Parenting tips from a Mayo Clinic specialist

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Parenting tips from a Mayo Clinic specialist

Parenting takes honesty, patience and love — qualities you'll cultivate with these principles.

Photo of Jay L. Hoecker, M.D.Jay L. Hoecker, M.D.

My patients, their parents and my own children have taught me thousands of lessons since I became a pediatrician, almost 30 years ago. I've learned, among other things, that what's best for children is less complicated than the latest parenting theories might suggest. Parents instinctively know that, but they don't always trust themselves.

Over the years, I've translated these lessons into a set of principles — touchstones, if you will — to help parents address their children's most fundamental needs. I've found it worthwhile to return to these basics whenever I risk losing touch with the core values of parenthood, values that also influence pediatric practice. Perhaps you can use them, too.

  1. The one thing your child wants and needs most is your time. Brief periods of intense engagement can't replace shared daily routines, nor can material advantages compensate for lost time. You can replace money, but you can never retrieve time.
  2. Do your best as a parent, but accept your imperfections. Your child will forgive your mistakes, because every child knows that perfect is the enemy of good.
  3. To your child, your actions say more than your words. Speeches and admonitions are barely audible, but your behavior sends a loud, clear message. Before you admonish, ask yourself three questions: Is it necessary? Is it true? Is it kind? If you want your child to be honest and kind, you should be honest and kind yourself.
  4. Listen to your child before you speak. It doesn't matter what you're discussing; the more you listen to what your child tells you, the more effective your conversation will be.
  5. Self-esteem is the cornerstone of emotional health. Your child will develop a clear and resilient sense of self only by making his or her own choices, one small decision at a time. When you correct negative behavior, offer two suggestions for preferred behavior and let your child choose between them.
  6. The most effective punishment is the temporary and explained loss of your approval.
  7. When your child asks a question, give a simple, truthful answer, regardless of the topic. Questions about death, reproduction and similar weighty matters may seem to require exhaustive discussion, but they don't. Providing too much information is like pouring a gallon of tea into a teacup: It wastes the resource and overwhelms the recipient.
  8. Make it a daily priority to show respect for our environment's limited resources, and teach your child to do likewise. It will sustain his or her health, happiness and longevity.
  9. Your child will form many relationships in life — with friends, teachers, parents and perhaps a few stepparents. Out of all these relationships, yours is unique and will persist. Focus your role accordingly.
  10. Your child is not responsible for rewarding your parenting; that gratification comes from within. If it's sometimes elusive, remember that you are engaged in life's most challenging and important endeavor. Parenting is a labor of great joys, deep sorrows and, most of all, lasting satisfaction.

Last Updated: 08/01/2006
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