You know that ridiculous dating book called The Rules that was supposed to help women catch their “Mr. Right?” Silly, I know, but a lot of people appreciated the straightforwardness of the approach and how clear the, er, RULES were. Well, Erica Reischer, PhD has put together “The Rules” for parents in her super accessible book: What Great Parents Do: 75 Simple Strategies for Raising Kids Who Thrive. It’s a simple and effective playbook for parents that will be a game-changer for many.
All the advice is easy to navigate, developmentally appropriate, and rooted in the latest scientific research. You can’t go wrong handing this book to any parent. The book goes on sale tomorrow, but you can preorder from Amazon right here. And to whet your appetite for some smart, savvy parenting tips, here’s a Q&A with the author. Let me know what you think in the comments!
1) There are so many parenting manuals and guidebooks out there – what makes What Great Parents Do so unique to the market?
What’s different about What Great Parents Do is that it summarizes in a single volume all of the parenting best practices that families can use, in a concise and action-oriented style. Instead of trying to find your highlights and dog-eared pages from dozens of books, WGPD distills the best information about the art and science of parenting in one place. It also gives abundant examples, scripts and “how-to’s” for each parenting practice.
2) Prior to your work as a clinical psychologist and parent educator, you worked as a consultant at the prestigious management consulting company McKinsey & Co. Do you think your work there influenced the way you parent or the way you view parenting?
I’d say my time at McKinsey influenced my book in several ways. First, it encouraged me to learn how to express complex information simply, with a bias toward action. Insight is not very valuable unless it can be used in some way. Related to that, McKinsey also has a strong emphasis on identifying best practices in business, and I wanted to apply that to my current work as a psychologist and parent educator. So my book is all about presenting parenting best practices in a way that is easy to understand and easy to implement in your own family.
3) Your book features 75 simple strategies and most if not all cross-reference each other so you can combine them for the best outcome. Can you highlight a handful that you think might be the most surprising or unique to your approach?
#6: Great parents start with empathy: Empathy is the most powerful parenting tool we already have. It can deescalate conflict and deepen any relationship. When reasoning can fail, empathy works. Meet feelings with feelings.
#14: Great parents resist the urge to fix feelings: We parents have to learn how to tolerate our children’s discomfort and hard feelings, so they can, too.
#21: Great parents distinguish between goals and methods: When you see behavior as a combination of goals (what your child wants) and methods (how he is trying to get it), it gives you a lot more flexibility to respond effectively in challenging moments. Identify your child’s goal and show him how to achieve it through other, more acceptable methods.
#34: Great parents view kids as little explorers and scientists: Much of what looks like “bad” behavior is really just exploration and experimentation. In trying to figure out their world and the people in it, kids must do “experiments” to get answers to questions like: “What happens if I ___?” or “How do I get ____ from you?” Change your lens on your child’s behavior to see it as an experiment intended to get useful information about how things work in your family, and respond accordingly.
4) You discourage parents from telling their kids “You can do anything” or “You can be anything” – why is that and what should parents say instead?
Yes, this is strategy #56. This is a complex issue, but basically, telling kids they can do anything creates the vision without the roadmap. It implies they should set a lofty goal but gives no information about how to achieve it. Better to acknowledge that significant accomplishments with be challenging to achieve, that luck plays a key role in life, and then give kids a roadmap for the part they can play in advancing their goals. I call this the 3 P’s: practice, patience, and perseverance.
5) What are some happiness habits parents should reinforce or teach their kids instead of or in addition to the happiness that comes with immediate pleasure (eating a cookie or having a playdate)?
Our ideas about how to be happy often run counter to decades of research about what really works to promote well-being. While things that promote pleasure can provide a short-term happiness boost, it doesn’t last long. If we want our kids to have the best chance of experiencing a happy and fulfilling life, we must teach them how to balance their preferences with what’s important, good, and meaningful. Strategy #55 shows parents how to do this.
6) Your book is based on your successful parenting workshop of the same name. At this workshop, you provide a handout on the “10 Things Great Parents Do” – what are those 10 strategies?
- Do what you say you are going to do: This goes two ways: 1) Don’t make rules you can’t, or won’t, enforce consistently; and 2) Keep your commitments. It’s important for kids to know that you mean what you say; this builds trust and respect.
- “Catch” kids being good, and tell them specifically what you liked: Kids really do want to please their parents and they thrive on constructive, positive feedback.
- Harness the power of natural consequences: Let kids experience the natural consequences of their actions or choices (unless health or safety is at risk). This is essential to learning.
- Practice positive touch: Positive touch (e.g. hugs, loving pats, cuddles) is absolutely critical to kids’ development.
- Make a clear distinction between kids and their behavior: Always communicate with your words and actions that you love them no matter what (even if you don’t like their behavior).
- Show them the way: Punishment only suppresses behavior. Be sure also to tell kids the behavior you want to see instead, and then praise it specifically.
- Beware over-functioning for your kids: Making mistakes and experiencing “failure” and disappointment are essential life experiences that provide the opportunity for kids to learn and practice good coping skills.
- Avoid disciplining kids when they are hungry or tired: They won’t be focused on what you are trying to teach them. Address their behavior after they are rested / fed.
- Teach kids the “3 P’s”: Instead of telling kids—“You can do anything”—teach them the 3Ps: practice, patience, and perseverance.
- Help kids learn to feel their feelings, and choose their actions: Coach kids in how to respond (versus react). It’s OK to feel whatever they’re feeling, but it may not be OK to follow their feelings into action (e.g. hitting, yelling).