User's Manual for Parents: Starting with the Foundation Skills

by Annye Rothenberg, Ph.D.

mom, dad and babyYou've wished for the manual that came with your kids, but you haven't found it yet. After more than 25 years of guiding parents with everyday child-rearing concerns, I've developed some guidelines to give you solid direction in your parenting job. It's not the manual for the specific model of child you're raising, but it provides the necessary foundation for doing the quality job you want to do.

Eight Guidelines for Raising Kids

1. Learn about typical behavior and development for your child's age. Ask your child's teacher or pediatrician, or your best friends, to recommend information sources. Check out the bookstore's parenting section and the Internet.

Two-year-olds, five-year-olds and eight-year-olds are all very different from each other, and parents have to know what to expect to do a good job. The series starting with "Your One-Year-Old" by Louise Bates Ames and Frances L. Ilg, and continuing up to "Your 14-Year-Old," still is one of the best sources around for learning about typical behavior and development. (Skip the guidance sections, though.)

2. Realize that children naturally want to do what appeals to them (and not what doesn't). Some of what they want to do is safe, some not; some is socially acceptable and some not; some is inappropriate for their age.

Much of our teaching and guidance is aimed at helping our children learn to do what's asked of them, to do what kids their age should do, and to develop the ability to delay their desire to do just what they want to -- now. A lot of parenting effort goes into this part of our job.

3. Build a relationship. For children to accept our teaching, training, and guidance, parents have to build their relationship with each child, through taking care of him, playing and talking with him, including him in household activities, and loving him -- including giving some unhurried time. This strengthens parents' connection with their children, which encourages children's willingness to cooperate.

4. Pay attention to your child's individuality. Spend time with her along with other children her age -- in the classroom, in organized group activities (be the field trip parent or the soccer coach), in parks, and on play dates. Talk to other parents about kids -- yours and theirs.

Be able to describe your child as an individual with her own distinctive characteristics. Listen to your spouse's description. The more we see our kids as individuals, the more we know what help they need from us in their behavior and development.

5. Expect to modify your parenting based on his individuality –- for example, whether he is active or not, or verbal or not.

6. Think of yourselves, the parents, as the representatives of society for your children. This means that whatever behavior we accept from them is what they'll believe the rest of the world will accept and approve.

If you allow your kids to ignore you, get you to make them something else for dinner, jump on the couch, and so on, you won't have prepared them to behave acceptably. In short, others in the community – adults and most children – will be annoyed with them and will correct them, and may even not want to be around them.

7. Focus on being a parent, not a friend. Because there are so many things we need to teach our children -- especially about how to behave -- we can't be their pals. A lot of what they have to learn won't immediately make them happy. We have to be their parents, with a significant gap in authority between parents and children. (Don't worry. There are gentle, respectful ways to parent our kids.)

8. When your kids are in their 20s and beyond, you can have more of a friendship with them, because you're no longer in charge of them. But when they're kids, your primary goals should not be to make them like you and make them happy every moment. Those are not wise or reasonable goals because they would cause parents to go in the wrong direction in child rearing decisions (although ultimately we all want our children to be happy people).

There's the start of your user's manual. Take these steps as slowly as you need.

Check out Part Two: Setting Effective Limits.

Annye Rothenberg, Ph.D., author, has been a child/parent psychologist and a specialist in child rearing and development of young children for more than 25 years. Her parenting psychology practice is in Emerald Hills, California. She is also on the adjunct faculty in pediatrics at Stanford University School of Medicine. Dr. Rothenberg was the founder/director of the Child Rearing parenting program in Palo Alto, California, and is the author of the award-winning book Mommy and Daddy Area Always Supposed to Say Yes . Aren't They? For more information about her work, visit Perfecting Parenting Press.

Copyright © Annye Rothenberg. Permission to republish granted to Pregnancy.org, LLC.