Parents' Golden Rule

SOURCE: Children, Youth & Families Consortium -- University of Minnesota

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"Do unto others as you would have them do unto you," is an important golden rule for parenting just as it is for other relationships. Some parents tend to view children as they do puppies with whom it is necessary to get, and keep, the upper hand in order to maintain authority. Children do not respond well to living under these conditions.

Children do, though, learn from such treatment. They learn that it is okay to bully someone as long as that person is smaller and less powerful. often parents who have been using authoritarian parenting are surprised when their children turn it back on them.

In some situations, particularly when children are at risk, a simple, firm "No" is effective in stopping dangerous behavior. However, unless an explanation follows, a child is likely to try to repeat that same behavior.

Children are excellent parental mimics. They repeat what they have heard and imitate behavior they have seen. For example, at a recent banquet, Karen's mother left the table-to get another beverage. As she left Karen called out, "Get me one too, please." Getting no response she tried again, "Bring me back a drink." Her mother seemed to be ignoring her so Karen tried a third and fourth time, the volume of request rising. Finally her mother called back, "I heard you the first time. I'm getting you a drink." Karen responded loudly, "Well, how am I supposed to know unless you tell me. I always have to answer you!" Out of the mouth of this six-year-old came a good question: if children have to treat adults politely, why shouldn't adults do the same with children?

Parents are powerful models for their children and children observe carefully the methods parents use with them, as well as the way their parents relate to other adults. If parents listen carefully, they will hear their own words and see their own mannerisms as their children interact with them and with peers.

Children who are treated with respect by their parents learn to respect others. Parents who listen to their children teach that words are an important way to convey thoughts and feelings, and are more effective than hitting, tantrums or whining. Children who have been treated well at home are not spoiled. They have learned to expect good treatment for themselves, and have learned that they should treat others as they themselves expect to be treated.


Children who are reared by supportive, accepting parents with whom they can identify tend to develop into self-aware adults capable of formulating long-term goals. They often engage in constructive self-criticism and cherish their relationships with others. In contrast, children whose parents are overly critical, harsh or authoritarian often turn into self-absorbed adults whose impulsiveness can lead them to violence and substance abuse.

These are the latest findings of a 22-year study that has traced the development of nearly 400 people from age 8 through age 30. The study identified-childhood factors that are most likely to contribute to positive adult attitudes toward self and others -- a high level of ego development.

Source: Eric Dubow. Child Development. Vol. 58:859-869. 1987


Crash, bang, crack. Toddler Stevie begins to explore the wonderful world of breakable objects. How can his parents effectively teach him restraint, yet satisfy his need to explore?

Not by relying on physical punishment, say psychologists Thomas G. Power and Lynn Chapieski. They observed sixteen 14-month-old babies (eight boys, eight girls) at play with their mothers, noting every object the babies grasped and their mothers' attempts to restrain them. They also interviewed each mother to find out her usual disciplinary approach: reliance on physical discipline (such as a light slap on the hand), occasional or conditional physical discipline (such as a light hand slap only after attempts at distracting the child fail) or no physical discipline. What did they discover?. In both the long and short term, physical discipline proved unsuccessful. Babies who were physically punished by their mothers were more likely to grasp breakable objects and were least likely to obey restrictions, reaching for the forbidden objects again and again. And when given a test measuring infant development seven months later, these babies scored lower than did those who received no or low discipline. This was especially true on tasks related to spatial skills and problem solving, such as fitting puzzle pieces together and fixing pegs in a board.

Source: Thomas G. Power and M. Lynn Chapieski. Developmental Psychology 22(2). 1986


A parent is the best educational toy for the young child, according to a roundup of professional opinion of the value of educational playthings. Contrary to the dark hints of toy manufacturers, children's mental development doesn't hinge on parents' choice of toys. The quality of preschoolers' total development does, however, depend on the quality of their lives with their parents.

The experts interviewed agreed that many of the highly advertised and high-priced "educational toys" on the market:

  1. Play on parents' anxiety over their child's future school success and place undue and potentially inhibiting emphasis on cognitive skills.
  2. Are over-priced and uninspired adaptations -of equipment, games, and puzzles that have been around for years.
  3. Tend to consist of ingredients that could be assembled much more cheaply by the parent from existing household supplies or from hardware, stationery, and gardening stores.
Manufacturers' claims that the use of certain toys sharpens hand-eye coordination and other perceptual skills amused the experts, who observed that just about everything a child does in the course of everyday living develops these traits -- if he/she is not squelched by impatient, over-particular parents. Doing real things with real tools in the company of a parent is the basic "educational" experience.

Intellectual development is interlocked with physical, social and emotional growth. Parents who work along with their kids at ordinary routines, meeting mistakes with patience and good humor, fanning curiosity, and fostering the will to try, are helping their youngsters develop "readiness" as packaged "educational" playthings never could.


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