by Richard Templar
The Rules of Parenting brings together over 100 Rules for bringing up happy, confident children. Not instructions but guidelines, based on observations of what actually works. Fans of the book were recently asked to vote for their top 10, so here’s a preview of those Rules that parents who have read the book swear by most…
Rule 1: Relax
This was the top-voted Rule incidentally, and in fairness it gets easier the more children you have. Essentially it’s about remembering that kids are supposed to be noisy, messy, bouncy, squabbly, whingy and covered in mud. These aren’t problems you need to fix, they’re a sign that your kids are normal and happy. Design your home and family to cope with these things, rather than trying to fit the kids into a clean, tidy, peaceful house. You have 18 years to turn them into respectable grown-ups, so don’t fret.
Rule 2: Look pleased to see them
It’s so easy to forget this in the hurly-burly of running a home and a family. We’ve all greeted our kids by snapping, ‘Take those muddy shoes off!’ or even just ignored them coming downstairs in the morning because we’re busy organising breakfast. But the simplest way to let your children know you love them is to show it. Don’t save your warmest greeting for the dog, or your best friend. Give your kids a smile every time, and maybe a hug, even when their shoes are muddy.
Rule 3: Treat your child with respect
Not only do your children deserve to be treated with respect, but they learn their behaviour from you. Some parents issue their kids with instructions all day: ‘Clean your teeth.’ ‘Get in the car.’ ‘Eat your lunch.’ Then they complain that their children don’t say please and thank you. Asking your child respectfully to do these things won’t undermine your authority. They will learn pretty fast that cleaning their teeth, for example, isn’t optional just because they’ve been asked politely.
Rule 4: Use praise wisely
Too much praise heaps pressure on your child to keep living up to unrealistic standards. So keep praise in proportion, and don’t devalue the currency. Don’t tell them their drawing is brilliant when it’s just good. There are lots of other ways to make your child feel good. Try asking them questions: ‘How did you make the horse look like it’s really moving?’ Or thank them, especially to show them you’ve noticed their good behaviour, which will reinforce it: ‘Thanks for not picking your nose in front of Auntie Myrtle’.
Rule 5: Make sure they know what’s important
Still on the subject of praise, the things you praise your child for will tell them louder than anything else what is important. So make sure your praise is in line with the values you want to pass on to the kids. If you give them most praise for winning, or coming top at school, those are the things they’ll learn to value. If you think kindness, or perseverance, or courage, or hard work, or effort, or unselfishness are important, you’d better make sure those are the things that earn your children the most praise.
Rule 6: Schooling isn’t the same as education
School is there to give your child information, and a few skills such as maths and maybe a foreign language. This should also help them win bits of paper that may or may not be useful in life. Everything else however – their real education – is down to you: how to be assertive, stay out of debt, tell when a fight’s brewing, change a light bulb, resolve disputes amicably, treat people with respect, face your fears... That’s your job. Don’t expect school to do it for you.
Rule 7: Remember Newton’s Third Law
You remember: for every action there is an equal and opposite reaction. By the time your child is approaching their teens, if not before, the more you give them to kick against, the harder they’ll kick. Yes, I know and you know that you’re just trying to keep them safe and help them avoid mistakes. But they need to make their own mistakes in order to learn. Did you listen to your parents all those years ago? Long before they’re teens you need to practise stepping back and letting them make their own choices.
Rule 8: Don’t look under the mattress
This Rule comes into its own with teenagers. Essentially there’s no point snooping to see what they’re up to – chances are they haven’t left any clues. And even if they have – what are you going to do? If you give them a hard time, all you’ve done is ensure that if they’re in real trouble, they won’t come to you. That’s the opposite of what you want. Make sure you’re a source of comfort and support, not fruitless preaching.
Rule 9: You can’t fix everything
This one’s tough. Some things are beyond fixing – bereavement, serious illness, family breakups. So this Rule is a reminder that much as you want to be able to make everything better for your kids, sometimes you just can’t. And it’s not your fault. Your love and support can stop it being any worse than it already is, and maybe you just have to settle for that.
Rule 10: Don’t guilt-trip them
Once a parent, always a parent – even when your kids have grown up. Rule 10 reminds us that our kids owe us nothing. We chose to bring them into this world and the (undeniable) blood, sweat and tears aren’t their fault. So no hinting that you’ll be lonely once they move out, or that ‘your sister phones me twice a week’, or that now they’re earning good money maybe they could help you out a bit. No guilt trips. Besides, if you’ve given them no cause to consider you out of guilt, you’ll know that anything they do is done out of love for you. And that’s a feeling you can’t beat.
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Richard Templar is the author of the global best-selling “The Rules of… ” series. The Rules of Parenting is published by Pearson
Various, MADE magazine