My “Twelve Commandments” of Happy Parenting

My “Twelve Commandments” of Happy Parenting March 2, 2013

If I could have one wish, it would be to get a parent do-over knowing what I know now as a happy grandparent. My kids survived me and wound up as my friends but nevertheless I cringe when I remember just how stupid and cruel I was as a young father. But my children were resilient and survived my stupidity and are now my closest friends. Saying you’re deeply sorry is the best thing to do when you know you were wrong.

I can save parents and would-be parents’ grief and a good bit of self flagellation. So here’s my Twelve Commandments of Happy Parenting. I’ll post one “Commandment” a day for the next 12 days.

Thus saith Thy Blogger, thow shalt–

I: Never correct a child in front of anyone unless it’s an emergency. Even then do it as privately as possible. I’m not talking about needed instant public “keep-your-fingers-out-of-that-plug!” or “Keep both hands on that ladder!” type corrections. I’m talking about telling a child that they aren’t telling the truth or have failed in some way, hurt your feelings, disappointed you or been rude.

Correcting your child for moral failings or character flaws, in front of someone else, even in front of another family member, is not discipline but bullying and public shaming. You are criticizing them, not their actions. Yes, it’s personal. It’s even worse when the person they’re corrected in front of is someone they admire and want to be thought of well by and that includes their other parent or a grandparent.

Discipline should be private not snapped out as an off the cuff aside. Otherwise it’s just parental lashing out; sort of a parental Tourette syndrome some fault-finding parents like me just can’t seem to stop indulging in. And then later they say that their child “never listens to me.”

I wish I’d known what any good leader learns: You praise people in public, and keep reprimands private. I kick myself that I knew enough to do that when I was directing movies and working with crewmembers and actors but was dumb enough to not do that with my own children.

If you wait as you should to correct a child that child learns that they may be wrong but that you’re still on their side. You took the trouble to not shame them. That counts! You embody a safe trustworthy place rather than being a source of constant little nagging humiliations, not to mention coming off like a dripping faucet.

And correction can be divided into two parts even when reacting to small emergencies. Your public, “Stop hitting your brother in the head with that block!” can be followed later by private moral instructions, “That wasn’t kind. How would you like it if she did that?”

Even a short pause can help a parent reflect and ask, “Is this really important or am I just tired and annoyed again, feeling housebound and frustrated and taking it out on my child?” And never, ever label a child with a pejorative like “You’re a liar!” or “You are stupid!”

Instead say something like, “It’s better to tell the truth and here’s why,” or “That was a dumb thing to do and here’s why.” You’re not trying to win fights with a child, but be their truthful friend and their trusted guide…

(to be continued in this space tomorrow…)

To book Frank Schaeffer to speak at your college, church or group contact him at 

Frank Schaeffer is a writer and author of Crazy for God: How I Grew Up as One of the Elect, Helped Found the Religious Right, and Lived to Take All (or Almost All) of It Back .

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