It is other people who influence children about how they feel about themselves. They are all products of the "self-fulfilling prophecy." We have known for years that what we expect from our children is what we will get. Constant input of sincere positive reinforcement helps children feel good about themselves and enables them to function well. Constant criticism, on the other hand, causes children to feel bad about themselves and hinders their growth and development. Therefore, it is important to learn effective ways for interacting with your child. Parents who gain expertise are the ones who usually find it easy to get positive responses from their children, while those without the information often have great difficulty.

Parents and caregivers guide and support their children. They lead them, and they teach them. They do all this by what they say and do. The fifteen pillars of parenting are tools for guidance and support. There are four preparations, five attitudes, and six techniques. They all work together. The preparations are ongoing all the time. They are designed to guide children toward positive behavior and therefore decrease opportunities for negative behavior. The attitudes are the basics related to understanding behavior. They are beliefs. The interventions are actions you can take to handle behavior. While these tools are explained on the toddler and preschool level, you can begin using them in a modified way as soon as your baby starts to move around and then modify them again as your child gets older. Your child is busy learning about the world, and this child needs you as a personal guide, supporter, and protector.

Pillars of Preparation

The idea behind preparation is the concept of having activities run as smoothly as possible. Accidents always happen, but fewer happen when precautions are firmly set in place. Rules, systems, order, expectations, and schedules are basics associated with well-running households. They are part of the preparation process. In addition, you will see that what you focus on, what you do, and what you say are all important.

  1. Set up for Success. Be future oriented, always on the lookout for how to prepare for the future. Use all current information to make upcoming situations run more smoothly. In the table below you will see examples of problematic past situations and successful new ones.

    Setting up for Success


    Problematic Past Situations Successful New Situations
    Requiring your child to sit and listen for a long period of time like in a church, temple, concert, or play. Planning frequent breaks for your child when it is necessary for him or her to be in one place for a long period of time.
    Requiring your child to complete a task perfectly such as setting the table, completing a puzzle, or coloring in the lines. Setting up open-ended play activities for your child with craft materials, blocks, dolls, bubbles, play dough, sand, and water.

    Communicating unclear expectations such as "clean up your room."

    Giving specific directions such as identifying what you want done and when you want it done.
    Keeping inappropriate rigid schedules. Having a flexible routine that will meet your child's true wants and needs.

    Here are some related ideas:

    • Try to avoid setting up "yes or no" situations that could easily turn into "no" situations. For example, instead of asking your child if he is ready to get dressed, ask him which shirt he wants to wear.
    • Break up long blocks of time for your child with smaller segments. If you are going shopping with your child for a long time, build breaks into your outing that will give you time to pay special attention to your child.
    • Design reading time by short intervals. Read a section and then comment on it. Then continue with the next section when and if your child is ready.

    You can see from these examples how much influence you have over your child's behavior. While a difficult situation can lead your child directly into misbehavior, an appropriate situation can lead to success and even to an eventual compliment or reward.

  2. Make Expectations Clear. Be fair, firm, and positive. These are parameters of effective discipline. They work to decrease misbehavior in the future. In addition, they help your child learn to take charge of himself or herself and in the end become his or her own disciplinarian.

    It is fair to set up your situation for success and then explain to your child your expectations. For example, if you are going to Grandma's house and you want your child to participate well in the visit, bring along a puzzle, some books, or some other child-appropriate activity that you think your child will enjoy. Then, referring to the items you brought, describe to your child the appropriate behavior that you expect with those items. This kind of preparation is a way of teaching your child responsibility. You are putting him or her in the position to make a choice—follow the directions you have given and enjoy the visit or ignore them and have some difficulties.

    Talk to your child firmly to show that you mean what you are saying. He or she easily knows the difference in your tone and will respond to you accordingly. If you are not sure of what to require, find out. Ask a parent, friend, or relative. Look it up in a book or on the Web. Find out what you need to know so that you can act with confidence. Your body language will speak loudly to your children

    Your actions are positive because they are about teaching. They are focused on your child's well-being. You are helping your child to know how to act appropriately, and you are showing him or her how to make a choice to do so. Your direction is honest, caring, and loving. Change the word "misbehavior" to "mistaken behavior." Everyone makes mistakes, and the important thing to do is learn from them. Teach your child how to act better so that she will not make the same mistake again, and teach yourself how to set up the situation better for the future. If you find yourself in a difficult spot, you may need to do your teaching at a later time, after the emotional reaction of the incident has passed. The goal is not only to handle the present difficulty but also to prepare for the future. The key is to move on from the present and figure out what you both can do so that the situation will run more smoothly the next time.

  3. Use Praise and Encouragement Appropriately. Praise is defined in Webster's New World Dictionary as "to commend the worth of" (p. 462). Commend is defined in the same dictionary as "recommend" (p. 121). Implicit in this concept is the idea of giving approval. It comes with value words like "good, very good, excellent," and soon. Adult approval is very powerful for children. However, the most important approval is the child's self-approval. Therefore, to avoid creating a dependency on adult approval, praise should be used sparingly and reserved for major accomplishments like beautiful drawings, well-built towers, intricate structures made from blocks, and successfully completing difficult puzzles and other challenging projects.

    To help your child learn how to give self-approval and minimize the need for adult approval, there is another version of praise. It is called encouragement. This is the act of commending different parts of activities that are distinct from completed acts or projects. Since these child endeavors go on all day long, all the time, you can recognize them on an ongoing basis. For example, for a drawing not finished, you can describe beautiful colors or interesting designs. For a tower just begun, you can point out well-placed blocks or skill in placement. For a puzzle not finished, you can reflect on a difficult piece well-placed or a clever choice. Implicit in this process is creating the opportunity for self-praise like, "I used beautiful colors. Good for me." "I placed the blocks well. Good for me." "I put in a hard piece of the puzzle. Good for me." Encouragement is what will help your child get to the point of true accomplishment, and that will lead to meaningful adult praise. Such praise will feel extremely rewarding, and it will not carry with it any kind of dependency on it.

    Encouragement turns out to be at the heart of being able to create an ongoing positive adult-child relationship. These are positive adult interactions that encourage positive child actions. Before long, negative adult interactions will decrease and positive child actions will increase. You will see the power of the recognition of your child's effort and the resultant child self-praise. The whole process of adult-child dynamics will change, and you will experience the rewards of being in a positive parent-child relationship with your child.

    A word about true praise: Try to give it privately. When your child has accomplished something, he or she will reap its rewards any time and anywhere. The privacy of your praise will keep it away from other children who may experience feelings of failure when they are not the ones receiving it.

  4. Make Your Child Feel Needed. Seek your child's help whenever possible. Sentences like "I need your help taking care of your baby sister—please hand me the bottle" and "Please bring me the towel" are all examples of making your child feel important and valued. Parents often find children uncooperative when they ask their children to do things. However, when they make their requests as part of a more meaningful context, they get a much more positive response.

    Another way to show your child that he or she is valued is to ask for help with a task. While getting ready to go out, you might need your child to pack up a set of blocks in their original container. While preparing dinner, you might need him or her to fold napkins, pick up some toys, or put some items on the table. Another popular way to ask for help is with carrying things.

    As you continue to seek assistance on an ongoing basis, remember to use the words, "please" and "thank you." Those are the magic words in our culture. They are words of respect and appreciation. Use them to build respect and appreciation into your parent-child relationship. Remember, the way to teach your child to say "please" and "thank you" is to say them to your child.

Pillars of Attitudes

These pillars represent the next stage of behavior management and relationship building. They are the ones that will help you guide normal behavior and recognize mistaken behavior. They are tools that will help you evaluate what has taken place. You will more clearly understand daily occurrences and difficult situations. You will be able to identify the cause of mistaken behavior and be ready to act appropriately when it is time to take an action. No matter what has happened, these attitudes will leave you feeling positive, in control, and helpful. You will feel confident that you are making the best decisions, ones completely in the best interest of both you and your child.

  1. Separate the Behavior from Your Child. This is the first step to take when your child does what you perceive as some kind of mistaken behavior. Mentally separate out the behavior from the child whom you love. For example, say to yourself, "The milk: has spilled" and "I love my child." This act starts the process of recognizing behavior as a separate entity—something you can do something about-and then being aware of the continuation of your love for your child. When you take this action, you will see that even if you do not like what your child has done, you continue to feel love for your child.
  2. Identify the Cause of the Mistaken Behavior. Once you separate out the mistaken behavior and can see it clearly, you will probably also see clearly the reason it happened. Going back to the above mentioned example of the spilled milk, you may realize that you placed the glass too close to the edge of the table. If that is not the case, you may realize that you filled the glass too full of milk. Another possibility is that you should have used a plastic cup instead of a glass or that the milk was a poor choice in the first place. In any of these cases, you may realize that you might have been part of the cause.

    Identifying the cause of mistaken behavior is important because eliminating the cause is the best way to keep the problem from happening again. Once you identify the cause, the next step is to learn to eliminate it. In that way you will be able to prevent this situation from happening again. If you discover your child is not the cause, there is no need to withdraw any kind of reward. All you need to do is explain what happened, reassure your child, and continue with what you and your child need to do.

    On the other hand, if your child was the cause of the problem, explain what happened, teach your child more appropriate behavior, and then withdraw some kind of impending reward. Teaching is the critical link. If the situation becomes emotional, it is best to take some time before you talk about ways that your child could have handled it differently. Knowing this information, he or she will be in a better position to act differently the next time.

  3. Listen and Communicate. While this is especially good to do all of the time, it is extremely important after you have separated the behavior from your child. If you have difficulty identifying the cause right away, here is an effective tool to help you find out what was on your child's mind. This process will help your child understand him- or herself as much as it will help you understand your child. Hearing is accomplished by a 70/30 ratio of listening to speaking. That means that you should listen to your child about 70 percent of the time and talk about 30 percent of the time. Your part of the conversation should be made up mostly of either asking questions that will stimulate your child to talk more or by nurturing your child's talk with words like "oh, good" and "really?".

    There are basic stimulation questions that you can ask. With the word "what" there are questions like "What happened?" and "What did you think about that?" With the word "how" there are "How did that happen?" and "How did you do that?" With the word "why" there are "Why did you do that?" and "Why did you say that?" These are open-ended questions that will not lead to yes or no answers. Another way to get more information is with "tell." "Tell me more about ... " and "Tell me what you mean by ... "

    As conversation begins to develop, you can begin nurturing it. There are specific words, phrases, and sentences that are effective for this purpose. Here are some that work effectively: "I understand. That's a good point. Sounds important." Interject them appropriately in the conversation.

    Finding out from your child that he or she was hungry, tired, or upset can teach you a lot about avoiding this same problem in the future. In addition, all of this attention will help your child feel cared for. secure. and understood. This positive attention will ultimately help him or her behave better in the future.

    Listen and communicate with your child as often as is possible. You will gain important information, and you will bond. Besides doing wonders for handling present situations, this kind of give and take will help you guide and support your child throughout all circumstances.

    Keep rapport in mind as you and your child converse. Try to use a similar pace and tonality. In this way you will not talk at your child; you will talk with your child. In conjunction with this kind of rapport, it is helpful to be on the same level physically. Bend down if you need to be in a lower position. If possible, be in the same position.

    Going back to the original example about the spilled milk, you may find out something like this. Your child was so upset about being yelled at in school by his teacher that he did not even notice the milk on the table. He flung his hand by accident and sent the glass of milk flying. He became even more upset about spilling the milk and breaking the glass. Since the whole incident compounded his already hurt feelings, you can see how inappropriate withdrawal of a reward would have been. You can also see how valuable listening and communicating are to understanding your child's behavior.

  4. Be Positive, Warm, and Supportive. When you find your child in a problematic situation that is causing difficulty, it is time to work on the problem. With your child, try to find solutions. Be the best friend you can be to your child and do all you can to help. As you play this role, you will be building your relationship with your child. By being positive, warm, and supportive, you will be showing that you believe in your child. The more you believe in your child, the more he or she will be able to believe in him- or herself. Moreover, when you take this approach, you are modeling effective relationship behavior for your child. This is behavior he or she is likely to emulate with others. Being the recipient of positive warmth and support is basic to the development of empathy and morality. As you build your daily relationship through interactions with your child, be positive. Try to focus on what your child can have as opposed to what he or she cannot. It is better to tell your child that she can play with a toy after a friend has finished with it than to tell her that she cannot play with the toy. In addition, try to acknowledge good behavior when you see it.

    With open-ended warmth, you express unconditional love to your child. One thing you cannot give your child too much of is love. Your child is a special kind of container for contributions of love. It is a container that cannot ever run out of room. It has the capacity to take as much as it can get and then always has room for more. Therefore, feel free to give as much of it as possible to your child in as many ways as possible and at all times. Filling your child with love is like providing him or her with an ongoing supply of fuel for success.

    No matter what is going on with your child, you can react in a supportive way. Even if a situation turns out to be your child's fault, and even if you need to withdraw a reward, you can do so in a caring way. Once you separate out the behavior from your child, you will continue to be able to show love for your child.

    Believing in your child turns out to be a major concept. It has far-reaching effects. If you believe your child has a special ability, more often than not, he or she will end up having that ability. If you do believe in certain ability, then you will probably do whatever is in your power to help him or her become outstanding in that area. This belief, combined with your actions, will translate themselves into your child's belief in himself or herself and consequent actions. This ability will become a reality.

  5. Be a Person, Not a God. Try to present yourself as a real person to your child. Share with your child real thoughts, feelings, and ideas. Feel free to make mistakes and also to follow up with sincere apologies. With this attitude, you will be showing your child important respect. Besides expressing yourself, seek your child's thoughts, feelings, and ideas as much as possible.

Pillars of Techniques

This is the action part of your relationship-building process. When you are fully knowledgeable about what is going on and fully able to be positive, warm, and supportive, you are in a position to act appropriately and from strength. You will see that there are several choices for intervening in a situation, and you will see what a positive role they all play.

  1. Change the Environment. This method is well accepted with infants, but it is also effective with older children. Parents often naturally move a child away from one spot to a safer or better one. There are wide ranges of possible environment changes that can be applied to many different situations. Besides moving your child to a different spot, you can enrich the present surroundings. You can also remove something that is causing trouble, or you can replace it. For example, your child keeps on trying to get your attention while you are writing a letter. One thing you can do is set up your child with paper and crayons and let her do a similar activity. You can also set her up with a completely different activity. You can also move her to a different room to do the same or a different activity. You could also stop working altogether or do another activity that would not be so distracting to your child. You can also talk to your child about the situation and figure out together how to set up the surroundings so that both of you feel satisfied.
  2. Use the Sandwich Method for Supervision. Precede and follow a suggestion, recommendation, or request with a positive. For example, your child keeps leaving drawers open. He takes out his shorts, and the drawer stays wide open. He gets a spoon from the silverware drawer, and that too stays wide open. He takes out a game to play, and the same thing happens—the drawer is wide open. Here are some helpful ways to intervene. You can say, "You have such beautiful furniture. Please take better care of it by closing your drawers when you take clothes out from them. Your whole room will look so much neater." Here is another one. "You are very good at clearing your dishes after you eat. Please close the silverware drawer after you take a spoon. The kitchen will look so much better." How about this? "1 love putting up your pictures when you color them. Please close the paper drawer before you start. That will help me a lat."
  3. Be a Part of the Solution. It is always effective to participate with your child as much as possible. It can be one way to get a positive response. For example, if you ask your child to set the table, you can say, "You put out the napkins and the dishes, and I will put out the silverware." If you ask your child to fold the clothes, you can say "You fold all the clothes, and I will match the socks." Your participation gives the message of participation and the idea of the family working together.
  4. React with Humor When Appropriate. When you look openly at why your child has acted in a certain way, you may find an understandable reason. You also might find that reason to be quite humorous. Follow this example. A mother told her preschool child to wait outside after school because she would be picking her up late. When she got to school, she looked outside her child's classroom, and her daughter was nowhere to be found. She looked all over the school and finally found her daughter playing on the playground. "Where have you been?" she exclaimed. ''I've been looking all over for you. I told you to wait outside." "I was outside," the child said. "I was outside on the playground." Immediately the mother smiled. Her daughter was exactly right. She did wait outside just as had been requested. "The next time I mean wait outside the classroom," the mother said, "I will say, "Wait outside the classroom."

    Another way to use humor is with the negative sentence. Everyone likes a challenge. Here are some examples. "You wouldn't be able to put all your clothes away, would you? You couldn't read this whole book, could you? You couldn't be in bed by 8:00 PM with all your chores done, could you?" You can probably already hear loudly and clearly the "Oh yes I cans."

  5. Touch. Hug, hold, and caress your child as often and a much as you want. Physical closeness accomplishes what no words can in forming a healthy attachment to your child. This is bonding. Patting, rubbing, and rocking perform magic. Research has connected touching with physical health. One touch can successfully accomplish what a thousand words might miss.
  6. Miss a Reward. Begin to see losing a reward as part of your child guidance system. Whenever you do something that is not proper, the situation becomes less rewarding. If you do not hold a glass carefully, it will fall. If you do not dust and vacuum, your house will be dirty. This is the same for your child. If he or she does not handle a toy carefully, it will break. Many times these disappearing rewards are built into a situation, but many times they are not. If your child does not put his or her toys away, he or she will not feel any discomfort related to the situation. Someone else may trip on the clothes or be annoyed by looking at the disarray, but your child will not suffer or be inconvenienced in any way. For those kinds of situations, it is helpful to have rewards that you can take away. An appropriate one would be, "If you do not clean up your toys, you cannot go out to play." A good way to set up this situation is to say to your child, "After you put your toys away, you can go out to play." This loss of the reward is presented in a positive way. Guiding your child in this way is fair, firm, and positive. It is proactive, not reactive, and includes the perspective of teaching.