The Ten Commandments of Parenting

1. Set a good example.

Your child looks up to you and tries to be like you. It's fine to tell your child to be respectful, truthful, helpful, and kind. But it won't count unless you act that way, too.

2. Give energy and attention to goodness.

What you feed, grows. Look for chances to reward positive behavior with your attention. Look for chances to give your attention when no negative behavior is happening.

3. Don't give energy and attention to badness.

What you feed, grows. Kids want any attention, good or bad. If you argue or yell at your child, he will learn to misbehave more to get your attention. Instead, simply give the child a short time out where no attention is available. When he is quiet again for a few minutes, then you can give him attention for behaving well.

4. Keep your promises.

Your child counts on you to feel loved and secure. When you don't come through on a promise, she may feel insecure, and believe that you don't care about her. Promises are just as important whether it's for a "goodie" or for something the child doesn't even want, like a time out.

5. Only make promises you can keep.

Don't promise things you only wish could happen - it only hurts worse when it can't. Also, avoid making big threats or punishments - these are promises, too. Later, you may realize that you were wrong, and take it back. Stick with promises that you can keep.

6. Use consequences, not punishments.

A consequence is something that is naturally caused by a behavior. For example, if you are obnoxious or threatening, you can't be around people for a little while. If you make a mess, you clean it up. If you don't finish your homework, you can't watch TV. If you leave my tool outside, I won't want to lend it to you next time you ask. Children learn how to behave better from having natural consequences.
A punishment is something that is given by an angry adult for revenge. For example, if you do that one more time, you can't go to the park tomorrow. Punishments - including spankings - are for children to suffer. Children also learn from punishments: they learn to be sneaky and hateful.

7. Stay in control.

Everyone gets mad. The trick is to catch yourself when you're just starting to get upset or frustrated. Then you can take care of the situation quickly, before it gets out of hand - maybe by giving a time out, finding some goodness to give attention to, or taking a time out for yourself. Parents make most of their mistakes when they are mad: they yell, they argue, they give attention to badness, and they give punishments - which might also turn out to be broken promises. If you can't catch yourself before you lose control, get help and learn how. It's worth it.

8. Include your child.

Children naturally want to help out and be included. For example, even a very young child can "help" you wash dishes by stirring the dishwater with a spoon. If you take the time to include the child and to make chores fun, he will learn to be helpful and to feel good about himself.

9. Make your child feel special.

Avoid comparing children to each other or trying to give each child exactly the same thing all the time. That just fosters insecurity and sibling rivalry. Children don't need "equal" treatment; they need to feel special. Find ways of appreciating each child for her own qualities. You can show this with special privileges, small gifts, attention, or activities.

10. Take care of yourself.

Obvious, but important anyway. Parents need nutritious food, enough sleep, exercise, friends, enjoyment, a little time off for themselves... Raising kids is a big challenge. If you're in good shape yourself, you'll have a better chance of being the kind of parent you want to be.