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Parenting Principles - issue​​​​12345

Offering Effective Praise

It’s easy to pay attention to your children when they’re misbehaving. ​After all, when they’re acting ​up, ​​you ​immediately ​notice (which may be why they’re acting up in the first place). But research shows they’ll improve their behavior quicker — and be less likely to tune you out — if you also “catch them being good.”

The trick is to look for, identify and praise good behavior frequently and consistently. Unlike obvious ​bad behavior, you may not notice good behavior as much. This requires a little more work on your part, but trust us, it’s worth it.

For example, if your child has issues with hitting or kicking, you might give praise this way ​when he/she uses appropriate behavior:

  • Thank you for keeping your hands and feet to yourself.
  • Thank you for using your words instead of hitting or kicking.
  • I like how you are being gentle.

Giving praise strengthens the relationship between children and parents​ because children start to recognize that their parents also see the positive things they do, not just the negatives. That’s why we recommend that you praise your child four times for every one time you correct him/her.

Additionally, try to take note of small improvements in behaviors you have asked your children to work on. Don’t necessarily wait for a huge milestone, like bringing home an “A” on a test in a particular subject. Instead, praise them when they bring home a test with an improved score or a project with positive comments from the teacher.

Over time, you can decrease your praise of specific behaviors as they become second nature for your child. This is known as “fading.” As you fade your positive recognition of certain behaviors, you can find others to praise.

Delivering effective praise requires additional effort on your part as a parent; you need to be observant to “catch them being good.” It also takes time and patience. But your efforts will be rewarded as your children gradually reduce their negative behaviors and replace them with positive actions.

Teaching Activity

Building Self-Worth

To build your child's sense of self-worth, try these activities at home:

  1. Time-In Fun: “Tip” your child with lots of 5- or 10-minute “time-in” activities. Time-in is the opposite of time-out; it’s the good stuff your child enjoys or likes to do. Put a token in a jar each time you give a tip to remind you how much time-in time your child has earned each day.
  2. Goodie Vouchers: Build your child's sense of accomplishment by giving him/her age-appropriate chores, activities and learning tasks. Every time he/she accomplishes one of these, place one “goodie voucher” under your child's pillow at night. These rewards don’t have to cost anything; they can be as simple as a promise of time with and attention from loved ones later.
  3. Memory Mosaics: Create a gallery of good memories on your child's bedroom wall or in the family room where ​everyone can see it. Your child can use photos or drawings to represent these positive memories. Update the mosaic each week with images that focus on good behavior.
  4. Love Notes: Leave a few notes (stickers, cards) of praise each week in places where your child will find them.

Parenting Strategy

Giving Effective Praise

Giving effective praise isn’t difficult; the effort comes in trying to find something to praise amid the negative behaviors your child might be displaying. You must constantly be on the lookout to catch your child being good. Once you do, you can simply follow these steps:

  1. Show approval (say “Good job!” or give a hug).
  2. Describe the positive behavior.
  3. Give a reason for using the behavior.
  4. Give a positive consequence (optional).

Teaching Children How to Protect Themselves

As a parent, you cannot be with your child 24/7. This becomes even more true as they grow older and become involved in more activities outside the home. To protect them from the many threats and dangers they’ll face, you need to arm them with the ability to protect themselves when you are not around.

One of the greatest threats your child will face when he/she is not around you is peer pressure to engage in negative or harmful behaviors (doing something dangerous, taking drugs, cheating, engaging in criminal behavior, etc.). One fundamental way to reduce the influence peer pressure can have on children is to help them develop a positive moral foundation early on so they intuitively know what is right and what is wrong. You can accomplish this by teaching social skills and modeling positive moral behaviors yourself. Then, you may want to reinforce this teaching/modeling with spiritual or religious instruction.

In addition to negative peer pressure, children will experience societal pressures to achieve positive goals — getting straight “A’s,” making the sports team, scoring high in a music competition or getting into a good college, for instance. You can empower your child by teaching coping skills that will help him/her effectively deal with stressful, pressure-filled situations. You should also try to maintain a strong, supportive relationship with your child by talking often and keeping the lines of honest communication open.

Children can be incredibly resilient, but they can also be quite vulnerable at times. They look to their parents for cues about how to handle potentially dangerous situations. This is why it is so important for parents to model positive behaviors for them.

Teaching Activity

Practice Resisting Peer Pressure

This is a role-play activity for you and your child or teen. Think of several scenarios in which your child might be pressured into engaging in negative behaviors. Then, act out a scenario where you and your child play specific roles. For instance, you could play an older child who is trying to get your child to smoke marijuana. Or, you could pretend to be a younger child encouraging your child to try something dangerous. Before beginning the role-play, go over the steps of the social skill, “Resisting Peer Pressure”:

  1. Look at the person.
  2. Use a calm, assertive voice tone.
  3. State clearly that you do not want to engage in the inappropriate activity.
  4. Suggest an alternative activity. Give a reason.
  5. If the person persists, continue to say “No.”
  6. If the peer will not accept your answer, ask him/her to leave, or remove yourself from the situation.

Parenting Strategy

Preventive Teaching

To help your child resist negative peer pressure and avoid other potentially dangerous situations, you must preventively teach social skills he/she can use. Teaching these skills ahead of time, and modeling them yourself, prepares your child to do the right thing when real-life situations occur.

Social Skills for Younger Children
Social Skills for Older Children

Here are ​the steps for using preventive teaching to teach skills:

  1. Describe the desired behavior (skill).
  2. Give a reason for using the behavior (skill).
  3. Practice.

Preparing Children for Real-Life Situations

One of the most important character traits parents can teach their children is responsibility. Responsibility is a complex virtue, though, and it takes a lot of time, patience and practice to acquire it. Responsibility is crucial because life is full of choices, and these choices have consequences, both good and bad.

Parents must address 12 major concepts when teaching their children to become responsible individuals:

  1. Be accountable. Responsible people accept moral responsibility for their attitudes, words and actions. This requires individuals to reflect on their choices — to think beyond immediate gratification by considering how choices today will affect life in the future. 
  2. Exercise self-control. Self-control is the ability to manage powerful emotions and appetites. How we respond to these feelings determines whether we are responsible or reckless. 
  3. Plan and set goals. People who live their lives more purposefully instead of just “going with the flow” are more likely to eventually get what they want. 
  4. Choose positive attitudes. Responsible people accept control over their own emotions, and thus, their happiness. They choose positive attitudes, such as cheerfulness, enthusiasm and generosity.
  5. Do your duty. Responsible people follow through on their commitments. They keep their promises, even when it is not convenient or easy.
  6. Become self-reliant. Responsible people manage their lives so they are not a burden to others. Parents should teach their children not to ask for assistance with tasks they can perform by themselves.
  7. Pursue excellence. Responsible people strive for excellence, giving 100 percent of themselves to the task at hand. Responsible people also do the best they can with the resources they have. 
  8. Become proactive. Becoming proactive means taking the initiative to achieve self-improvement and community improvement. Proactive people don’t just react to life; they seek to effect change in areas they can control.
  9. Be persistent. Responsible people finish what they start. They know that most things worth achieving require hard work and that success does not always come from a first attempt.
  10. Become reflective. Becoming reflective requires thinking ahead and reflecting on the consequences of our choices — even during emotional times. Teens often consider only the here and now or the immediate future; long-range planning is not their strong suit.
  11. Set a good example. Responsible people understand that their behavior often influences the behavior of others, so they conduct themselves morally and ethically.
  12. Become morally autonomous. Responsible people think for themselves and do not let other people’s opinions and attitudes control them. They are free moral agents, with strong reasoning skills and the freedom to choose between right and wrong.

Teaching Activity

Practicing SODAS

When faced with a potentially dangerous or morally confusing situation, it can be helpful for children and teens to use the SODAS technique. ​Here are the steps for using this important social skill:

  • S – Assess the Situation​
  • O – List your Options for resolving the situation
  • D – What Disadvantages could result from each option?
  • A – What Advantages could result from each option?
  • S – After weighing all the information, what is the best Solution to try?

Working with your child or teen, come up with one or more potentially dangerous or morally confusing situations, and use the SODAS technique to talk through what the best possible outcome is. Download this helpful SODAS tool.

Parenting Strategy

Corrective Teaching

Corrective teaching is a tool parents can use to correct negative behaviors and help children and teens learn alternative positive behaviors. If your child is using a negative behavior, your first job as a parent is to stop it. Then you can use corrective teaching to explain to your child why the ​​behavior is inappropriate and offer positive alternatives. Here are the steps to corrective teaching:

  1. Stop and describe the problem behavior.
  2. Give a negative consequence.
  3. Describe the desired behavior.
  4. Give a reason.
  5. Practice.

Setting Boundaries and Expectations

When Robert Frost wrote, “good fences make good neighbors,” he was being ironic, pointing out that barriers actually tend to alienate one neighbor from another. When it comes to parenting, however, even Frost would agree that good boundaries make good children. That’s because without boundaries, children will keep pushing the limits of what they can get away with.

As a parent, you must understand that if you want your children to behave a certain way, you have to set clear, specific expectations for their behavior, and there is no wiggle room. For instance, instead of telling your teen, “I want you home early,” say, “I want you home no later than eight o’clock.” That way, the word “early” isn’t up for interpretation. More general, age appropriate expectations might include the following:

  • Always clean up after yourself.
  • No cursing in the house.
  • Electronics (smartphones, tablets, video games, etc.) are a privilege, not a right, and they can be taken away at any time in response to negative behavior.
  • No social media activity until ALL homework is completed.
  • Drug or alcohol use will NEVER be tolerated.
  • When a girlfriend/boyfriend is over, you cannot be alone in your room with her/him.

The best time to discuss and agree on these rules and expectations is during a family meeting, while everyone is in a calm and receptive mood. They should not be brought up in response to a negative situation, when tempers may be flaring.

You can set and practice certain fundamental expectations for your children early on. These may include following instructions, accepting consequences and accepting “No” for an answer. From there, you can progress to general household rules and expectations, such as those mentioned previously, as well as situation-specific expectations, such as coming home at a certain time.

By setting boundaries and expectations, you give your children the tools they need to behave appropriately. Without these boundaries, children will simply keep pushing until something negative happens.

Teaching Activity

Discuss Expectations and Boundaries for Using an Electronic Device

Pick a technology device your child enjoys using, then discuss safe and secure boundaries and expectations, and put these and any necessary consequences into place. For instance, discuss the appropriate use of a smartphone or tablet. Let your child know that using that item is a privilege, not a right, and you can take it away at any time as a consequence for negative behavior. Also, make it clear to your child that this device is always open to your monitoring (no secret passwords allowed), and that you have the right to remove any questionable apps or content.

Parenting Strategy

Teaching Self-Control

Discussions about and enforcement of rules and behavioral expectations you set for your child can sometimes cause him/her to get upset and lose self-control. That’s when you can use the strategy of teaching self-control. Teaching self-control happens in two parts: helping your child calm down to reduce the intensity of the situation and then doing follow-up teaching that addresses your child’s original inappropriate behavior that led ​to his/her loss of self-control (e.g., arguing about a rule, swearing, tipping over a chair).

  1. Calming Down
    1. Describe the problem behavior.
    2. Offer options to calm down.
    3. Allow time for the child to calm down.
  2. Follow-Up Teaching
    1. Describe the alternative positive behavior.
    2. Practice.
    3. Give a negative consequence for the original problem behavior.

Developing Good Communication with Your Children

Open communication with your children is one of the keys to successful parenting. Unfortunately, this is often easier said than done, especially when children get older and enter their teen years. You can start fostering good communication with your children early on by providing them with a nurturing environment and teaching them they can always trust you and talk to you about anything.

You can find the right balance and the essentials for becoming a nurturing parent by using the SCALE:

  • Support — Lift your children up when they stumble, and cheer them on when they succeed. 
  • Caring — Show daily acts of affection, from giving hugs to providing nutritious meals.
  • Acceptance — Offer unconditional love – always.
  • Love — Display physical and emotional attachment through positive words and actions. 
  • Encouragement — Provide your children with hope, courage and confidence.

By following the SCALE approach, you can develop a trusting relationship with your child where he/she feels there is no barrier to open and honest communication.

Of course, every child is unique, and providing even the most nurturing environment can’t guarantee that a child won’t sometimes be reluctant to open up. One way to promote better communication is to designate one or more nights a week as Family Meal Night. (Ideally, the meal should be dinner, but if another meal fits family members’ schedules better, that’s okay.) Sitting down at the table to eat together as a family sets aside an hour or so when children and parents can talk freely about what happened during their day and upcoming events. Doing this regularly helps make family discussions natural, fun and informative.

Even in this setting, parents can become frustrated when they ask their son how his day was and he replies, “Fine,” or they ask their daughter, “What did you do at school today?” and she replies, “Nothing.” If your child is a master of the one-word response, try these conversation starters:

  • What did you have for lunch?
  • Who did you play with at recess?
  • What did you talk about in science class?
  • What is one thing you learned today?
  • What made you laugh today?

The hope is that once you get more than a single word out of your child, he/she will be more likely to form a full sentence… and then maybe even string several sentences together! It doesn’t always work, but it’s certainly worth a shot.

We also recommend making family dinner time a technology-free zone (for kids and parents). Everyone is much more likely to talk with each other if they aren’t glued to their personal screens or watching TV.

Take a minute to look over our Dinner Table Pledge and commit your family to participate.

Teaching Activity

At the Table

Once you have established Family Meal Night, choose one of your children (or ask for volunteers) to help plan, ​shop for and prepare a meal. This is a great way to teach your children valuable skills they will need later in life, and it provides ideal opportunities for one-on-one conversations. While a child may be reluctant to speak about a troubling or embarrassing situation in front of the entire family, he/she may be more likely to open up during a shopping trip with just Mom or Dad.

Parenting Strategy

Modeling Behaviors

Communication isn’t always verbal. Your children also are constantly watching and learning from your behaviors. Modeling the behaviors you want your children to exhibit is also an important form of parental communication. Here are two ways to do this:

  1. Model positive behaviors you would want your child to use in risky or potentially threatening situations.
  2. Identify situations specific to your child’s age, and model behaviors you would want him/her to use in those ​situations.
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