The following guidelines emerged over years from the author's parenting classes. ABC stands for always be consistent. The term guidance is used in place of discipline. Parents in these classes wanted to find more constructive or effective methods of guiding their children. For some parents, it was a move away from reacting after the act to encouraging and praising appropriate behavior. Of many guidelines, three general principles stand out. Always be consistent, be positive, and praise the behavior you want repeated.

  1. Always be consistent. The younger the child, the more difficult it is for him or her to understand why a rule changes from one day to another. From the parents' perspective, it may make sense to tell the children that they cannot play with clay or certain toys in the house because company is coming. To a young child this is especially confusing. Consistency means modeling what you tell your children to do. "Always tell the truth" may be stressed. What message is heard if the parent asks a child answering the phone to tell the caller that mother or dad is not home? If parents tell children to make their bed in the morning and the parents do not make their bed, the children will probably do as they see rather than do as they hear. There needs to be consistency in the parents' expectations of each child within developmentally appropriate limits. If the parent asks one child to pick up toys and lets another child play without putting things away, it can cause resentment, overall confusion, and lower self-esteem.
  2. Always be positive. Most young children want to please. Encourage this by telling children exactly what to do rather than what not to do. Say, "You need to walk in the house because...If you want to run, you may go outside." If a child needs help in achieving a goal, this positive approach relays the message that the parent has trust or confidence in the child wanting to do the right thing.
  3. Praise good behavior. It is so easy for parents to ignore children's desirable behavior because it is causing no problem. Two sisters are playing close to where their mother is finishing a project. The two-year-old begins to fuss and points to a toy that the four-year-old has. The older sister says, "Here, Susie, you can have this one." The play goes on amicably. The mother continues her work, either not noticing the incident or not wanting to interrupt her activity. A more positive response would be, "Susie, wasn't that nice of your sister to give you that toy?"
  4. Love needs to be unconditional. This means that children are loved regardless of their actions. You may not like a child's actions, but you still love that child. To say, "If you love Mommy, you will pick up your room," bases your love on the child's actions.
  5. Discuss the child's action and not the child's trait or personality. To label the child as naughty, lazy, selfish, or sloppy is harmful to the child's self image. To talk about actions, such as not hanging up clothes or not sharing toys, is easier for the child to deal with and to correct.
  6. Provide limits. These should be developmentally appropriate, understood by all, open to discussion, and enforced with love. By allowing children to have some voice in a rule, they will more likely comply. By giving children a choice, you are giving them some control over the situation.
  7. Help children to control their own behavior. Help them understand their actions and accept certain ways of behaving. Eventually they will be able to control their own behavior from within rather than externally or based on outside forces. Help children understand how their actions affect the other person. Ask them how they could have expressed their feelings in another way.
  8. Communications should be open, honest, clear, and appropriate. Children must be allowed to express their feelings. They often need help in how to release their feelings in an acceptable manner.
  9. Spend time with children. Listen and be sensitive to a child's needs. Be supportive of those needs while helping the child meet the demands of parents, family, and the environment. Have fun with your child!
  10. Provide an environment where children are able to succeed. This includes providing activities that are challenging but attainable. It is often easier for a child to accomplish one small part of a task at a time than to tackle the whole project. Praise, encouragement, and help are important to success.