- Acceptance: Accepting children for who they are at the stage in life they are in. An excellent example in recent news showed how a mother and father accepted their daughter's sexual orientation (see article).
- Unconditional Love: Similar to Acceptance, Unconditional Love means that no matter what children do, love them. If they flush your favorite watch down the toilet, love them. If they crash your car, love them. If they turn out to be a political nut job, love them. Of course, that doesn't mean go easy on them...
- Setting Rules and Sticking to Them: If a child breaks a rule, stick to it. Deliver the punishment quickly and at an appropriate level from the start, explain what they did wrong, show them what they can do instead, and above all be compassionate and recognize that you probably did this stuff too (see this page for more guidance).
- Virtuous Pride and Other Rewards: Parents should also reward children for good behavior. The best types of rewards are those that are intangible, like being proud of your child and telling them so. Of course, to be virtuous pride, a parent should still maintain humility and realistic expectations.
- Understanding Limits and Boundaries: Pride can often lead to unrealistic expectations of children and a distorted view of who they are and what they are capable of. Maintaining realistic expectations and being flexible are also important aspects of parenting. And children have and need privacy, too.
- Consistency in Parenting: As noted above, sticking to punishments and rewards is best, and both parents need to follow through appropriately. That means communicating with the spouse before a behavior has occurred and agreeing on a punishment or reward.
- Sharing Time and Other Things: Spending time with children is one of the best parts about parenting and probably the most important factor influencing children's future. Parental behavior sets a model for children's behavior. They learn morality, ethics, courtesy and manners, language, and so many other behaviors and skills while spending time with their parents. Sharing personal beliefs helps them come to terms with the world and understand their own beliefs.
For some reason, I'm reminded of a quote I saw on my sixth grade teacher's truck: "Some of the Best Things in Life Aren't Things." (Thanks Mr. Cary!)
Some good things to know about punishment and reinforcement:
- Punishment is not always spanking. Punishment is either "positive" or "negative," and these terms relate to whether something is "given" or "removed." Positive punishment is doing something to the one being punished, like spanking. Negative punishment is removing something positive from the one being punished, like grounding or time-outs (taking away privileges). One effective punishment is to say, "I'm disappointed with your behavior." In my experience, this punishment is very strong and should only be used in extreme circumstances.
- Reinforcement is not always giving a prize. Positive reinforcement gives something to the one being rewarded, like candy or a gift. Negative reinforcement removes something aversive from the one being rewarded, like rewarding a child by removing chores (e.g., "if you do this, you don't have to do dishes tonight"). Some of the most effective reinforcers are intangible, like pride.
- One of the most common misunderstandings about reinforcement and punishment is that negative reinforcement is synonymous with punishment. It is not. Negative reinforcement is removing an undesirable stimulus to increase the occurrence of a behavior.