10 Basic Principles of Good Parenting | Notes & Review

Posted on April 9, 2009


Laurence Steinberg. The 10 Basic Principles of Good Parenting. Simon & Schuster, 2004. (207 pages)


This book is not about the “nuts and bolts” but rather “more about the philosophy of good parenting.” Parenting is “one of the most well-researched areas in the entire filed of social science. More important, the study of parenting is an area of research in which the findings are remarkably consistent, and where the findings have remained remarkably consistent over time.” (2) “The scientific evidence linking certain basic principles of parenting to healthy child development is so clear and so consistent that we can confidently say we know what works and what does not.” (3)

This is not at the absence of realism. Steinberg recognizes that “there are plenty of times when, as parents, all we can do is just react.” (3) And there are problems, even if you do follow the principles in the book. But it is just as true that “there are plenty of situations where you do have time to think before you parent.” (3) “The more you practice good parenting when you do have time to think before you act, the more natural good parenting will become during those moments when you are responding instinctively.” (4) And, “I can guarantee that children raised according to the ten principles are far more likely to develop in healthy ways and far less likely to develop difficulties than children who are raised in a different fashion.” (5)

“People define good parenting in different ways…In my view, good parenting is parenting that fosters psychological adjustment — elements like honesty, empathy, self-reliance, kindness, cooperation, self-control, and cheerfulness. Good parenting is parenting that helps children succeed in school; it promotes the development of intellectual curiosity, motivation to learn, and desire to achieve. Good parenting is parenting that deters children from antisocial behavior, delinquency, and drug and alcohol use. Good parenting is parenting that helps protect children against the development of anxiety, depression, eating disorders, and other types of psychological distress.” (4)

1. What You Do Matters

BE A MINDFUL PARENT, one that is “intentional” rather than merely reactionary. And, “the more you make an effort to deliberately practice good parenting, the more instinctive it becomes” (12) for those times when you do not have time to think, where you have not choice but to respond reflexively. “Parent proactively rather than reactively.” (13)

GENES DON’T MAKE PARENTS IRRELEVANT. “There is a big difference between saying that a child’s character is influenced by his genes and saying that it is determined by them.” (14) Regardless of your child’s genetic makeup, what you do as a parent matters tremendously, because it is your influence that affects how those genes are expressed.” (15) And, “there isn’t a more important influence on your child’s development than you, including your child’s genes. What you do matters. Tell yourself that every day.” (15)

CHILDREN LEARN BY WATCHING. “Children enter the world primed to model their parents’ behavior.” (16) [Characteristics] are not just “inherited (they are, in part),” but they’re also “contagious, and children are especially susceptible to the emotions that their parents transmit.” (17) “Most parents underestimate the degree to which their children are aware of what they do and say.” (18) “Learning by observing continues throughout childhood and adolescence, too…” (18) “The truth of the matter is that although children are influenced by the friends they spend time with and the television they watch, their friends and media preferences are choices, and parents can influence and constrain the choices they make.” (21) “Understand that one of the ways you make a difference as a parent is through your role as the “manager” of your child’s leisure and time with friends.” (21)

LEARN FROM YOUR MISTAKES. “When you’ve made a mistake, don’t beat yourself up over it…What matters is the overall climate your child is exposed to over time. ” (24) “When children see that their parents are willing to admit their mistakes, they are much more likely to respect their parents’ point of view in the future because they know the parent has respect for their opinion.” (26)

2. You Cannot Be Too Loving

CAN YOU SPOIL YOUR CHILD WITH LOVE? “It is simply not possible to spoil a child with love…It is usually the consequence of giving a child things in place of love — things like leniency, lowered expectations, or material possessions.” (27-8) “When children feel genuinely loved, they develop such a strong sense of security that they almost always are less needy.” (29) “Don’t confuse whether you show your child affection with how you do it.” (29) “Children know the difference between being truly loved and being bought off.” (30) “Urie Bronfenbrenner once said that every child needs at least one adult who is ‘irrationally committed’ to the child.” (30)

EXPRESSING PHYSICAL AFFECTION. “Children need plenty of physical affection from their parents, not just when they are infants, but throughout childhood and adolescence. We humans are tactile creatures, and we have a natural need for physical contact with others.” (30)

PRAISE YOUR CHILD’S ACCOMPLISHMENTS. “Some parents worry that praising children too often makes them feel as if their parents’ love is conditional — that their worth is entirely wrapped up in what they do, rather than who they are…But this will not be a problem if you express your love and affection at all sorts of different times, and not simply when your child has accomplished or succeeded at something. (35) “First try to phrase your reactions in ways that praise the specific accomplishment, rather than link the accomplishment to your affection for your child.” (35) “Second, focus your praise on the link between the accomplishment and the effort your child exerted, rather than attributing your child’s achievement to some ‘natural’ or innate characteristic.” (36) “Third, tie your praise to the quality of the accomplishment, not to the grade or rating it has received from someone else.” (37) “Fourth, I think that children’s accomplishments ought to stand on their own, but if you feel you must compare your child’s performance to something, compare it to her previous level of accomplishment and not to the accomplishments of others.” (37)

RESPONDING TO YOUR CHILD’S EMOTIONAL NEEDS, “maybe the most important thing that parents do.” (39) “The key to being an emotionally responsive parent is understanding your child’s emotional development.” (39)

  • Infancy — security: How can I help my child feel more secure?
  • Toddlerhood — independence: How can I help my child feel more in control?
  • Early childhood — participants in the larger society: What can I do to help my child feel more grown up?
  • Elementary school — competence: How can I help my child feel more capable?
  • Early adolescence — intellectually and emotionally separate person: How can I help my teenager feel more independent?
  • Late adolescence — identity: How can I help my adolescent understand himself or herself better?

PROVIDING A SAFE HAVEN. “I am always amazed by parents who worry about the way their child’s physical world is furnished but pay almost no attention to the emotional climate that is so much more fundamental to their child’s well-being.” (42) “Pay attention to the overall emotional atmosphere of your home, which includes the way you interact with your spouse and with your child’s siblings.” (43) “Children derive more comfort from familiarity than from spontaneity.” (44)

3. Be Involved in Your Child’s Life

BE INVOLVED. “The strongest and most consistent predictor of children’s mental health, adjustment, happiness, and well-being is the level of involvement of their parents in their life.” (48)

WHAT IS QUALITY TIME? “Quality time has nothing to do with what you and your child are doing when you are together. Quality time is all about how you do it. Quality time is defined by your state of mind, not by a set of activities.” (51)

TAKE AN INTEREST IN YOUR CHILD’S INTERESTS. “Remind yourself that sharing time with your child is never a waste of time.” (54)

THE IMPORTANCE OF SCHOOL INVOLVEMENT. “Deep down, children value what they believe their parents value. By involving yourself in your child’s schooling consistently over the course of her education, you demonstrate to her that school is important to you.” (56) “One of the most important functions of homework is to help your child learn how to manage his time, monitor his own learning, and learn how to make sure that his standards for his own work match those of his teachers.” (58) In elementary school, your job is to help her establish good work habits. In middle school, ensure they’ve in fact, become habits. In high school, limit your involvement in her homework to what she explicitly requests from you. “Regardless of your child’s age, never correct his homework.” (60)

AVOID INTRUSIVE PARENTING. “Part of what makes a child healthy, happy, and successful is developing a sense of mastery and self-sufficiency.” (61)

4. Adapt Your Parenting to Fit Your Child

KEEP PACE WITH YOUR CHILD’S DEVELOPMENT. “Good parenting is flexible, and it needs to be tailored to fit with your child’s stage of development.” (66) “Development is more than just getting bigger or taller. It also involves changes in the way your child thinks, in the feelings he has, in the things he is capable of, in the way he thinks about himself, and in the way he relates to other people (including you).” (67) “The stages of psychological development that children go through are reasonably predictable…Make it a point to learn about each stage of development that your child goes through before your child gets there.” (67) “The same forces that are changing your child for the better as he develops are usually contributing to the parenting challenges associated with that period.” (68) “Your child’s development is an unavoidable fact of life, not a demand that he is making consciously or deliberately. More important, parenting is not about winning and losing — it’s about helping your child to develop in healthy ways.” (69)

ADJUST YOUR PARENTING TO YOUR CHILD’S TEMPERAMENT. “Don’t try to refashion your child’s disposition.” (71) “The trick is to create situations that take advantage of your child’s innate strengths and avoid those that accentuate his weaknesses. This requires knowing what makes your child tick, being flexible in your parenting, and treating your child as an individual.” (73)

YOUR CHILD IS UNIQUE. “You shouldn’t change any of the fundamentals, but you should tinker with them according to your child’s personal characteristics.” (74) “I think that parents often underestimate their children’s ability to understand the reasoning behind a decision to treat siblings differently and worry that their youngsters will be satisfied only with equal treatment…Children usually get upset when they feel that the way they are being treated is both different and unjustified.” (75) “Spend some time with your child alone.” (77)

HAVE PATIENCE DURING DEVELOPMENTAL TRANSITIONS. “It’s as if your child’s psychological development is sprinting, and then resting and recovering, sprinting, resting and recovering, and so on, rather than jogging along at a steady pace.” (78) “The most challenging times you will face as a parent are when your child is going through one of these major developmental transitions.” (79) “Scientists now know that periods of rapid psychological development are times of dramatic changes in how the brain functions — changes that often involve a major reorganization of the way parts of the brain work together. This reorganization doesn’t occur smoothly…” (80-1) But there is good news: “It will not last forever.” (81)

YOUR CHANGING ROLE AS A PARENT. “It’s easy to understand why parents are often reluctant to adapt their role. We mark our own age in part by looking at our children’s age…we tend to view [the following shifts] as losses rather than simply as changes.” (82)

  1. from being the absolute focus of your child’s life to being one of many people your child cares about.
  2. controlling your child’s life for him to helping him learn how to control it for himself.
  3. trying to shape who your child is to allowing your child to be her own person.

“If you regard your child’s attempts to become and individual as a rejection of your influence and values rather than part of a healthy process that will allow her to develop a strong and clear identity, you are going to feel increasingly disappointed and bitter as she grows up.” (85) “The issue is not whether your role as a parent will change: It has to change, because your child’s development will require that it does.” (86)

5. Establish Rules and Set Limits

ALL CHILDREN NEED RULES AND LIMITS. “Structure makes children feel secure.” (88) “The main reason is that over time, [rules and limits] help your child develop the ability to manage his own behavior…over time, the control of your child’s behavior gradually shifts from being external (imposed by you and other adults) to being internal (imposed by your child herself).” (88)

BE FIRM, BUT BE FAIR. “One of your jobs as a parent is to make sure that your child does what’s best for him, even if you and he have a different opinion on the subject.” (90) “If you are incapable of being firm because you can’t handle your child being angry at you, you need to remember that sometimes your desire to be your child’s friend will clash with your obligation to be his parent.” (91) “I am not advocating having rules just for the sake of having rules, or enforcing your authority just because you want your child to know who’s boss…You want your child to see your authority as stemming from your wisdom and good judgment. In the long run, that’s what fosters cooperation.” (92) This helps your rules and limits stay “grounded in what makes sense.” (93)

THE IMPORTANCE OF MONITORING. Know where your child is, with whom, and doing what, and do it in a way that demonstrates “concern rather than suspiciousness. Don’t treat your child as if he’s on the witness stand.” (96)

HANDLING CONFLICTS OVER RULES. “I hate to see parents develop the sort of mind-set that turns every dispute with their child into a battle in which there has to be a winner and a loser…The trick is to figure out a way to settle disputes that allows both of you to feel satisfied (which is not the same as feeling as if you’ve ‘won’ something)…The issue is not whether you and your child will get into struggles; you will. The issue is how you will resolve them and how you and your child feel when you walk away from the dispute. You’ve basically got four choices.” (98)

  1. You can simply assert your parental authority. “You may feel as if you’ve won something, but you haven’t really been victorious if the end product is a child who sees you as an uncaring autocrat. Children, in general, like to feel that their opinion was heard and considered (even if it didn’t carry the day).” (99)
  2. Giving in. “Fine when your child is correct and you are mistaken.” (99) “Good idea when the issue is trivial to you but important to your child.” (100)
  3. Compromise. “Effective as long as the compromise makes sense and leaves both parties satisfied.” (100)
  4. Joint problem solving. This is the preferred method; collaboration. “Joint problem solving avoids having winners and losers, helps your child to feel more grown up, teaches something about the benefits of cooperation, and makes it less likely that the issue will come up again int he future, because when it works, it leads to a more lasting solution.

RELAXING LIMITS AS YOUR CHILD MATURES… “as she becomes more capable of managing her own life.” (102) “If you become more strict as your child develops, your child is going to rebel, because it’s only natural that he will expect to be granted more independence not less, as he grows up…The right thing to do as your child develops is to very, very gradually ease up on your restrictions, but only as he demonstrates more responsibility.” (103)

6. Help Foster Your Child’s Independence

YOUR CHILD’S NEED FOR AUTONOMY. “Many parents mistakenly equate their child’s drive for independence with rebelliousness or disobedience…Children need a mixture of freedom and constraints.” (107-8) “If you browbeat your child into conformity at home, you’re not just raising a child who conforms to what his parent want him to do. You’re raising a child who will have difficulty standing up for himself to anyone, including other children.” (109) “The five most important components of effective autonomy granting are picking the right battles, preapproving your child’s choices, praising what your child chooses, helping your child think through difficult decisions, and occasionally letting your child learn from bad decisions.”(109-12)

COPING WITH OPPOSITIONALISM AND ARGUMENTATIVENESS. “To be sure, constant rebellion is not a sign of healthy development, but too much passivity at ages when children ordinarily voice their opinions is often a sign of immaturity.” (113) “The fact that your child is challenging you is a good thing, not a bad one.” (115)

GIVE YOUR CHILD PSYCHOLOGICAL SPACE. “If you are too intrusive, you will undermine your child’s sense of self-confidence. (115) “It’s hard for parents to accept this, but there are times when a child who is upset would rather comfort himself than be comforted by someone else, and learning how to comfort oneself is an important skill that overtly intrusive parenting interferes with.” (116) “Often, it’s the parent’s overreaction, and not the event itself, that upsets a child.” (116) “My point is that your child has the right to her own feelings, however disconcerting they may be to you.” (117)

DON’T MICROMANAGE YOUR CHILD’S LIFE. “A good rule of thumb: If you are managing your child’s life to the point where you are turning experiences that should be fun into ones that are unpleasant, you are probably being too directive.” (121)

PROTECT WHEN YOU MUST, BUT PERMIT WHEN YOU CAN. “In other words, in situations where your decision can easily go either way, try to maximalize [sic] your child’s autonomy so long as doing so doesn’t jeopardize his healthy, well-being, or future…run through the following checklist: Is what my child wants to do dangerous? Is what my child wants to do unhealthy? Illegal or immoral? Likely to lead to trouble? If something goes wrong, are the consequences irreparable or difficult to undo?” (122-4) “I think that worrying about precedents is the wrong way to approach raising your child.” (124)

7. Be Consistent

BE CONSISTENT FROM DAY TO DAY. “The single greatest contributor to children’s disciplinary problems is inconsistent parenting. If your rules vary from day to day in an unpredictable fashion, or if you enforce them only intermittently, your child’s misbehavior is your fault, not his. The easiest way to help a child learn how to behave appropriately is to make her good behavior a habit that she doesn’t even have to think about. You do this by being consistent from day to day in your parenting.” (127) “There are many causes of inconsistent parenting, but the most significant is probably stress.” (129)

THE SIGNIFICANCE OF ROUTINES. “…routines help families function more effectively. Familiar routines make children feel safe and secure, because they feel more in control when they know what to expect.” (131)

HOW IMPORTANT IS A UNITED FRONT? “The simplest answer is that it depends on your child’s age. The younger your child is, the more important it is for spouses to be consistent with each other. This is true regardless of whether you are married, separated, divorced, or remarried.” (132) “Reconcile hard-to-resolve disagreements on one of several grounds: Decide on the basis of which parent the issue is more important to. Err on the side of caution. Decide on the basis of which one of you has more relevant expertise. Decide on the basis of which parent is going to bear the brunt of the decision. When all else fails, decide on the basis of equity between the two of you. Once you have worked things out, it’s important that you support each other.” (134-5) “Parenting is not a competition.” (136)

BEING CONSISTENT WITHOUT BEING RIGID. “The difference is that consistent discipline is adapted to fit the situation, whereas rigid discipline is the same regardless of circumstances…Reasonable exceptions to your rules do not undermine your authority, they strengthen it, because they show that your rules are thoughtful and not arbitrary.” (137) “Another part of being flexible is focusing on your child’s intent, and not on his behavior…Before your reprimand your child, make sure you find out why he did what he did.” (139)

IDENTIFY YOUR NONNEGOTIABLES…”rules that you’ve established that are so important that it is perfectly appropriately to enforce them in an uncompromising way.” (140)

8. Avoid Harsh Discipline

SHOULD CHILDREN BE PUNISHED? There are only three basic ways to get your child to change his behavior: punish, reward, or explain.” (143) “The important question about punishment, or about almost any disciplinary technique, for that matter, is not whether the technique should be used, but when and how.” (144) “There are many ways to punish a child, and they all fall into one of two categories.

  • “power assertion.” “punishment that is based on the power advantage you have over your child.”
  • “love withdrawal.” “any type of punishment that is based on making your child feel sad, guilty, or ashamed for having disappointed or angered you. (144)

“As your child gets older, power assertion becomes a less and less effective way of disciplining your child…Love withdrawal only works if your child cares enough about you and your relationship to feel guilty, sad, or ashamed when she knows that you are very upset or disappointed.” (145) “The main point here, and the first rule of effective punishment, is that any punishment must be unpleasant to be effective.” (146) “There are two other elements to keep in mind: 1) punishment has to be administered consistently, and 2) the quicker you punish a child after she’s misbehaved, the more effective it is going to be.” (147)

NEVER USE PHYSICAL PUNISHMENT. “If you had to choose between two equally effective medications, one of which has terrible side effects and one of which does not, I assume you’d choose the one without the bad side effects. If you are choosing between two equally effective forms of punishment, I hope you will use the same logic.” (148) “Of all the forms of punishment that parents use, the one with the worst side effects is physical punishment…when you use physical punishment, you are creating more problems than you are solving.” (149) “The main side effect of physical punishment is excessive aggression.” (149) “It can easily escalate out of control and cause a serious injury to the child.” (150) “Let me repeat myself, just to make sure you get my point: Never spank, hit, slap, or otherwise physically punish your child. The link between physical punishment and children’s aggression has been scientifically documented in hundreds, if not thousands, of research studies.” (150)

DON’T BE VERBALLY ABUSIVE. “Your success as a parent depends in part on the degree to which your child believes that you have his best interests at heart…second, when the content of what you are saying to your child is hostile or is delivered in an especially angry way, your child’s attention will be drawn to the tone of the message rather than to the real substance of what you are trying to get across.” (151)

CONTROLLING YOUR ANGER. “Never discipline your child when you are angry.” (153) “Cut down on the yelling and screaming. Your child’s behavior will improve right alongside yours.” (155)

THE RIGHT WAY TO PUNISH. “Effective punishment needs to include five elements, usually in the following order.

  1. An identification of the specific act that was wrong.
  2. A statement describing the impact of the misbehavior.
  3. A suggestion for one or more alternatives to the undesirable behavior.
  4. A clear statement of what the punishment is going to be.
  5. A statement of your expectation that your child will do better the next time. (156)

9. Explain Your Rules and Decisions

BE CLEAR ABOUT WHAT YOU EXPECT. “Good parents have expectations that they want their child to live up to.” (159)

REASONING WITH YOUR CHILD. “Here’s a good guideline:

  • For children under 6, your explanation needs to be reasonable.
  • For children between 6 and 11, your explanation needs to be reasonable and logical.
  • For children older than 11, your explanation needs to be reasonable, logical, and consistent with other things you have said and done. (164)

“BECAUSE I SAID SO” “To me, the most important reason to avoid using ‘Because I said so’ as a means of gaining your child’s compliance is that you want your child to get into the habit of asking other people to provide rationales for requests she is unsure or unhappy about.” (168)

HEAR YOUR CHILD’S POINT OF VIEW. “First, when you make a good-faith effort to understand your child’s point of view, you convey the idea that your decision making is based on what makes sense and not simply on your opinion…Second, you make her a part of the decision-making process… Third, hearing what your child has to say will help you understand how she looks at things.” (170-1)

ADMIT YOUR MISTAKES. “Children learn as much, if not more, by watching their parents than by listening to them…it’s better that he sees you as fallible and candid, rather than fallible and deceitful.” (174)

10. Treat Your Child With Respect

GETTING AND GIVING RESPECT. “Many parents worry too much about whether their child respects them, and they don’t think enough about whether they treat their child with respect.” (179) “Respect is not measured in whether people agree with each other — it’s measured in how they behave toward each other when they disagree.” (180) “When I say that you should treat your child with respect, I mean you should give him the same courtesies you would anyone else.” (182) “As you’ve probably come to realize, people who habitually treat less powerful persons badly neither earn those people’s respect nor enhance their own image in the eyes of others…treating your child with respect is not only the right thing to do, it is the smart thing to do.” (183)

HAVE TWO-WAY CONVERSATIONS. “When researchers ask children and adolescents to name the things they wish were different about their family life, one of the top things on the list is almost always that they wish their parents would spend more time just talking with them.” (183) “The reason that children and parents have such different perspectives on the issue of communication is that parents don’t distinguish between talking to their child and talking with their child.” (184) “Even though you are the authority figure in the relationship you don’t always have to assert your authority to maintain it.” (185) “Employ the tools that experts have found contribute to better two-way communication:

  1. Pay attention
  2. Actively solicit your child’s viewpoint
  3. Ask questions that call for detailed responses rather than one-word answers
  4. Don’t interrupt
  5. Be genuine

“DON’T TALK BACK” “There are certain expressions you should eliminate from the repertoire of responses you use when talking to your child, and one of them is ‘Don’t talk back.’ Other, similar responses to your child’s questions or expressions of opinion are ‘You’ll know better when you’re older,’ ‘If I want your opinion, I’ll ask for it,’ ‘Keep your mouth shut,’ and ‘Children should be seen and not heard.’ Promise yourself that you are going to break the habit of using these expressions.” (187)

LET YOUR CHILD ACT HIS AGE. “Being a child is suppose to be fun.” (190)

TREAT OTHERS THE WAY THEIR PARENTS TREAT THEM. “Your relationship with your child is the foundation for her relationships with others. If you treat your child with compassion, kindness, and respect, she will grow up to be a concerned, caring, and considerate person. If you are uncaring, aloof, and dismissive, that’s how she’s likely to turn out when she grows up.” (191)

There is no more important job in any society than raising children, and no more important influence on how children develop than their parents.

— VIA —

I just don’t have the words to say how thankful I am that I ran into this book. While much of this seems to be “duh,” pretty much each one of these principles is absent in one way or another in many of the parents I work with. While many may have contentions with some principles (especially the corporeal punishment piece), it is absolutely necessary, for the deeply important task of child-rearing, that we all seriously consider the studies, the principles, the suggestions, exhortations, etc.

Please pass this on, get the book if you like, and don’t wait until your child is a teenager. Read it now. Highly recommended for all parents, teachers, coaches, and any other youth workers.