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Tips For Adulthood: Five Parenting Strategies That Work

Every Wednesday I offer tips for adulthood. Shortly after my son was born 11 years ago, a friend of mine – the father of three much older kids...

Every Wednesday I offer tips for adulthood.

Shortly after my son was born 11 years ago, a friend of mine – the father of three much older kids – asked me how I was doing. At that point, I think we’d moved safely into that phase where I was no longer feeding my son every three seconds, he’d begun smiling at us, and my husband and I had more or less adjusted to this massive change in our lives.

“It’s such a great age,” I commented.

“They all are,” he replied.

It’s true, they *are* all great ages and I’m continually mystified by how exciting and interesting each phase of parenting is (even when I’m going through them for the second time with my daughter.)

But it’s also an ongoing challenge to parent and one always feels a bit behind the eight ball as you try desperately to figure out how best to react (or, indeed, whether to react at all) to our children’s behavior and emerging personalities.

To that end, this week I thought I’d share some new (but really) old parenting strategies that seem to prove their value again and again:

1.Incentives are better than punishments. When your kids misbehave – and particularly when they do the same annoying thing repeatedly – there’s a temptation to take something away from them: no television for a week, no play dates, no dessert. But rewards for good behavior are also much more effective than punishments for bad behavior, especially for younger children. In my own case, my daughter takes an inordinate amount of time to get dressed in the morning, producing frequent (and repetitive) conflicts. While my first instinct was to take away her computer time, I opted this week to try something new: if she can get dressed, brush hair and brush teeth each morning (and the reverse each evening) in under ten minutes, I’ll give her 50p a day. At the end of two weeks, if she does this consistently, she can buy a present for herself. (Bear in mind that she doesn’t have allowance right now.) I explained to her that we wouldn’t carry on buying gifts on a regular basis, but I’m hoping that by heaping praise on her in the next two weeks while we do this trial period, she’ll internalize the positive reinforcement and want to get dressed/undressed quickly, rather than only working for the extrinsic reward. So  far, so good.

2. Hitting doesn’t work. If you think that doesn’t bear repeating, think again. Here in the U.K. where I live, a Labour politician – who was, I kid you not, the former Education Minister – recently declared that if working class parents had more freedom to hit their children, we wouldn’t have had the riots that broke out here last summer. No sh$!. In a poll taken not so long ago, nearly one half of British parents surveyed said that they thought that teachers should be allowed to hit children to keep them in line. This, despite mounds of evidence showing that while spanking is very effective in the short run for altering a child’s behavior, in the long run it is completely counter-productive.

3. Understand where your kids are at, developmentally. Like many parents, I was absolutely fascinated by a recent article by Alison Gopnik  in The Wall Street Journal about the teenage mind. The upshot of the article is that teenagers are hitting puberty – and all the attendant hormonal, risk-taking changes in attitude this phase of life produces – much earlier than ever before, while becoming “adults” (in the sense of assuming responsibility for their own lives) ever later. The result is that their emotional development is out of sync  with their ability to exert judgment and self-control  in a way that it wasn’t even 20 years ago. Once I read this, I thought, Eureka! So that’s why my 11 year-old loves listening to Rap music but can’t be bothered to cut with a knife and fork properly.

4. Don’t micro-manage. I attended my son’s parent-teacher meetings earlier this week and was told by several of his teachers, independently, that they felt that while he had come into the school year a bit jumpy and unsettled, over the course of the year he had really calmed down. As a fellow manic, I can’t really criticize him too much on this score – the apple, as they say, doesn’t fall far from the tree. But I couldn’t help but wonder if my own New Year’s resolution to chill out and try to control him less wasn’t helping, in part, to chill him out in other parts of his life. Coincidence? Maybe. But I’m going to press on with this resolution – despite temptations to “fall off the wagon” – and see if I keep observing positive change.

5. Keep reading  books by Faber and Mazlish. Believe it or not I do think that you can over-train yourself in the art of parenting. Some of it has to be instinctual – and based, crucially, on your particular child’s nature – or you’ll drive yourself insane. But I will put in a plug for two books by parenting experts Adele Faber and Elaine Mazlish that I will stand by: How To Talk So Kids Will Listen and Listen So Kids Will Talk, as well as their companion volume, Siblings Without Rivalry. I remember parenting blogger Lisa Belkin saying that for many years, she and her husband kept dog-eared copies of these books by their respective bedsides. Ditto.

What tried and true parenting strategies work for you?


If you’re interested in hearing my views on why we should all – including Marco Rubio – be reading Fidel Castro’s new memoirs, head on over to The Washington Post’s She The People blog.

Image: Little Johnnie Totally Deserved It by feminaerecta via Flickr under a Creative Commons license.


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  1. Joanne February 8, 2012 at 11:05 pm #

    Don’t give in to whining. The kids can ask once, make their case and then wait for an answer. As soon as they start carrying on about it, the answer is “no”. We did not allow our children to whine, we taught them to ask for what they needed and wait to hear the answer. From a young age our children were able to learn to politely ask. As a result the answer they got was always what they wanted to hear unless there was a good reason why they couldn’t get what they wanted. And there were no tantrums in our house. Peace reigned! They are now 26 and 23 years of age and both say they plan to raise their own children the same way.

    • delialloyd February 9, 2012 at 11:20 am #

      @Joanne – yeah I hate whining too and I’m glad to hear that it worked for you so well. Can’t say we’ve avoided tantrums but i do feel that we’ve managed NOT to have whiners which is a huge plus. Well done to you! Thanks for stopping by.

  2. s February 9, 2012 at 12:03 am #

    Hi Delia!
    Surprisingly you did not weigh in on this new article/book on the Superiority of French Parenting! I enjoyed the discussion of the “wide eye look” – as a teacher you know which teachers are respected for their authority!

    Faber and Mazlish are wonderful during the easy childhood years. Loved them! But it is imperative that parents understand why they respond to some hot button behaviors so strongly prior to their children hitting the age of 14/15. Without being able to step out of yourself emotionally, it is difficult to navigate the emotionally demanding teen years. Just wait! The book Parenting From the Inside Out by Dan Siegel is for parents of babies all the way up to parents of adults. Very helpful for learning how to take the high road, manage your emotions and understand your child’s emotions, all while allowing them to grow into independent human beings. It was also helps you understand why your parents made their parenting choices, and how not to repeat their mistakes mindlessly.

    As a teacher I recommend Siegel’s book, because it helps parents strive to do better, so they are able to implement Faber and Mazlish.

    Love your grammar and spell check! What a treat on a blog!

    SB in New England

    • delialloyd February 9, 2012 at 11:19 am #

      @SB thanks so much for this recommendation-I am definitely going to take you up on it. my son is VERY pre-adolescent and I do sense that I need some new tools at my disposal for dealing with the coming teen years. Really appreciate your input all around. I know that I, for one, tend to repeat things my parents did even when I don’t want to so self-awareness is key.

  3. Cecilia February 10, 2012 at 9:23 pm #

    Well, as still a relative newbie (as the mother of a 7 y/o (every time I think I’m good, something happens to humble me), I am learning the hard way that I really need to follow through on consequences. It seems so obvious to say that, but we really weren’t very consistent about rules/consequences until this year. I was an adult pleaser and really never needed any prodding to do the “right” thing, not understanding that my son is basically the opposite. I recently finished Sheri Noga’s Have the Guts to Do it Right and it transformed my parenting literally overnight!! She doesn’t really give any how-to’s, only a whole lot of warnings about what a terrible adult your child will turn into if you don’t pull the reins in now. I hold my son accountable for his actions much more than I ever did now, understanding that all the “small” slips will add up into an out-of-control teenager later.

  4. delialloyd February 10, 2012 at 9:56 pm #

    @Cecilia, yes I couldn’t agree more. I find that I’m often threatening consequences, rather than actually employing them and the kids see that and then feel free to ignore me. I will definitely have a look at this book, too. Thanks for the rec!

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