I can still see Anna’s face. She sat on my couch, weary and careworn, wrestling with some daunting concerns. But when I asked about her kids, her face lit up. I knew, in a flash, that despite her burdens, she had figured out how to create likable children.
What was Anna’s secret? Anna and other moms with likable kids seem to instinctively follow certain principles of parenting. They recognize that kids are neither intrinsically good or bad, and it is up to us to help them become enjoyable people. Understanding and implementing these principles is not rocket science, and making the effort to do so is a wonderful investment in your happiness, and in theirs.
Principle 1: You Are in Charge
- Establish clear rules. This gives kids a chance to do things right, and to know when they have gotten it wrong — no ifs, ands or buts!
- Determine the consequences. Forewarn kids about what will happen if they break the rules. Better yet, let them help determine the consequences. They are often harder on themselves than we are.
- Follow through and be consistent. Make it clear that you mean business, every time. If they take you seriously, they are less likely to try your patience.
Principle 2: Approach Them with Respect
- Let them develop into who they are, not who you want them to be. Be respectful of their preferences, thoughts and feelings, even when they are different from yours. They may be kids, but they are still people.
- Assume they are innocent until proven guilty. Expect the best of them until you are proven wrong — maybe they won’t let you down!
- Think before you speak. Address your children with the same consideration you expect from them.
Principle 3: Require, in Turn, that They Treat You Respectfully
- Insist on respectful expression of thoughts and feelings. Ideas and emotions should never be squelched, but temper tantrums should.
- Don’t make them the center of the universe. Teach your kids to think of others’ feelings and needs. Getting them involved in a volunteer activity can help put things in perspective for them.
- Dare to insist upon good manners, even at the table. They won’t like it, but you’ll like them better for it.
- Teach appreciation. Don’t allow your kids to take your efforts for granted. Insist that they express gratitude for efforts made by others on their behalf.
Principle 4: Let Them Know You Love and Approve of Them
- Whenever you can, catch them doing something right. Positive reinforcement tends to encourage more of the desired behavior.
- Listen. When they are ready to talk, make time to hear them.
- Spend time with them. There is no substitute for shared experiences. And enjoyable times together create a “goodwill bank” that will get you and your kids through the rough times.
- Pick your battles. If they are good kids who generally try to do the right thing, you can live with blue hair for a month.
- Remember that you were once a kid. So lose the stuffed shirt routine!
You are probably following many of these principles already. If you have missed a few, don’t feel bad — there are no perfect parents. Instead, pour your energies into implementing these ideas, one at a time. The pleasure of liking your kids will more than reward you for your efforts.