By Susan Gestal, LPC

While parenting is one of the most difficult tasks any of us will ever face, putting down the basic framework for how to parent is much easier. The application of the basic principles is what turns a parent’s hair gray!

Children need two things. That’s simple, isn’t it! Children need unconditional love and reasonable limits.

Let’s start with love … unconditional love. Children need to know that their parents love them just the way they are and that they will always love them. There are no requirements for receiving this love. The child’s behavior, appearance, grades, performance, and choice of friends, will NOT change the parent’s love.Now it is one thing for a parent to love their child, but another for the child to KNOW that the parent loves them. Letting your child know that you love them requires that you spend time with them and get to know them. Here are some suggestions:

  1. Whatever is the age of your child, I suggest you enter THEIR world, whether it be tea parties under the dining room table, hikes through the wood, athletics, art or music – experience your child’s world with them. Have fun, laugh and enjoy the time with your child.
  2. Tell your child that you love him/her. Look your child in the eye and tell them what you appreciate about them. Make sure the number of positive statements far outweighs the number of negative statements.
  3. Use lots of meaningful touch! When your child is young, give lots of hugs and kisses, snuggle and have them sit on your lap. As your child gets older, they still need meaningful touch. Maybe it’s a friendly wrestling match, an arm around the shoulder or a back rub.
  4. If you’re interested in learning more, pick up and read How To Really Love Your Child by Ross Campbell, M.D., orThe Five Love Languages of Children by Gary Chapman & Ross Campbell, M.D.

Next children need reasonable limits. These provide children with the opportunity to feel safe as well as to grow and mature. Reasonable limits help shape your child into a kind, loving, responsible, mature person.Some guidelines for providing reasonable limits:

  1. Make sure the behavior you expect is reasonable for the age and maturity of your child. Do not discipline for childish behavior. Children will spill things, forget things, etc.
  2. Make sure your child understands the desired behavior and the consequences.
  3. -Use natural consequences whenever possible!
  4. -Make sure the consequences are reasonable.
  5. -Consequences are best when they are immediate.
  6. -Keep the consequences short-term, especially for younger children.
  7. Follow through: be consistent. This is a tough one; nobody is consistent all of the time. Still the truth remains, the more consistent you are, the easier it will be for both you and your child.
  8. Stay emotionally connected with your child in the midst of discipline- DO NOT withdraw love or relationship! Empathize with your child.
  9. Expect resistance. Your job is to set reasonable loving limits; your child’s job is to test those limits. When establishing new limits expect strong resistance.  Once your child realizes you are serious the resistance will decrease.

When we truly love our children we will set limits. In fact, it is not possible to love without setting reasonable limits. However, a quick warning: one can apply limits without love. Limits all by themselves can give the appearance of the desired result … a well-behaved child. However, a child obeying limits without love is acting out of fear. In this case, there has not been an internalization of what is appropriate and what is not. When the “fear” is no longer present, the behavior will change.Parenting 101 comes down to balancing these two principles,unconditional love and reasonable limits…. It’s a tough task, yet one well worth the effort.