Following these Do’s and Don’ts of Parenting will work wonders for your relationship with your child and his or her emotional health!
By Joseph Sacks, LCSW
1. DON’T praise a child effusively such as, “Wow you're amazing, you're such a great ballplayer, Wow what a gorgeous picture you drew,” or “You are such a beautiful girl,” because it comes across as insincere because the child knows he’s most likely an average person and not really as great as you say. In addition, it puts pressure on the child to live up to those high standards of greatness that you were setting for him, and that is unhealthy. A further pitfall of praise is that you are judging him or her to be good. That is an evaluation which creates fragile other-esteem, making the child dependent on the evaluation of others to feel good about himself. It is a very insecure position to put him into because the other can just simply change his mind and the esteem will be dashed on the rocks. Praise doesn’t create true self-esteem.
DO call attention to good things the child does by describing them objectively without evaluating or attaching value judgment, such as, “You did it all by yourself,” and “You worked very hard on that problem for 10 minutes,” or “You helped me set the table, I appreciate that.” In addition, celebrate with your child when he does something good such as, “Yay, you got the ball in!” or “You kept trying and you did it!” or “You helped your brother, you made him happy,” or, “The color of your shirt looks very nice with your eyes, or “It made me feel so good when you said that.” Describing and celebrating is just giving objective information about what the child did and calling attention to the logical, truthful conclusion that will be drawn which is undeniably that the child is very much a decent, worthwhile person. Describing will cause the child to himself conclude that he is a good person, which generates true self-esteem, whereas the praise and evaluation of others generates fragile other-esteem.
2. DON’T reprimand, scold or criticize children for minor misbehaviors. Doing so generates a terrible shame reaction in children which is extremely harmful and if done chronically, can influence for the worse his mental health for the rest of his life! Whatever disciplinary benefit you hope to gain by the scolding or reprimanding is usually far outweighed by the damage done to the child’s self-esteem.
DO have patience and tolerance for the child's misbehaviors and mistakes. Children need to misbehave and make volumes of mistakes all the time in order to learn. Only extremely gently call attention to errors. You can ask, “Are you happy with the way that turned out,” and “Was it good that you said or did that?” This kind of subtle calling attention to mistakes encourages the child to himself conclude where he needs improvement and it will be much better taken. But the main point is that most misbehaviors can be tolerated with a smile, the damage done by scolding or criticism is worse that the damage done by the misbehavior!
3. DON’T show affection, approval or love only on condition that the child does good or performs well, because that will teach the child, “Only when I do well am I worthwhile when I don't I am no good.” This will generate low self-esteem. Resist the temptation to use praise, approval or love as rewards for good performance. Even though such rewards do encourage good behavior, the damage done to self-esteem is far worse the benefit you get from the promoting of good performance.
DO show unconditional approval, affection, respect and love, even and in particular when the child performs poorly. Then the child will think, “I am good and Ok even when I perform poorly and make mistakes.” This will generate stable self-esteem. Remember, you love your children very much but they need our unconditional respect more than our love.
4. DON'T threaten or punish children. Threats totally terrorize and traumatize children as their imagination runs wild and they fear all sorts of terrible consequences. Threats and punishment almost never result in improved behavior over the long term. Instead of teaching the child to be considerate of others, they cause him to be miserable and concerned only with his own suffering. Yes, punishment actually makes children more selfish!
Feel free to download my free report, To Punish or Not to Punish, at the bottom of this page.
DO develop strategies to raise the child’s happiness level. Since most misbehavior is caused by frustration and unhappiness, by raising that contentment level most punishments and threats become unnecessary. Brainstorm and problem solve with the child. Sit down with him or her and say, “I am having trouble with this one behavior. What can we do to try and resolve it?” In addition, you may describe how the misbehaviors made you feel such as “It made me so upset when you did that.” This sort of respectful, subtle form of communication may inspire the child to improve.
5. DON’T deny a child the right to feel or express his feelings or emotional states, even negative, aggressive or angry ones. Doing so will cause them to be repressed where they will cause all sorts of mental health problems.
You don't have to accept all the child's actions and behaviors but you DO have to accept all of his feelings! Validate, recognize and help process all the child's emotional states. Conscious awareness of one’s emotional life is one of the most critically important habits that any person can possess. You must give that gift to your child by going out of your way to allow and even celebrate the expression of all emotions, even troubling ones.
6. DON’T issue too many commands, directions, rules and limitations, over-control and micromanage your child. It will generate resistance, rebellion and tantrums, and will reduce precious self-determination and self-esteem. Would you like it if your boss came and gave you an order every five minutes? Children are no different, they resent being bossed too much. Most parents err in this area.
DO cut out minor, less important commands and directions that can safely be overlooked anyway, to give the child a great feeling of self-determination. Paradoxically and amazingly, the less commands you issue the more likely the child will comply with the fewer remaining commands!
7. DON’T make promises to children as that suggests that your unpromised word is not reliable.
DO what you say you're going to do, and don't do what you say you're not going to do.
8. DON'T inform a child about an upcoming treat such as a trip to the zoo or a party, ahead of time such as the day before, or in the morning when you're going to give him the treat in the afternoon, because he will get very excited and it will cause much suffering to have to wait. A few hours or a day of waiting is an eternity for a young child!
DO inform a child about a treat right before you're about to do it such as, “Guess what we're going to the zoo right now!”
9. DON’T ever try to walk quickly or hurriedly with a young child for several blocks through the street somewhere. Young children simply do not have the discipline and maturity to walk briskly and determinedly. They need to walk slowly and stop along the way many times to smell the roses. Forcing them to walk quickly will frustrate you, make them miserable and generate behavior problems.
If you must walk, DO leave ahead of time with enough to spare so the child can walk slowly and enjoy the journey, or if you don't have the time, absolutely use a stroller whenever possible because that way you can walk very quickly without any problem.
10. DON’T refrain from answering a child's questions because you're disappointed that he didn't know the answer already on his own. This discourages him and prevents him from seeking your knowledge.
DO answer all questions such as, “What does this word mean,” immediately and fully, and you will greatly reduce your child's frustration and increase his love for you and his reliance on learning from you.
11. DON'T let a baby or young child cry it out at night in the hopes of breaking his will and getting him used to sleeping on his own, unless it's a case when you are just absolutely exhausted and completely overwhelmed and have no choice, as it is terribly emotionally damaging to the child and your relationship with him or her.
DO attend to your baby or child at night picking him up or even taking him into your bed with you. Don't fear that you will spoil him and it will cause problems because the opposite is true, caring for him and fulfilling his emotional needs will always result in improved behavior and improved sleep in the long run. My youngest slept in our bed for a good portion of almost every night until he was 4 ½, at which point he announced “I want to sleep in my bed” and that was the end of it, and we never had to traumatize him by letting him cry it out.
12. DON'T think that if you pick up your baby or toddler up whenever he asks you will spoil him.
DO pick him up as often as you can, providing you have the strength and patience. It's what's emotionally best for the child and will result in a child who is more secure and able to tolerate not being picked up in the long run.
13. DON'T try to train a baby to adhere to some kind of arbitrary feeding schedule such as every three hours or whatever.
DO feed him whenever he's hungry and don't feed him when he's not hungry. Some babies can go three or four hours without a feeding and some need to feed almost every hour. How would you like it if I told you you can only eat exactly every three hours?
14. DON'T bicker, argue or fight with your partner in front of the children. Even minor arguments can be terribly traumatizing. They don't have the maturity and wisdom to think, “They're just having an argument right now, later on they’ll make up and get along fine.” During the argument children fear the worst, and actually believe that it is likely that mommy daddy are going to break up and they are going to get abandoned! I have had children who've actually told me they think that! In addition, the children tend to think that mommy and daddy are fighting because it's my fault because I'm bad, and it creates low self-esteem.
All couples argue sometimes, therefore when you need to argue DO turn on the TV loudly and go behind closed doors. I know this is hard to stick to once passions flare up, but it will save you and your children much unnecessary suffering and harm.
15. DON'T let children of any age, even teenagers have unrestricted internet use. For boys, from a psychological perspective, pornography is terribly overstimulating and damaging. A pornography habit acquired while young can ruin his lifelong healthy sexual functioning! Most parents want their boys to have a healthy and satisfactory lifelong relationship with a significant other and even start a family, but I know many men who got addicted to pornography and masturbation in their youth and as a result never got married or started a family.
DO have strict parental controls on your children's internet use and smart phones. You must be tech savvy and stay one step ahead of them to outsmart their efforts to circumvent the parental controls. In addition, you need to gain youngsters’ cooperation in this effort, helping them see the pornography is terribly unhealthy, that engaging in it will prevent him from one day truly loving his partner. If you're wise in this matter you can convince him to resist the temptation. For girls, there are a lot of predators online and you need you need to protect them and know who they're chatting with. Educate them about the predatory ways of many men that unfortunately exists out there, and guide them how to avoid the pitfalls of casual affairs such as unwanted pregnancy, sexually transmitted disease is and especially emotional heartbreak!
16. DON'T buy children too many gifts at once even at holiday time, as it prevents them from truly appreciating each gift and getting the emotional value out of them.
DO buy kids gifts generously but spread out over time little by little as the need arises. Gifts are a great expression of parental love and create a very warm bond between parent and child, but you need to administer them gradually enough in order to harvest the maximum amount of enjoyment and emotional benefit out of them. I recommend one small toy at least every two weeks.
17. DON'T deprive kids of treats, gadgets and privileges that all of their friends have, as that will make them feel terribly deprived and build up resentment.
DO keep up with the Jones's. If all of his friends have a bike, an X-box or a smart phone, you have to buy him one too. If all of his friends have two hours of screen time you can't give your kid only 20 minutes.
Remember that these Do’s and Don’ts of Parenting represent a high level of Parenting skill and I don’t expect anyone to fulfill them perfectly. So have patience with yourself and try to implement new ideas gradually.
Feel free to peruse my interesting blog, download one of my informative free reports, or view my video. If you would like to take your relationship with your child to the next level, and would like guidance or treatment from a child therapist in NYC, you may chat with me here online, or call me directly at 646-681-1707 for a complementary 15-minute consultation. I look forward to speaking with you!