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The Ten Basic Principles of Good Parenting

The Ten Basic Principles of Good Parenting

4.3 3
by Laurence Steinberg

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Most parents do a pretty good job of raising kids, says psychologist Laurence Steinberg, but truly effective parenting means not just relying on natural instincts but also on knowing what works and why. In The Ten Basic Principles of Good Parenting, Dr. Steinberg distills decades of research into a parenting book that explains the fundamentals of raising


Most parents do a pretty good job of raising kids, says psychologist Laurence Steinberg, but truly effective parenting means not just relying on natural instincts but also on knowing what works and why. In The Ten Basic Principles of Good Parenting, Dr. Steinberg distills decades of research into a parenting book that explains the fundamentals of raising happy, healthy children, giving readers an invaluable map to help them navigate parenthood from infancy to adolescence.

Dr. Steinberg found that the basic principles for effective parenting are simple and universal, and apply to all parents and children regardless of background. He explains each principle and shows how to put it into action, using anecdotes and examples: from “What You Do Matters” (parents make an enormous difference; children are not simply the product of their genes) to “Establish Rules and Limits” (how to provide structure in your child's life, and how to handle conflicts over rules) and “Help Foster Your Child's Independence” (help your child think through decisions instead of making them for him or her). Concise and authoritative, written with warmth and compassion, The Ten Basic Principles of Good Parenting is an intelligent guide to raising a happy, healthy child and to becoming a happier, more confident parent in the process.

Editorial Reviews

From the Publisher
"Distills decades of research into a simple guide for moms and dads in the trenches."

"[Steinberg] helps parents apply the science of child development to their relationships with their children. It is warm, insightful, and eminently practical."
— Lawrence Kutner, Ph.D., Codirector, Harvard Medical School Center for Mental Health and Media

"Steinberg offers sage advice as well as pragmatic steps to follow, in the hopes that you can learn to become a more 'mindful' parent."
The Boston Globe

For two reasons, Jonathan Franzen was the most-discussed author of 2001. The first, of course, was the publication of his novel The Corrections, which won critics' plaudits and the National Book Award. And the second, needless to say, was Oprah Winfrey. The controversies stemming from his very brief tenure as an Oprah author reverberate still. In this eclectic collection of essays, Franzen examines not only the book club brouhaha, but maximum-security prisons, the sex-advice industry, and the persistence of loneliness in postmodern America. How to Be Alone contains Franzen's two most famous essays: the moving piece he wrote about his father's struggle with Alzheimer's disease and "the Harper essay," his incisive 1996 view of the precarious state of the American novel.
The New York Times Book Review
[Franzen] starts from the hypothesis, basic to any good novelist's inquiry, that even the simplest, most trivial activities…are riven with complexities, and then proceeds, with exemplary ethical seriousness, grouchy stubbornness and silken wit, to break those complexities down into their moral, psychological and historical components.
Eric Wargo
In this wise, entertaining collection of essays, the author of the 2001 National Book Award– winning The Corrections treats a wide variety of subjects—Alzheimer's, cigarettes, rotary phones—but he's never far from his central concern, the literary life. Reprinted here is his controversial 1996 Harper's essay on the state of the novel, as well as the story of his famous disinvitation from The Oprah Winfrey Show for seeming, as she put it, "conflicted." But his most poignant (and funny) account of writing's pitfalls and pathologies is "Scavenging," about his years as a struggling fiction writer and the objects that peopled his world: "I wonder, is it possible to imagine a grimmer vision of codependency than the hundreds of hours I logged with sharp strands of copper wire squeezed between my thumb and forefinger, helping my TV with its picture?" Of his reluctance to join the Prozac-satiated multitudes with their "undepressed smiles," he notes, "I seem to myself a person who shrilly hates health." Franzen could seem shrill were his insights on modern life not so keen nor his belief in books so passionate.
Publishers Weekly
Steinberg, a Temple University psychology professor and author (Beyond the Classroom), presents a powerful argument for the importance of parents in shaping emotionally healthy children. Steinberg's philosophy is based on decades of scientific research in the parenting field, and rests on 10 main beliefs that span childhood from infancy to adolescence. From "What You Do Matters" to "You Cannot Be Too Loving" and "Treat Your Child With Respect," Steinberg outlines the core ingredients of successful parenting, addressing common issues and questions all parents face. Although he recognizes the impact of peers and media in children's lives, Steinberg maintains that parents must take responsibility, pointing out that children's decisions are influenced, above all, by those who raise them. Steinberg maintains a thoughtful but instructive tone throughout, offering practical suggestions on topics like establishing rules and limits. Parenting, Steinberg says, is "like building a boat you will eventually launch. The building process is gratifying, but so is launching the boat and seeing that what you've built can handle the seas." Steinberg calls for parents to be involved and respectful as they create an emotionally healthy environment for their children. His slim volume brims with potent messages about the importance and responsibility of good parenting, providing useful guidelines for new parents and a valuable refresher course for veterans. Ultimately, Steinberg maintains, the scientific facts prove there is nothing more important to healthy development than parents who love, guide and respect their children. Agent, Shana Kelly. (May 3) Forecast: Steinberg's latest will satisfy parents of children in infancy through adolescence, and his solid reputation as a parenting expert should help sales. A first serial will run in Parents magazine. Copyright 2004 Reed Business Information.
Library Journal
With so many parenting books out there and so little time for parents to read them, the idea of boiling down child rearing to ten basic principles makes perfect sense. By "synthesizing and communicating what the experts have learned," noted adolescent psychologist Steinberg (Temple Univ.) does just that. Modeling, love, involvement, flexibility, limit setting, independence fostering, consistency, discipline, fairness, and respect are each well explained, with many concrete examples for all age groups. Though Steinberg presents his book as being "based on what scientists who study parenting have learned from decades of systematic research," he does not supply a bibliography. However, his advice still stands, coming from a professor with many years of expertise in his field. Haim Ginott's Between Parent and Child offers similar parenting principles but focuses on how to communicate positively with children. Recommended for all public libraries. [Previewed in Prepub Alert, LJ 1/04.]-Maryse Breton, Davis Branch Lib., CA Copyright 2004 Reed Business Information.
Kirkus Reviews
Of maximum-security prisons, Dumpster diving, and privacy in a technological age: a collection of essays diverse and entertaining by the author of last year's Big Novel, The Corrections. Before The Corrections, which led circuitously to "Oprah Winfrey's disinvitation of me from her Book Club," Franzen was perhaps best known to general readers as the author of an arch, funny, and contrarian essay recounting the reasons for his "despair of the American novel," published in Harper's and thus known among the cognoscenti simply as "the Harper's essay." Revised to be still more arch and no less contrarian, if somewhat less lit-critical, the essay (now called "Why Bother?") is reason enough to fiction lovers in this increasingly "infantilizing" culture to take Franzen's nonfiction out for a spin, though it won't please the academic readers it relentlessly twits in salutary slaps such as: "The therapeutic optimism now raging in English literature departments insists that novels be sorted into two boxes: Symptoms of Disease (canonical work from the Dark Ages before 1950) and Medicine for a Happier and Healthier World ("the work of women and of people from nonwhite or nonhetero cultures"). The other essays, most previously published in Details, the New Yorker, and elsewhere, deliver sufficient bang for the book, though none quite stands up to the centerpiece. Some of them, such as a perceptive study of the Post Office at work, manage to be quite timely even as they bear a few signs of age; others get a little weird, as when Franzen observes that smoking cigarettes serves, at least in his case, "to become familiar with apocalypse, to acquaint myself with the contours of its terrors, to make theworld's potential death less strange and so a little less threatening." None, however, is predictable, and all bear Franzen's trademark sensibility of smiling, even though scared silly, in the face of doom. Smart, solid, and well-paced: a pleasure for Franzen's many remaining admirers.

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Read an Excerpt

Chapter One: Being a Better Parent

When people find out that I'm both a parent and a psychologist who has spent his entire career studying parenting, I'm often asked whether what I've learned as a researcher has helped me to be a better parent. The answer is that of course it has. It's like asking a professional chef whether studying cooking for a living has made him or her better in the kitchen at home. How could it not? Like anything else, good parenting requires knowledge.

I've studied parents and their children for well over twenty-five years. I've published several books and hundreds of articles on parenting and child development, and I've been the editor in charge of articles on parent-child relationships for the most prestigious scientific journal in the field of child psychology. My own instincts as a parent have been shaped by what I've devoted my career to studying, and when I've had doubts or questions about what to do as a parent — as all parents, even experts, invariably do — I have always regained my bearings by thinking about what I've learned from the thousands of families I've studied and the thousands of research reports I've read.

In this book, I'm going to share this understanding with you.

This book is different from other books on parenting because it is based on the science of good parenting, on literally thousands of well-designed research studies — research that is just as credible as the research that scientists use to test new drugs, design safer automobiles, and construct sturdier buildings. Unlike most other parenting books on the market, this one is not based on one person's opinion, or someone's experiences in raising a couple of children, or the observations somebody made over the course of working with a few dozen families in a clinical practice. The advice contained in this book is based on what scientists who study parenting have learned from decades of systematic research involving hundreds of thousands of families. What I've done is to synthesize and communicate what the experts have learned in a language that nonexperts can understand. I've boiled this knowledge down into ten basic principles.

This book is not about the nuts and bolts of parenting; it is not about how to feed, dress, teach, stimulate, or play with your child. There are many excellent books on the market that cover these topics comprehensively, written for parents with children of different ages.

This book is more about the philosophy of good parenting. It describes an approach to parenting that cuts across different issues and different age periods. What you'll learn is a general orientation to raising children that is grounded in the most accurate and up-to-date scientific information available.

Raising children is not typically something we think of as especially scientific. It may surprise you to learn, though, that there is a science of effective parenting and that there is an awful lot more systematic research on parenting than on many other aspects of life where we routinely rely on science to guide us. In fact, child psychologists and other experts have been studying parenting for about seventy-five years, and it is one of the most well-researched areas in the entire field of social science.

More important, the study of parenting is an area of research in which the findings are remarkably consistent, and where the findings have remained remarkably consistent over time. It's hard to think of many areas of research about which we can say that. Guidance about what we should eat, how frequently we should exercise, or how we should cope with stress changes constantly. New medical treatments are invented all the time. Today's health advice contradicts what we heard just yesterday. But the scientific principles of good parenting have not changed one bit in close to forty years. In fact, the scientific evidence linking certain basic principles of parenting to healthy child development is so clear and so consistent that we can confidently say we know what works and what does not. If it seems that the advice given in popular books is inconsistent, it's because few popular books are grounded in well-documented science.

For the most part, parenting is something we just do, without really giving it much thought. Much of the time we don't stop and think about what we do as parents because circumstances don't permit us to. When you are scurrying around in the morning trying to find your children's homework before sending them off to school, or breaking up a fight between an older child and younger sibling who are going at each other in the backseat of the car, or trying to soothe a colicky infant when your head is pounding because the baby has been crying uninterrupted for the past half hour, you don't have the luxury of stopping and thinking about what the best approach might be. There are plenty of times when, as parents, all we can do is just react. This part of parenting will never change. A lot of parenting is driven by our instincts, our gut responses. But the truth is that some parents have better instincts than others. With a better understanding of what works when you parent, and why, and with enough practice, your instincts will get better.

There are plenty of situations where you do have time to think before you parent, though. When you are putting your preschooler to bed the night before the first day of school. When your third-grader hands you a terrific report card. When your seventh-grader is upset because her friends have jilted her. When your teenager comes home later than your agreed-upon curfew. At these moments, you have time to stop and think through what you should do before you act, and your actions should be guided by the best information on how to handle the situation most effectively. The more you practice good parenting when you do have time to think before you act, the more natural good parenting will become during those moments when you are responding instinctively.

One of the most encouraging findings from research on children's development is that the fundamentals of good parenting are the same regardless of whether your child is male or female, six or sixteen, an only child, a twin, or a child with multiple siblings. They are the same regardless of whether the primary parent is a mother, a father, or some other caregiver. The basic principles of good parenting have been corroborated in studies done in different parts of the world, with different ethnic and racial groups, in poor as well as in rich families, and in families with divorced, separated, and married parents. The same principles hold true whether you are a biological parent, an adoptive parent, or a foster parent. They apply to parents with average children and to those with children who have special needs. They even hold true for individuals who work with children, like teachers, coaches, and mentors. The evidence is that strong.

People define good parenting in different ways, so let me get right to the point about my own definition. In my view, good parenting is parenting that fosters psychological adjustment — elements like honesty, empathy, self-reliance, kindness, cooperation, self-control, and cheerfulness. Good parenting is parenting that helps children succeed in school; it promotes the development of intellectual curiosity, motivation to learn, and desire to achieve. Good parenting is parenting that deters children from antisocial behavior, delinquency, and drug and alcohol use. Good parenting is parenting that helps protect children against the development of anxiety, depression, eating disorders, and other types of psychological distress.

I realize that my way of defining good parenting assumes that certain traits in children are more desirable than others. True enough. But in my experience, most parents want the things that the sort of parenting described in this book helps to promote. Parents from all walks of life want their children to be happy, responsible, scholastically successful, socially accepted, and well behaved. But they all don't necessarily know how to achieve these goals.

I can't guarantee that if you follow the principles set out in this book your child will never have any problems, never fail a test in school, or never get into trouble, and any author of a book on parenting who makes such a promise should be distrusted. Children are influenced by many forces other than their parents, including their genetic makeup, their siblings, their friends, their school, the adults they encounter outside the family, and the mass media.

But what I can guarantee is that children raised according to the ten principles I discuss in this book are far more likely to develop in healthy ways and far less likely to develop difficulties than children who are raised in a different fashion. This is not an opinion. This is a fact, and there is a lot of strong evidence to back it up.

The ten principles of effective parenting discussed in this book are general ones that apply across the whole span of childhood and adolescence, although naturally some are more important than others during certain developmental periods. And, of course, the way these principles are applied will differ depending on the age of your child. For instance, it is important to be physically affectionate toward your child at all ages, but the ways you might express physical affection toward a toddler (holding your child in your lap while reading a book together) are not the same as the ways you might do so toward a teenager (giving your child a quick hug before she leaves on her first date). Similarly, whereas one of the principles calls for providing structure and limits, which is important at all ages, the sorts of limits you would place on a toddler (for example, never to cross the street without holding your hand) would clearly not be appropriate for an adolescent. Nevertheless, the overarching approach to parenting described in this book is applicable to families with children of all ages.

Trying to articulate a set of basic principles for effective parenting with children of all ages requires speaking in generalities rather than specifics, and no doubt there will be readers who see the ten principles as little more than common sense. But although the principles certainly make sense, their use is anything but common. In fact, many parents violate them all the time. One principle discourages the use of harsh punishment, for example, but if you've ever set foot in a shopping mall or supermarket, you've probably seen plenty of parents slap and scream at their children. Another principle advocates setting limits on children's behavior, but we all know parents who let their children run wild. A third encourages parents to treat their children with respect, but we've all heard parents speak to their children in a way that was nasty or dismissive. Just because something is sensible doesn't necessarily mean that it's common.

Most parents are pretty good parents. My aim in writing this book is to help parents, even pretty good parents, do a better job than they are currently doing. I've written it as much for parents who are just starting out as I have for parents whose children are well into adolescence. And I've written it just as much for parents who think they are good parents (and who may, in fact, be good parents) as for those who believe that they need some assistance. I've written it to help settle disputes between spouses, and between adult children and their parents or in-laws, over how children should be raised. I've written it both to reassure good parents that they are doing the right thing and to give parents who aren't very good the guidance they need to change.

If you read over the ten principles and say to yourself, "I already know this stuff," that's great. Read the book over from time to time to remind yourself to practice what you know. Use it when you need to reassure yourself that what you're doing is right, even when others tell you that you are wrong. And if you think you are already doing all the things I suggest, tell yourself to do them more often. I've never met a parent who is perfect 100 percent of the time. We all can improve our batting average.

Copyright © 2004 by Laurence Steinberg

Meet the Author

Laurence Steinberg, Ph.D., is the Distinguished University Professor and Laura H. Carnell Professor of Psychology at Temple University. He is the author or coauthor of several books and his work has also appeared in many publications, including The New York Times and The Wall Street Journal. He lives in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania.

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4.3 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 3 reviews.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Every parent should read this book. This would be a great book for family health class in high school. Easy reading. It is straight to the point and makes so much sense. Steinberg touches on all ages and gives good examples throughout the book. It touches on different child personalities and he has suggestions on the best approaches with each type of personality. It is a good reference to have through your parenting years!
Guest More than 1 year ago
I was/am certainly guilty of parenting by the seat of my pants. I have a 17 and 13 year old children. I wished I had had the opportunity to read this book when my children were younger. Nonetheless, the information was helpful. After reading this book, I promised to myself I would highly recommend to everyone in my life who I care about to read as soon as possible. Thank you Dr. Steinberg.