feelings and effective self-expression.   Ultimately, your teen will have to make their own choices, but most teens do want the same as their parents; a warm and supportive home environment where everybody gets along and enjoys being together. If your teen still refuses counseling and you still see a problem, I can work with you to help your teen.

For parents of unruly  children or teens:

I provide parent empowerment therapy based  on techniques aimed at establishing clear rules and consequences.  I aim to help parents reclaim their rightful place as stable and loving authority figure and regain peace at home. 

For parents of adopted or foster children:

I help you work through attachment problems with your child.  I help you use your role as caretaker to be an instrument of healing with specific approaches in areas of discipline and bonding language and activities

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