Monday, February 1, 2010

The Three C's of Effective Parenting

Parenting is the most difficult job one will ever have. Parenting involves many things, including many hopes, wishes, and dreams for a child. To be a good enough parent and to realize those hopes, dreams and wishes you have for your child, it is necessary to know and use the three C's of successful parenting: consistency, caring, and common sense! Although there are other things that will help in successful parenting, these three are keys to success.


Consistency in effective parenting means that the rules must stay the same and must be maintained at all times. What exactly does this mean? Wise parents will make a list of rules for their child to follow. If the child breaks the rule, the child will receive an immediate and fitting consequence for having broken the rule. There are no warnings or second chances. Warnings and second chances only serve to confuse the child and to encourage the child to "test" the parent to see if the parent is going to back down and not enforce the rule.

For example, one rule established by the parents is that "No" means "No". A child asks to go outside to play and the parent says, "No." The child then whines and argues with the parent. There are many times when a parent will "give in" to the whining and arguing child because the parent is preoccupied, tired, not feeling well, or just feeling overwhelmed with the situation. The parent then relents and allows the child to go outside to play to get them to stop whining and arguing. This then means that the rule is "sometimes" that "No" means "No". Other times, it is possible to get the parent to change his/her mind. A child soon learns that there is often a 50-50 chance that they will be able to do what they want to do if they whine and argue.

If this pattern continues between parent and child, the parent is not teaching the child appropriate communication skills or, in other words, socializing the child to respond appropriately to authority. It also ensures that the parent and child will continue to struggle as time goes on.

How then does a parent effectively handle this situation? The parent says, "No," and calmly repeats that message to the child. If the child persists in whining and arguing, the parent can give the child a choice, such as, "Stop whining and arguing or go to your room until you can calm down". The consequence given to the child is determined by the parent's knowledge of their child's likes and dislikes. For example, sending one child to his/her room may be a very good consequence for a child who likes to be "where the action is". Another child might prefer being alone, therefore, this would not be a "consequence" for that child. The latter child might like watching television and be looking forward to watching a favorite show. Their "choice" would then be, "Stop whining and arguing or you can't watch your favorite show this evening".

One of the most effective tools for helping parents remain consistent is to create a list of rules and consequences that are posted in a prominent place in the home, such as on the refrigerator or other place where the family is frequently reminded of the rules and consequences. When creating the list, it is very important to state the behaviors that the parent WANTS, rather than the behaviors that the parent DOES NOT WANT. Simply put, that means that the rules are stated without the use of the words "no" and "not". This is not as easy as it sounds as most parents think in terms of rules such as, "No fighting!" Here is a list of common rules in families that are stated in positive terms, rather than negative terms:

1. Keep your hands and feet to yourself.
2. Bedtime is 8:00 p.m.
3. Chores must be done by 7:00 p.m.
4. Speak respectfully to others.
5. Tell the truth.
6. "No" means NO!
7. Obey parents when asked to do something.

Of course, each family has their own rules that they might want to add/subtract from the above list. This is simply an example of stating the rules in terms of the behaviors that are desired, rather than the behaviors that are forbidden. Tell a child what you expect, rather than what you don't want.

Consequences are an essential part of consistency. Consequences will change over time as the child grows older and his/her likes and dislikes change and they are more capable of making appropriate decisions on their own. In determining what consequences you want to establish, it is necessary to think of your child's likes and dislikes and what is appropriate and inappropriate in terms of a consequence. Simply put, anything that does not meet a basic human need (heat, food, clothing, shelter, etc.) is "fair game" when it comes to consequences. Anything other than the basic needs are "luxuries or privileges" that can be taken away at a parent's discretion. For a very young child, this might be a favorite toy. For an elementary school-aged child, this might be staying inside (rather than being allowed to go outside to play). For an adolescent, this might be taking away computer privileges or cell phone privileges.

It is often a good idea to have a list of at least five consequences for each child, ranging from least severe to most severe. Each day, the child starts out with a clean slate. If the child breaks one rule, the child is given the least severe of the consequences. If the child then breaks another rule (or the same rule a second time), the child is then given a second consequence that is slightly more severe than the first. This continues throughout the day, with increasingly more severe consequences with each transgression. It is seldom, if ever, necessary to have more than five consequences. The only time more might be needed is when parents are working to correct ineffective parenting patterns and the child/ren are resisting their attempts (common in situations where the children have had lots of success in changing their parents' minds). The more consistent the parent is, the more responsive the child will be to following the rules.


You love your child/ren or you would not be reading this. You remember the day your child was born and the hopes, dreams, and wishes you had for that child at birth! You felt such joy and elation...and dreamed of the child's potential! You thought you would burst with the love you felt for that tiny infant! Unfortunately, time demands and life often get in the way of maintaining that intense caring. You want to be able to nurture your child emotionally and find it is often difficult to find the time or know exactly what to do for your child.

A first step in becoming a good enough parent is often examining the things you experienced as a child. Please take a few minutes now to make eight lists:

1. I loved when my mother did:
2. I loved when my father did:
3. I hated it when my mother did:
4. I hated it when my father did:
5. I loved it when my mother said:
6. I loved it when my father said:
7. I hated it when my mother said:
8. I hated it when my father said:

See how many things you can come up with in each list! The next part of this assessment is listing the things that you do that your parent(s) did that you hated (often we do this without being aware of it!). Do this, also, with the things you loved! This latter list is the one to follow when you want to do caring things for your child!

It is important to treat children with respect (especially if you expect them to treat you with respect; respect is always earned, never a given). Speak to children (and all people, for that matter) in the same way you want them to speak to you. If you want polite children, be polite to your children. If you want your children to listen to you, listen to them. Teach your children by your own example. This is how children learn to respect you and, ultimately, themselves and others.

Of course, tell your child often that you love him/her! Hug your child often, even as they get older and past the age when you remember your parents hugging you! Touch is a basic human need and this is not always given to children once they get "big". Big is different in all families, although a common cut-off seems to be around the time children are 7 or 8 years old (if not younger).

Spend some time each day with your child. It doesn't have to be a long time. It does have to be long enough to check in with him/her to see how they are doing, what their day was like for them, what they liked/disliked about their day, and what they are looking forward to tomorrow. This can be as little as five minutes and a very special five minutes to the child! This tells your child that he/she is important to you and allows them to learn to talk about THEIR feelings, likes, dislikes, and hopes.


This is probably the most difficult to describe and to use effectively as common sense means many different things to many different people. A good rule of thumb is often to think of yourself as a child and think about what you wanted or needed as a child and did not get from a parent because they just did not have the skills you needed them to have. This is not a condemnation of your parents, rather an acknowledgment that parenting is ever-evolving and that parents can only do that which they know from their own experiences. Parenting practices have changed in many ways over the years and much has been learned through these changes.

It seems appropriate at this time to address spanking and hitting children. Many seem to feel that this is the most effective means of parenting. If you want your child to obey out of fear (rather than respect), this is likely true. However, it seems odd to me that an adult would need to hit a child in any way to gain compliance. Consider what this would feel like to a child....very large adult coming at you to hit you...and you have no defense. This just is not necessary and creates fear and helplessness and hopelessness in a child. A pat on the backside for very little children is sometimes effective in getting them to stop doing something, although it is often more helpful to distract them by giving them something else to do. It stops the behavior you want to stop and tells them clearly what it is you do want them to do. The goal in effective parenting is having children do what you want them to do and it is up to you, the parent, to tell them what you want them to do (rather than just telling them what you don't want them to do).

Another issue that is common surfaces as children get older and more capable of helping with household chores. Too often, parents assume children should know how to do some of these chores because "they've watched me a million times!" However, watching and doing are two very different things. If you have not taken the time to TEACH your child how to do a chore, it is likely that they don't know how to do this chore and, certainly, not to your satisfaction, in most cases. If you want a child to clean the bathroom, go with the child and teach the child which cleaners are used for each of the items in the bathroom and how they are to use the cleaners. Supervise their first efforts until they know how you want the job done! If you want your child to wash the dishes, go with the child and teach the child what to wash first and last...and everything in between.

The idea of "old enough" goes beyond chores. It also surfaces in knowledge a parent thinks a child should have, whether it is in relating to others or behaving in certain circumstances. The rule of thumb here, once again, is this: if you didn't teach him/her, it is unfair to assume that the child KNOWS.

These are ideas that have been used with many families during my years as a Family Therapist and Psychologist. They have helped families tremendously in raising children that are well-behaved, well-mannered, and who feel loved, wanted, and cherished. Hopefully, using the Three C's of Effective Parenting will help you in your journey as a parent so that you can experience the joy of being successful and happy with the children you raise.