Both as a parent and as a psychiatrist, I spend much time researching and reviewing the multitudes of approaches to raising children who will go on to become productive citizens and responsible adults. I developed an algorithm that embodies the advice I have given to many parents. This is the same approach I use in my own family and is based on principles of positive discipline, which encourage respect for the child, setting firm and loving limits, and taking an individualized approach. The four steps to a positive, healthy relationship with your child are:
- RESEARCH: For most of us, before we make a big investment, take an important trip, or consider new employment, we do a great deal of research. The same care should be taken as one embarks on the most important "job" we will ever have—the job of providing the world with the next generation of productive, happy citizens. As a parent, you will need to review developmental guidelines, temperamental studies, and research on effective parenting methods as your child matures. What may be developmentally appropriate for a two-year old may require negative consequences for a five-year old.
Understanding your child's temperament may help you to structure your household and aspects of your child's life to minimize the number of times that the child may need disciplining. For example, if you recognize that your child has a rigid temperament that makes dealing with change difficult, you may be able to minimize transition times which may lead to behavioral outbursts while at the same time using the remaining undesired behavior as a teaching opportunity.
- OBSERVE: Watching your child intently and purposefully at times will help you to understand her patterns, habits, and temperament. Does she seem to hit her brother around naptime? Does irritability only occur right before dinner? Understanding what your child's triggers are, helping her to realize them, and providing tools to help her minimize the misbehavior (such as a snack before dinner) are important for effective positive discipline.
- RESPECT: Once you understand your child's developmental needs, temperament and habits, it is important to develop a deep respect for who your child is without trying to change him excessively. I hear from many parents of shy children who wish their children were more outgoing and also from parents of extroverts who wish that their children were more subdued. It is a challenge to accept our children as they are in terms of their basic humanity even as we try to mold and shape them into upstanding, warm, and caring individuals. We must continually force ourselves to keep this balance for the sake of communicating respect for our children. Our children benefit by learning to respect themselves, and that is a precious gift that far too few children (and adults!) have.
- SUPPORT: Instead of viewing the parent-child interaction as adversarial, it is best to develop more of a team approach. Most children want to behave and want the approval of their parents. That means that parent and child have the same goals, and although the parent obviously must take the lead in the relationship, the parent role should be supportive, responsive, and respectfully authoritative.