Lets get this out of the way right off the bat: Raising a human being is just hard.Even though Im a psychologist, a writer, and a father, Ive never written anything about parenting because it is an almost overwhelmingly-complex and difficult job. And frankly, Im more than a little intimidated to give my own thoughts and suggestions about it because I know first-hand how difficult it is and how different every parents unique situation is.
But, I think I finally figured out how to write about parenting in a way Im (mostly) comfortable with. My approach is to take 6 general principles of psychology and emotional intelligence and show how they apply in a special way to parenting and raising kids.These are the principles that guide my own work as a clinical psychologist and therapist in my work with clients.
But theyre also principles I try to follow in my own role as a parent to two young children.For each principle, Ill give a brief introduction to what it is, use an example from my own experience (either personal and professional) to illustrate why its important, and then offer a few resources for learning more or improving in that area.Please Note: These are principles, not prescriptions.
I dont have all the answers by a long-shot, and everyones parenting situation and needs are unique. Use as applicable.TABLE OF CONTENTSYou can use the links below to jump to a specific section:1.
Validation Letting our kids know that how they feel is okay and valid before we rush in to fix things and give reassurance. 2. Functional Analysis Learning to see our childrens behavior mechanically, not morally.
3. Differential Reinforcement Systematically reinforcing constructive behavior and discouraging undesired behavior.4.
Emotional Tolerance The idea that how we manage our own emotions is the most effective way to help our kids manage their own. 5. Assertiveness When we as parents model for our kids that its good to acknowledge our own wants and needs.
6. Guided Discovery The confidence-building art of letting our kids struggle and learn how to learn for themselves.Summary The Final Principle1.
ValidationValidation means communicating to another person that their concerns are valid and understandable rather than trying to fix them. Most of us tend to respond to other peoples difficulties-including our kids-with some form of advice or suggestion about what to do:After our toddler scrapes her knee playing outside, we reassuringly say things like: Its okay. Lets dry those tears.
Youll be fine. Theres nothing to be afraid of-its just a scrape.When our teenage son comes home despondent one day after school explaining that he just got broken up with, we say encouraging things like: Youre better off without her.
There are plenty of fish in the sea. You just need to move on and find someone else. Staying busy and active is the best way to get over heartbreak.
All of these responses are well-intentioned and perfectly natural; after all, none of us likes to see our children suffering. But heres the problem: When we immediately jump to advice giving and fixing, were subtly communicating the message that the way our kids feel is bad and that they shouldnt be feeling that way.This is a problem because, no matter how painful they are, emotions are not problems -theyre not dangerous and they dont mean something is wrong with you.
Its incredibly normal to feel sad when we experience a loss, just like its incredibly normal for a toddler to cry and feel afraid when she scrapes her knee and sees blood. But when we treat negative emotions like problems by implying that our kids shouldnt feel a certain way anymore or that they need to stop feeling that way, we teach them that its bad to feel bad.In fact, a common denominator for folks with mental health issues who show up in my therapy practice is that they learned early on that its not okay to feel bad.
As a result, they developed all sorts of strategies and habits from worry to alcohol abuse to help them not feel bad. My whole job as a therapist, then, is to teach them what I wish their parents had taught them decades okay: Just because an emotion feels bad doesnt mean it is bad.Its an incredibly liberating and healthy thing to realize that whatever we feel is okay.
And no matter how badly I feel, theres nothing wrong with me because I feel that way. Take it from a psychologist: The best way to help your child develop genuine confidence, self-esteem, and positive feelings about themselves, is to show them through validation that whatever theyre feeling is okay.Example of ValidationTo give you a concrete idea for what validating parenting might look like, lets go back to the two examples from earlier:Our toddler comes limping into the house crying having just scraped their knee playing outside:Invalidating: Its okay.
Lets dry those tears. Youll be fine. Theres nothing to be afraid of-its just a scrape.
Validating: Gosh, that looks like it hurts. Tell me what happened. That must have been scary when you saw the blood.
Our teenage son comes home despondent one day after school explaining that he just got broken up with:Invalidating: Youre better off without her. There are plenty of fish in the sea. You just need to move on and find someone else.
Staying busy and active is the best way to get over heartbreak.Validating: Im sorry, honey-I know you really cared about her. Ben, you seem sad whats going on?
I remember how bad I felt after my first breakup I felt so sad I couldnt imagine ever feeling that way about someone again.Quick Clarification: Validation doesnt mean that problem-solving and making a plan for what to do in response to difficulty isnt important. It is!
If your kid nicks an artery and is bleeding profusely, that is a problem and should be addressed immediately. The point is, when the difficulty is a painful emotion primarily, its important to initially be validating of that emotion and how the child feels before moving on to reassurance and a plan if that would be helpful.Validate first, fix second.
How to PracticeThe best way to improve your ability to be validating with your kids emotions and feelings is to practice the art of Reflective Listening, which means learning to mirror back what our kids have said as a way of signaling empathy and understanding.By far the best resource for learning to improve your Reflective Listening skills and validating communication is the excellent book How to Talk So Kids Will Listen and Listen So Kids Will Talk. In some ways, its I think this book is the msot important guide to parenting Ive ever read.
Also, this article on Emotional Clarity can be helpful.2. Functional AnalysisFunctional Analysis means choosing to take a mechanical, rather than moral, perspective on behavior.
All too often we see our childrens behavior through the lens of what they should be doing. And while this isnt a bad thing, per se, it can become problematic for both our kids and ourselves if thats the only perspective we take on their behavior.Specifically, we as parents end up chronically stressed and frustrated because our expectations arent being met, and our kids end up confused, afraid, and resentful because they can never seem to live up to what their parents want.
Example of Functional AnalysisThe other night-3:15 AM, to be exact-my 3-year-old daughter came into our room. My wife got out of bed and brought her back to her bedroom, but was noticeably frustrated and exhausted, in part because our 2-year-old had also woken up earlier in the night and let us up for an hour.We continued to hear my daughter rustling around in her room, so I got up and angrily marched into her room.
My frustration peaked when I saw that she had turned the light on and was playing instead of listening to her mom and getting back into bed and going to sleep.I was on the verge of saying something about how she was supposed to be in bed, when I caught myself and asked myself a simple question: Is there a reason she didnt listen and stayed up playing?Almost immediately, I remembered back to my own childhood and being afraid of the dark, especially when I got woken up in the middle of the night by strange noises.
I vividly recalled how scary and helpless that situation felt. And then I instantly felt empathy and compassion for my daughter.I realized she was probably just scared and doing her best to manage her fear by turning on the lights and distracting herself with her toys (Dont we adults basically do the same thing when were anxious?
)So I calmed down, picked her up, and said: Whats going on, bug?She hesitated, then looked at me sheepishly and said: I heard thunder and got scaredOf course, my heart melted and I thought to myself: Of course you did. Its terrifying being a kid.
By coming into our room and then playing in your room with the lights on your little 3-year-old brain was just doing its best to deal with a big, scary emotion. Thats Functional Analysis. Instead of thinking about what should have happened ( she should have stayed in bed and not woken us up) or what needs to happen ( she should go back to bed and fall asleep), I was able to think about what was actually happening and how it made sense, especially from her little 3-year-old perspective.
Seeing my daughters behavior mechanically (what function did it serve?) helped me to be more empathetic and understanding. Which is important because it helped me validate my daughters experience and feelings rather than dismiss it and get angry at her.
As a result, she learned (I hope) that its okay and normal to be afraid, instead of its bad to be afraid.How to PracticeFunctional Analysis is more of a mindset than a skill. Practically speaking, the best way to apply it to your parenting style and start seeing your kids behavior functionally is to notice your own tendency to interpret their behavior with lots of shoulds in your self-talk.
When you get better at observing your self-talk and identifying those moralistic interpretations, youll be much more able to shift into a pragmatic and functional mindset.I recently put together a guide to becoming aware of and modifying our self-talk, which you can read here.3.
Differential ReinforcementDifferential reinforcement means systematically encouraging positive behavior and discouraging negative behavior. Heres an example of applying differential reinforcement to parenting challenges from a client of mine who was struggling to get her 10-year-old daughter to clean up her belongings around the house.Like most of us, my clients default strategy to changing her daughters bad behavior of leaving a trail of clutter anywhere she played was to tell her that she needed to clean up after herself.
She spent God knows how many hours of time and units of energy trying to convince her daughter that putting away her stuff when she was done was the right thing to do and that it wasnt very considerate to leave a mess. And when this intellectual strategy inevitably failed, shed then shift to threats like No iPad time tonight or the classic e xtra chores this weekend. Unfortunately, my client was typically so exhausted and over-worked-in part because of the constant effort to change her daughters behavior-that she often forgot to follow through on her threats or was simply too exhausted to implement them.
Unsurprisingly, her daughters behavior had not improved, and actually, it had been getting worse. As my client was explaining the situation, I realized this was a perfect use case for Differential Reinforcement.For my client, it looked like this:Staying vigilant for any example-no matter how small-of her daughter performing any kind of clean up behavior.
Taking her dishes to the sink after dinner, for example. And then consistently praising her daughter for it in a genuine way by saying something like, Thanks, honey. I really appreciate it when you put your dishes away.
Having a non-emotional conversation with her daughter about the behavior of leaving a mess and what she expects instead (cleaning stuff up immediately after shes done) and what will happen if that doesnt happen (no iPad use for the rest of the day). Consistently applying the new rules (with the help of her husband), no matter how difficult and how much of a battle her daughter makes it into.Now, in some ways, my client was trying to do this herself (using no iPad as a punishment for the bad behavior, for example).
But there were a few crucial mistakes that were preventing her strategy from working:First, while she was trying to eliminate the bad behavior, she didnt give a clear enough example of the good behavior she wanted along with reinforcement for achieving it. Another problem was that my client was inconsistent in her application of consequences and reward. Because she only occasionally followed-through on her threat of no iPad tonight she was essentially teaching her daughter that her consequences werent all that important or worthy of being followed.
And unsurprisingly, the daughter acted accordingly. Finally, my client was expecting her 10-year-old daughter to do the right thing because it was the right thing. But when this didnt happen, she couldnt let go of the idea that it should be happening because her daughter was old enough to understand.
Right or wrong, this strategy simply wasnt working. Differential Reinforcement is about learning to parent pragmatically rather than idealistically.Its about learning to see your children as they are and act accordingly.
Instead of trying to convince our children to act well, it means teaching them to. Of course, its easier to talk at our kids. Teaching is hard.
It takes time, energy, persistence, and creativity. But in the long run, both you and your kids will be much happier and more effective if you can lay aside all the shoulds and musts, and instead, focus your energy on pragmatically shaping the behavior you want. How to PracticeSadly, most parents dont have to complete a course in the fundamentals of human behavior and learning before they have kids.
Which is really too bad because there are a handful of really basic, straightforward principles that would take a lot of the stress out of managing bad behavior if only we had a basic understanding of them.Conveniently, you can find most of them in a quirky little book called Dont Shoot the Dog, which is all about applying basic behavioral principles to effectively modify behavior in others (including our kids). Also, in terms of Differential Reinforcement specifically, I recently wrote a full guide on the subject which you can read here.
4. Emotional ToleranceEmotional tolerance means the ability and willingness to feel a difficult emotion without trying to make it go away.As parents, the last thing we want is for our kids to suffer and be in pain.
In fact, were biologically wired to instinctively react whenever we think our kids might be in even the slightest bit of danger.And while this hypersensitivity to our childrens distress may have been a really useful feature when we were all cavemen and cavewomen rambling around the dangerous savanna, its less useful these days. Because despite what we hear in the media, kids these days are actually safer than theyve ever been.
Many of the signs and signals we get from our children that somethings wrong-crying, yelling, whining, whimpering, thrashing around on the ground, etc.-make us feel like danger is imminent. But just because our kids send us signals that make us feel like theyre in danger doesnt mean they actually are in danger.
Example of Emotional ToleranceMy daughters are quick eaters. They often finish their dinners well before my wife and I do. But we have a rule that no one gets to leave the table until everybody is finished.
And when my wife or I enforce this rule, my daughters dont like it. They see a room full of toys just waiting to played with and an excruciatingly slow-eating set of parents doing more talking than eating, which drives them a little crazy.So what do they do?
They cry, they whine, they beg, and they plead. And when we come back with the same answer of No, they ratchet up their entreaties-crying, jostling around in their seats, even the occasional meltdown or tantrum. At this point, the temptation for my wife and I to give in and make an exception to the rule just this once is strong.
Weve both had long days and just want to chat and catch up.But even more than that, after just a few minutes of two toddlers ganging up on us with an alternating strategy of tearful whining and carving up the new dinner table with their forks, my wife and I are both getting pretty emotional ourselves. Obviously, theres lots of frustration.
But more subtle and powerful, I think, is that whispering little voice from our evolutionary past saying, Look how upset they are. Its not good for them to be so upset and angry. Youre probably damaging their fragile little psyches somehow.
Just relax and let them get down. Now, all of a sudden, theres anxiety in the mix about being a bad parent (one of the most pernicious forms of anxiety out there).This is where it gets really tempting to give in and just let them down.
But the thing that usually helps us stay the course is to realize what we would be teaching our kids if we did give in and make the exception. They would quickly learn a powerful lesson: If we do things that make mom and dad uncomfortable, mom and dad tend to give us what we want.In other words, if my wife and I cant tolerate the emotional discomfort that comes from seeing our kids upset, we end up teaching our kids a lesson which is going to lead to a lot more stress, frustration, and grief in the long-run.
Sticking to our values and principles for raising our kids is hard because difficult emotions get in the way. And while its often a relief to temporarily make exceptions to these values and principles, this only makes it harder to stick to them in the future.This is why the secret to cultivating good behavior in our kids is to increase our emotional tolerance for upsetting but not genuinely dangerous scenarios.
How to PracticeAs parents, most of our best-intentions get left behind because we have a hard time managing our own emotional responses to our kids. Which is understandable since we do have a strong duty to protect them and keep them safe. But learning to distinguish genuine danger from things that simply feel dangerous is key.
The best resource I know of for helping parents build emotional tolerance is a little book called Scream Free Parenting. Its all about how the most important lessons we can teach our kids is to manage our own emotions effectively.5.
AssertivenessAssertiveness means acting in a way that is simultaneously true to our own values and respectful of others.Assertiveness isnt an idea thrown around much in the parenting world, which is a shame because I believe its one of the most valuable and important lessons we can impart to our children the strength to stand up for and act on what they believe to be right in way thats calm and confident. Like most lessons we hope to impart to our children, talking about them doesnt do a whole lot of good.
You can try to convince your kids that its okay for them to ask for what they want even if they feel nervous or to say no confidently when they feel like theyre boundaries are being violated. But ultimately, if you really want the lesson to sink in, you need to model it for them yourself-you need to show, not tell. Which means that if we want to raise confident, assertive kids, we need to start acting assertively ourselves.
Now, assertiveness is a huge topic and there are a million and one examples of situations where assertiveness is important-everything from asking for help even if youre embarrassed to saying no to unwanted sexual advances.But heres a very basic situation that I think gets the idea across:Example of Assertiveness and ParentingI had a client who was a stay-at-home mom who faced a dilemma: While she loved being able to stay at home with her two young kids, it felt confining and overwhelming at times. She described how some days, by late afternoon she was so exhausted and emotionally spent that she felt like just walking out the front door and not coming back.
She was quick to explain that she would never actually abandon her kids; just that it got so hard at times that thats how she felt.After working with her for a few weeks I discovered something interesting: She didnt do much for herself even when she had the opportunity, choosing instead to spend almost every waking minute with her son and daughter. I asked her, for example, if she ever went out with friends in the evening after her husband got home from work.
She responded sheepishly that she had thought about it-and really would love to-but once or twice in the past she had tried and it didnt go well.When I asked her to elaborate, she described how twice she had made plans to go meet up with friends in the evenings and her kids had basically thrown tantrums because they didnt want her to go. They got super upset as soon as she mentioned that she was leaving and she felt awful.
On top of that, her husband seemed daunted by the idea of taking care of two sobbing young kids for an evening. And so she abandoned her plans and stayed home. As my client and I explored this situation, we settled on two important implications of her unwillingness to assertively take time for herself:The first was fairly obvious: Not being able to take time for herself was exacerbating her own already high stress levels and exhaustion, to the point, she worried, that it was affecting her relationships with both her spouse and her kids (not to mention her own mental health!
).But the second implication was more subtle: What kind of example was she setting for her kids? She was modeling for them through her own behavior that you need to sacrifice your own perfectly valid needs and wants in order to accommodate the wishes of others.
As soon as she realized this, it was like a lightbulb went off. She realized how, especially for her daughter, this was the exact opposite lesson she wanted to be teaching.She wanted both her kids (but especially her daughter given the pressures women face) to be confident enough to speak up for themselves and take care of their needs and wants even if theres pressure from others to fall in line.
So we worked out a plan where she would gradually start acting more assertively: taking time to herself on the evenings, scheduling meetups with friends, etc. She even started exploring the idea of hiring a nanny and doing some part-time work for her old company.Of course, it wasnt easy.
There was a lot of emotional discomfort she had to be willing to tolerate. But once she became clear on what was really at stake, it was a challenge she was more than up to facing. How to PracticeThe best way to raise confident, assertive children is to model assertive behavior yourself as a parent.
Which partly means taking time for yourself or doing things with your partner even if it means your kids might have to (God forbid) spend a few hours away from you.Theres a great resource for building assertiveness called The Assertiveness Workbook that I highly recommend. I also wrote a beginners guide to assertiveness that might be useful.
6. Guided DiscoveryGuided discover means giving people just enough guidance that they can discover things on their own.Talk to any effective teacher, coach, mentor, or therapist, and theyll tell you that trying to tell people how to do things is a terrible strategy for fostering true learning.
Instead, the most effective way to help people learn is to help them discover things on their own.Theres something special that happens when we struggle through a problem, persist, and eventually find the answer ourselves. These are the lessons and skills we truly internalize and are able to put into practice most effectively.
And I think this principle is an important one for parenting as well: While its tempting to try and impart advice and wisdom onto our kids, its usually far more effective if we can help them discover things on their own.Of course, its easier to simply give the answer or to do it for them. But in the long-run, I think we all aspire to raise our kids to be independent, competent human beings, capable of learning new things, adapting to novel situations, and rising to meet difficult challenges.
I think the best way to do this is to apply the principle of Guided Discovery as a parent.Example of Guided DiscoveryWere on our way to a dinner party and running a few minutes behind. My wifes dressing my 2-year-old daughter and Im trying to pack the car and make sure my 3-year-old daughter is ready to go.
As were rushing down the hall and into the garage, I see that my daughter is still trying to put on her sandals. I can see that shes struggling, but shes got this determined look on her face that shes not going to give up even if it takes the rest of the evening.In the heat of the moment, Im just trying to get everyone out the door and to our destination without being late.
So I can feel the impulse inside me crop up to go over and just put her sandals on for her. In fact, I literally find myself moving toward her, sometimes even saying something like, Here, Ill do it.Luckily, I can usually catch myself and take a broader perspective on whats going on.
Sure I dont want to be late. But in the grand scheme of things, if were 5 minutes late to my nephews birthday party, mehOn the other hand, theres something vital going on with my daughter right now. Her natural curiosity, budding analytical abilities, and perseverance are being engaged to solve a difficult problem.
Shes literally learning how to be creative, stick with her goals, and solve difficult problems! And Im two seconds away from short-circuiting that process simply because Im neurotically obsessed with not being two minutes late to a birthday party!Thankfully, I catch myself, take a breath, and watch her, allowing her to continue to struggle and work through her problem.
But after another 30 seconds, I can see shes getting really frustrated, and actually, close to giving up. So I decide to step in, but in the most minimal way possible: I say, What if you tried holding the buckle with your other hand so it doesnt move so much?She thought about it, decided to give it a shot, struggled for another 10 seconds, and then got it.
And man, the look of pride and joy on her face was one of those moments I absolutely live for as a dad. Still, its crazy to think that I dont always succeed here and deprive my kids of the opportunity to learn for themselves because my own stuff (usually, impatience) gets in the way.The principle of Guided Discovery makes me a better parent because it reminds me, whenever possible, to help my kids learn to help themselves.
And its hard imagine something I want more for my kids than the confidence and faith in themselves to work through and stick with difficult problems even in the face of adversity. How to PracticeTheres a great little book called The Coaching Habit that I highly recommend if you want to get better at the art of Guided Discovery. While its not written for parents specifically, the principles and techniques in it apply every bit as much to parenting and raising kids as they do coaching, mentoring, or any other form of teacher-student relationship.
Summary & The Final PrincipleWeve talked about six general principles of psychology and how we can apply them to the difficult job of raising our children:Validation Letting our kids know that how they feel is okay and valid before we rush in to fix things and give reassurance. Functional Analysis Learning to see our childrens behavior mechanically, not morally.Differential Reinforcement Systematically reinforcing constructive behavior and discouraging undesired behavior.
Emotional Tolerance The idea that how we manage our own emotions is the most effective way to help our kids manage their own. Assertiveness When we as parents model for our kids that its good to acknowledge our own wants and needs.Guided Discovery The confidence-building art of letting our kids struggle and learn how to learn for themselves.
Please remember that no parent is perfect (or even close to it). Its normal to struggle, second-guess yourself, and worry about how well youre doing in the terribly difficult job of parenting.Its also good to remember that kids are inherently resilient.
They dont need perfect parents to turn out healthy, happy, and well-adjusted. Good-enough parenting is just fine. I believe one of the most important things we can do as parents is to continue to try and grow and learn.
Parenting isnt something any of us are born knowing how to do. And understanding the psychological and emotional aspects of parenting is something almost none of us are ever taught. But we can all strive in small ways to keep learning and experimenting and doing our best by our children.
The Final PrincipleIll leave you with a 7th and final principle for more psychologically-informed parenting:Whats your why?Why are you a parent in the first place? What are your highest parenting goals and aspiration?
What are your most important parenting values?All the tips, techniques, and good advice in the world dont matter much if youre not clear on what kind of parent you want to be.So make sure to find a little time every once in a while to reflect on your parenting values.
Because the clearer you are where you want to go, the more likely you are to arrive.Originally published at on May 27, 2019 RELATED QUESTION I didn't get Google Glass Explorer Edition. Is trying to learn Glass dev without the hardware a futile effort?
No, you can still learn the fundamentals of Glass development without the hardware. There are three main approaches for accomplishing this: 1) Visit the Mirror API documentation, get into the playground, and start hashing up some code. Download the PHP, Java, and Python library, whichever you're most comfortable with.
Familiarize yourself with the jargon and converntions (timeline, bundles, menus, etc). Read the support documentation (second link below) to see how the Glass hardware actually functions. Build some apps to this specification.
Soon enough, you will find a friend with hardware to t