Want a close relationship with your child? Check out these parenting principles that can help you discipline and enjoy parenthood.
On this blog, I write about several topics, from how-to steps to insightful discussions.
We talk about ways to get your kids to listen or help your child recognize letters and numbers. We discuss why motherhood is hard or the biggest reason you should have a life outside of kids.
But within all these topics are parenting principles and tips, regardless of the topic discussed.
If you asked me about my parenting philosophy, I would point you to these principles.
You’ll hear me mention these parenting principles throughout many articles, and for good reason. When we keep them in mind, they’ll steer us toward our parenting goals and show us how to raise our kids.
Take a look at my top 10 parenting principles, no matter the issue you face:
Table of Contents
1. Embrace your child’s temperament
Have you ever thought to yourself about your child, I wish he were more…? There will be many times when his temperament and personality clash with your own.
His strong-willed personality might not mix with your own laid-back style. His budding independence can be difficult to accept if you’re the type that tends to hover. Or maybe you wish he’d be more assertive just as you were when you were his age.
No matter his temperament and personality, accept them as part of who he is. Yes, you can help change his behavior, but you can’t change his sense of self. The more you accept him exactly as-is, the more creative and patient you can be to meet his needs.
Because it’s easy to show support and affection when he’s in a good mood, but not so much when he’s going through challenging emotions.
But it’s exactly during those times—the times when you least feel inclined to be with him—that he needs you most. Something is off—that’s not the time to banish him to a time out. Instead, have a time-in. Let him know you love him, even when he misbehaves, even as you set limits and stand your ground.
He’ll know you love him not just when he’s happy, but through all of his emotions.
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2. Honor the impulse
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One of the first and best parenting tips I learned was to “honor the impulse” of your child.
Coined by author Laura Davis in the book Becoming the Parent You Want to Be, honoring the impulse reminds us to ask ourselves why our kids are behaving the way they are. Because many times, they don’t even know they’re doing something wrong.
Let’s say your toddler was smothering her baby sister. Before jumping to conclusions or accusing her of wrongdoing, look at why she did what she did first. “Looks like you wanted to give her a big hug,” you might say. Only then should you lay the rules. “She’s still so small, so we pat her gently, like this.”
3. Discuss emotions
You and I know what emotions are, how they feel like, that they’re normal, and that they’ll eventually go away.
But our kids? They’re not born understanding any of this, from what they’re called to whether they’re normal for feeling the way they do. This is why talking about feelings and emotions is key to helping your child better manage them.
Take the time to talk about how he feels, from labeling them to offering reassurance. “Looks like you feel mad because we had to stop playing,” you can say. Or “Sometimes we feel nervous when we try something new.”
You can then tie how he feels to his circumstances and offer tips to help him get through them. The more he knows about his feelings, the more tools he has to manage them.
4. Don’t compare your child to others
Or rather, don’t let comparisons get you too riled up.
It’s natural to compare, of course. It’s our innate way of seeing if anything wrong is going on with our kids. We also feel proud of them when they excel in certain ways.
That said, note the comparison and move on. When you try to keep up with the Jones’ kids, you’ll end up with more unneeded grief and worry. Despite hitting milestones at different times, kids almost always catch up in one way or another.
Remember that they develop their skills at different stages. Not all kids learn to walk at the same time. When your child is being clingy, remember that she’s going through separation anxiety.
And tell yourself that all these skills are appropriate for her age. It’d be stranger if she didn’t stumble as she learned to walk or go through separation anxiety.
Should you truly be concerned, seek the advice of a professional, from her pediatrician to her teacher. This can either ease your worries or, should there be an issue, point you in the right direction to get it sorted out.
5. Show empathy
Want to melt your child’s defenses and let him know that you understand how he feels? Show empathy—even before you need to discipline. You can start a conversation off with, “I know you’re upset because we have to leave.” This reassures him that you’re on his side, even if you disagree with how he’s behaving.
You’ll also have more patience and compassion when you put yourself in his shoes. You’re less likely to snap when you understand why he’s behaving the way he is.
6. Praise effort
Encourage your child not by showering her with constant praise, but by being particular with the type of praise you give in the first place.
To start, praise the effort, strategies, and progress she makes (“You tried hard during the game!”). This sends the message that things she can control—how often she practiced, that she studied for a test—help her achieve her goals.
On the flip side, avoid praising her for supposedly innate traits that she can’t change (“You’re good at soccer!”). When she faces a challenge and finds it difficult, her sense of identity is threatened when she fails. Worse, she’ll feel like there’s nothing she can do to improve.
Don’t forget to praise her for progress as well and not just for the final outcome. Cheer her on for not giving up on a puzzle or for practicing longer to get better, and not only on completing the puzzle or finally mastering the song.
7. Let your child struggle
As parents, watching our kids struggle in any way can be difficult. We’d rather dice their food or fold their laundry than see them struggling with these tasks (especially when we can do them so much faster!). We step in at the first sign of conflict and hover over every school assignment.
But intervening all the time denies them the opportunity to create their own solutions. When they’ve never had a chance to forget a library book or wash their own dishes, they have fewer chances in childhood to learn how to fix mistakes or be responsible.
Yes, seeing them struggle is difficult and awkward—you just want to wash away their frustration. But something magical happens when we step back and let them solve their problems on their own. They learn a new skill and, most importantly, feel amazingly proud of themselves.
8. Teach by example
You can teach anything—values, habits, language, you name it—by doing it yourself.
Do you want your child to lessen computer time and read instead? Put down your phone and read a book for leisure. Want her to keep her room tidy? Do the same with your own. And if you want to pass the same principles and values you hold dear, make sure you live them every day.
She’ll learn that these habits and values are a family affair. They’re so important that everyone—even parents—abide by them.
9. Focus on staying calm
The most important thing you can do when your child misbehaves isn’t to come up with an effective consequence or make sure he learns his lesson. It’s to stay calm. Yep, even if that means walking away mid-sentence or not talking to him about his behavior right away.
When you are ready to talk about consequences, tie it in with his behavior without involving your own frustrations. They should be based on reasonable rules, not your anger. This also shows him that you’re on his side—you’re helping him manage his emotions and learn lessons without trying to “win.”
And it’s okay to be flexible, especially when you’re about to lose your cool. Some battles aren’t worth saying or doing something you’ll later regret because your child wouldn’t take a bath this one time (guilty!).
You don’t have to discipline or come up with a consequence right away every time. You’re not a failure for walking away if it means staying calm and not getting angry.
10. Do what works for you
For every piece of advice you hear, whether from me, other parents, or friends, tailor it to suit you and your family. No one cares more about your child or knows him better than you do. Parenting isn’t a one-size-fits-all manual—what works for one (or even many) may not apply to your situation.
Yes, listen to advice and even give it a try. But filter it through the lens of what works for your particular situation.
These parenting principles apply to so many situations, from picky eating to potty training and beyond.
For instance, embrace your child’s temperament instead of trying to change it. Honor the impulse that drove his behavior to begin with. Teach him about emotions so he has a better way of communicating them.
Don’t compare him to other kids, as this brings up needless stress and anxiety. Show empathy so he knows you’re on his side. Praise his effort, not the supposedly innate talents he has. Let him struggle so he learns just how capable he is of overcoming obstacles.
Model the behavior you want to see, and focus on staying calm, even above giving consequences or teaching a lesson. And lastly, even with all the advice you hear, do what works for you.
These parenting principles have guided me all these years—I hope they can be helpful to you as well.
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