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Erica Reischer Ph.D.

10 Things Great Parents Do

A (printable) summary of parenting best practices

10 Things Great Parents Do

In the parenting workshops I teach regularly, one of the most popular handouts is a one-page overview of parenting best practices. 

It summarizes ten of the key ideas presented in the workshop, in an easy-to-read format that many parents tell me they have posted on their fridge and refer to often. Even if you haven't attended one of the workshops, this list can serve as a useful reminder of how we want to engage with our kids.

Scroll down to the bottom of this post if you'd like a printable copy. 


10 Things Great Parents Do:

1. Do what you say you are going to do

This goes two ways: 1) Don’t make rules you can’t, or won’t, enforce consistently (so less is more); and 2) Keep your commitments.

It’s important for kids to know that you mean what you say; this builds trust and respect.

2. “Catch” kids being good, and tell them specifically what you liked

Kids really do want to please their parents, and they thrive on constructive, positive feedback.

We parents often focus a lot of time and energy on pointing out things our kids can improve. It's important to balance those messages with acknowledgements of things kids are already doing well.  Like adults, kids want to be appreciated.

When we praise our kids, it's important to be specific. So, instead of just saying "Good job!" think about what exactly you are appreciating and tell them about it. For example: "I really liked how calm and patient you just were with your little sister when she was doing something that bothered you."

3. Harness the power of natural consequences

Let kids experience the natural consequences of their actions or choices (unless health or safety is at risk). This is essential to learning. 

Allowing children to experience the natural consequences of their choices can also minimize power struggles, since you won't have to intervene. So if, for example, your child wants to wear her summer sandals on a rainy winter day, consider letting her (unless you live in a place where she might get frostbite).   

4. Show them the way

Punishment only suppresses behavior. Be sure also to tell kids (or with older kids, discuss) the behavior you want to see instead, and then praise it specifically.

Here's a post about helping your kids get what they want by using appropriate behavior.

5. Beware of over-functioning for your kids

Making mistakes and experiencing “failure” and disappointment are essential life experiences that provide the opportunity for kids to learn and practice good coping skills. 

More on overfunctioning:  How To Tell if You're Doing Too Much for Your Kids

6. Practice positive touch

Research consistently shows that positive touch (e.g. hugs, loving pats, cuddles) is absolutely critical to children’s development and ongoing well-being.

So take time out everyday to give your kids a long hug or cuddle. If your older child doesn't want to cuddle anymore, you can still give them a loving squeeze on the arm or a pat on the back.

7. Make a clear distinction between kids and their behavior

Always communicate with your words and actions that you love them no matter what (even if you don’t like their behavior). 

When they misbehave, say to them "I don't like that behavior" or "That behavior is not okay because..." instead of "What's wrong with you?" or "You're making me crazy!" These last two phrases use shame and guilt to create change, rather than an authoritative and matter-of-fact approach based on reasons and empathy.

Also pay attention to your non-verbal communication (body language, tone, etc.). These non-verbal cues are powerful and can shift the meaning of your words.

8. Avoid disciplining kids when they are hungry or tired

When kids are tired or hungry, they won’t be focused on what you are trying to teach them. Since the goal of discipline is learning, make sure that your kids are in a physical and mental state that will enable them to learn from their mistakes and make better choices next time.

Put a placeholder on the issue and address any problematic behavior after they are rested / fed and everyone is calmer.

9. Teach kids the “3 P’s”

Instead of telling kids—“You can do anything”—teach them the 3 P's: practice, patience, and perseverance. These habits are the cornerstone of success.

10. Help kids learn to feel their feelings, and choose their actions

Coach kids in how to respond (instead of react). It’s always okay for them to feel whatever they’re feeling, but it may not be okay to follow their feelings into action (e.g. hitting, yelling). This may be one of the most important skills we can teach our children.


Want a printable copy of "10 THINGS GREAT PARENTS DO"?   You can get one here.

© 2015, Erica Reischer Ph.D.   

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Twitter: @DrEricaR

Dr. Reischer is the author of "What Great Parents Do:  The small Book of BIG Parenting Ideas" (forthcoming, Tarcher/Penguin Random House).



About the Author

Erica Reischer, Ph.D., is a psychologist, parent coach, and author. She teaches at University of California Berkeley, UCSF, and other institutions.