What Great Parents Do: Are You Doing It?

Inside a toolbox of parenting insights and tips.

Posted Oct 14, 2016

Billy Alexander/Free Images.com
Source: Billy Alexander/Free Images.com

In her book, “What Great Parents Do: 75 Simple Strategies for Raising Kids Who Thrive,” Erica Reischer, Ph.D. distilled key parenting elements into 75 bite-size chunks supported by research and her experience as a clinical psychologist and parenting educator.

I was curious about her approach and wanted to know her thoughts on parenting styles, what to do when as a parent you make a mistake, or how to handle a child who is acting out or up, and more. Here’s what Dr. Reischer had to say:

1. What was your reasoning for presenting advice in small segments, 75 of them?

In my previous life as a management consultant, I developed an appetite for expressing complex information in simple ways, with a bias toward action.  Insight is not very valuable unless it can be used. 

Another thing I learned from my business experience was the usefulness of identifying best practices, and I wanted to apply that approach to my current work as a psychologist and parent educator.

So my book is all about presenting parenting best practices in a way that is easy to understand and easy to implement in your own family.

What Great Parents Do distills the best information about the art and science of parenting in one place.  It also gives abundant examples, scripts and “how-to’s” for each parenting practice, so parents can see exactly how each idea would look or sound in a real-life setting.

2. Note: The numbers marked with a # correspond the strategy as presented in the book. There is a lot of talk about parenting style. You say parents should be in charge (#38), but why should parents avoid saying, “Because I said so,” if they should be in charge. How do you walk that fine line?

It’s important for parents to model what it looks like to be in charge while also being fair, reasonable, and caring.  Being in charge—my way of describing what is also called an authoritative style—means being comfortable with your power as a parent so that you can both use and share that power.

In contrast to an authoritarian style (“My way or the highway” or “Because I said so”) or a permissive style (“Whatever you want” or “Never mind, if you just don’t want to”), being in charge strikes the right balance between being responsive to children’s needs while also setting firm and fair limits.

Being in charge means giving children developmentally appropriate autonomy to make choices and mistakes.  It means you are warm but not indulgent, firm but not forceful.

Courtesy of the Publisher
Source: Courtesy of the Publisher

3. Even with your “Try This” for each point, it seems near impossible for parent to act on or execute each one. Therefore, I was happy to read your comment, “All parents make mistakes.” (#12) Count me among them. Should parents ignore lapses and move on or is there something else we should be doing?

Yes, we all mess up sometimes.  Making mistakes can be a good thing when it gives us the opportunity to model for kids how to respond with integrity and responsibility, and what to do when they’ve made a mistake.

Being able to take responsibility for our mistakes requires us to develop our self-awareness (#18) and to take ownership of our own feelings and moods (#15).

When we make mistakes (which we all do) we would do well to avoid judging ourselves (“I’m a bad mom/dad”) and instead reframe our mistakes as indicating an area in which we need more knowledge, support, or practice.  This is especially true if we keep making the same mistake again and again.

4. Parenting has become so competitive in terms of the desire to raise “star” children that it is frequently difficult for parents to allow their children to falter. One of your strategies is to let kids make mistakes and experience failure (#13). Why do you advocate that approach and how does it benefit children (and/or their parents)?  

Making mistakes and experiencing “failure,” disappointment, and discomfort are essential life experiences that provide the opportunity for kids to learn how to do better and to practice new skills.

It’s natural for parents to want to buffer kids from these unpleasant experiences, but we make an enormous future trade-off when we do so.

We may be averting some short-term pain or discomfort (both for us and them), but in the long run, we may also be inadvertently depriving our children of the opportunity to learn and practice important life skills while they are still in the supportive environment of our family.

5. What you have succeeded in doing is offer a toolbox of 75 insights and suggestions to guide parents on what can be a difficult journey. You say “Great Parents stop the action (#71),” which is incredibly useful.  How do you do that when your teenager is berating you for not allowing her to attend a party, for example?

Stopping the action is a powerful tool for parents. Think of it as hitting the pause button in life. Stopping the action tells kids through your response to the situation that what is happening is not okay and that the moment or interaction will not continue as is with your participation.

So, if your teenager is berating you for not letting her go to a party, you might disengage from the back and forth, and instead explain that you are willing to discuss this issue with her, but not if she yells or is disrespectful.  Ask for a replay (#72) and resume the conversation, if she’s willing.  

If she yells again, stop. If it happens a third time, tell her that you both need a break and you can try to talk again later (and give her a specific time or occasion, e.g., after dinner). Then matter-of-factly walk away.  This approach takes a good amount of patience and self-control for parents, but it pays off.

6. You recommend that parents take ownership of their feelings (#15). This is not so easy when your child has just defied you and you are upset that he is not doing what you asked—something that happens to almost all parents no matter what their children’s ages. How should frustrated parents feel when angry and ready to place blame on their child? 

There are no bad feelings, only bad actions.  There is absolutely nothing wrong with feeling angry--it only becomes a potential problem when those feelings turn into actions (like hitting or yelling).  As I talk about in the book, we need to feel our feelings, and choose our actions (and teach our kids how to do this, too).

Instead of blaming your child, focus on their behavior and why it was not acceptable.  If there’s a chance your anger might take over, take steps to calm yourself down first.  Deep breathing and spending a few moments outside work well for many people.

7. What else do you think will help parents the most?

One of my favorite strategies from the book is #34:  Great parents view kids as little explorers and scientists. 

Much of what looks like “bad” behavior is really just exploration and experimentation.  In trying to figure out their world and the people in it, kids must do “experiments” to get answers to questions like:  “What happens if I ___?” or “How do I get ____ from you?” 

Change your lens on your child’s behavior to see it as an experiment intended to get useful information about how things work in your family, and respond accordingly.

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Copyright @2016 by Susan Newman

Reference:

Reischer, Erica. What Great Parents Do: 75 Simple Strategies for Raising Kids Who Thrive. New York: Tarcher/Penguin Random House, 2016.