Habits of Effective Parents

1. Use procedures rather than rules.

Highly-effective parents use procedures and do not rely on rules. Rules are necessary in games. However, in interactions, rules result in adversarial relationships because rules require enforcement. Rules place the parent in the position of an enforcer, a cop—rather than that of a teacher or mentor. Enforcing rules often results in power struggles that rarely result in win-win situations or in good relationships. Instead, rules often result in reluctance, resistance, and resentment. While rules are “left-hemisphere” oriented, and they work with people who are orderly and structured, they do not work well with “right-hemisphere” dominant children who tend to act who randomly and spontaneously. Even when these children know the rules, their lack of impulse control mitigates against following them.

In addition, rules are often stated in negative terms and imply an imposed consequence. Rules are not designed to inspire, encourage, or teach. They are aimed at obedience and are meant to control.

Rather than relying on rules, you will be much more effective if you teach procedures. Effective parents assume that children do not know how to do something, such as set the table for dinner, for example. These parents explain the procedure, model it, have their children practice it, and periodically revisit it for review and reinforcement.

2. State what you want, not what you don’t want.

Highly-effective parents communicate in positive terms. The brain thinks in pictures, not in words. We often want to assist people by telling them what to avoid. So often, however, when you tell a person what not to do, the opposite results. The reason is that the brain does not envision “don’t” or any other negative-type word. The brain envisions pictures, illusions, visions, and images. Here is an example: Don’t think of the color blue. What color did you envision? The parent who tells the child not to make a mess is having the child’s brain envision making a mess. When people tell others what not to do, the “don’t” is not imaged in the brain; what follows the “don’t is what is imaged. Therefore, always communicate in positive terms of what you do want. Examples: “Keep your hands to yourself.” Instead of “Don’t poke your sister.”

3. Aim at promoting responsibility, not obedience.

Highly-effective parents promote responsibility, rather than aiming at obedience. Obedience does not create desire. When you promote responsibility, obedience then follows as a natural by-product. Focusing on obedience prompts using coercion, which is the least effective approach for changing behavior or for inspiring others. Although parents can control children temporarily, parents cannot change their children. People change themselves, and the most effective approach for actuating a young person to change is to eliminate coercion, which is not to be confused with permissiveness. The approach for the parent is to hone the skill of asking reflective questions. As long as the parent does the asking, rather than telling, the parent controls the conversation. Use questions such as, “Are you willing to try something different if it would help you?” and “What would an extraordinary person do in this situation?”

4. Encourage reflection.

Highly-effective parents use reflection to prompt self-evaluation, the key to changing behavior. You can control a person temporarily, but no one can change another person. People change themselves, and the path for this is to have them reflect.

Reflection is critical for long-term memory, and it is the most overlooked learning activity. At the conclusion of any activity, children should engage in some type of reflective activity. Children cannot be exposed to something once and then expect the learning to go into long-term memory. Having children reflect reinforces learning.

5. Elicit, rather than impose.

Highly-effective parents elicit from children, rather than use authority and impose something on them. Simply stated, when a consequence is imposed, children are deprived of ownership in the decision. A more effective and fairer approach is to elicit a consequence or a procedure to redirect impulses that will help each child in the family become more responsible. This can easily be accomplished and still be consistent in terms of fairness by asking children if they would rather be treated as a group or as individuals. They will readily have a preference to be treated as individuals and have ownership in the decision that will help them. Use questions such as, “What procedure can we develop so that in the future you will not be a victim of your impulses?”