Finding the Sweet Spot in Parenting

By: Steve Palmer

In my work as a therapist I am often called on to give parenting advice or feedback. Sometimes, it seems to me that parents are searching for the perfect technique, the ideal response, “the manual” with all the answers. While I suppose most of us know that there’s no such thing, we can feel kind of lost in the confusion of possible responses to any given challenge with our kids. Read more >

Sometimes I even feel like a disappointment to my clients when I don’t have a quick answer to whatever parenting dilemma they are dealing with at the time. I do, however, have some general guidelines I suggest to parents when they consult with me. These guidelines do not always lead to easy answers or solutions, but I believe they lead us in the right direction on a number of important factors. Here are my guidelines for finding the sweet spot in parenting:

1. Follow the 35 MPH Parenting Rule. Basically, I advocate what I sometimes call “35 mile an hour parenting.” In my practice, I often find parents at one or another end of a spectrum – either doing too little in terms of shaping their kids, or going a bit too far out of frustration or anger or fear – 0 to 60 in ten seconds! I usually try to suggest to them that the most effective path of parental influence is often somewhere down the middle of the road (or speedometer!).

2. Practice authoritative parenting. Many parenting experts would advise an “authoritative” approach to parenting that lies somewhere between the extremes of “authoritarian” and “permissive” parenting styles. Authoritarian parents tend to make every decision and are strict and unyielding in control of most aspects of their children’s lives, while permissive parents allow their kids great areas of control over their lives, exercising very little direct influence in terms of rules or behavior shaping. Authoritative parenting draws on the strengths of both approaches. Positive rules and expectations are given an important place in helping kids learn how to behave well in a variety of situations and relationships, and lots of nurturing and love are afforded to kids in both discipline and daily living.

Learn more about authoritative parenting >>

3. Remember: “This kid. This situation. This moment.” There really is no one, magic answer for any situation. We need to try to take into account the many variables at work when our kids require support or discipline: temperament, developmental stage, the context of the behavior, what they’ve been trending like in their behavior lately, etc. I think many parents instinctively consider this stuff as they determine whether now is a moment to come down firmly or let something slide, but we sometimes question ourselves. Trust your gut – if you’ve been thinking things through. Practical wisdom is what it’s all about.

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4. Know when to talk and when to keep quiet. It’s hard to resist the temptation to lecture, but so often our kids’ learning is more effectively accomplished if we allow the consequences of their choices do the teaching. Yes, there is certainly a time for conversation and explanation, but knowing when to be silent is a great skill to develop.

5. Keep the long-term goals in mind. Often we can get some insight into the way we should approach a current challenge with our kids by considering the long-term goals of parenting – raising healthy, generally happy, responsible, and capable adults. When we take the long-term view, sometimes clarity can begin to emerge in our strategy.

Parenting: It’s Worth the Wait >>

6. Keep cultivating your relationship with your child. Like the rest of us, our kids don’t want to hear crabby lectures from someone who doesn’t seem to even be trying to understand or know them and their situation. We need to keep listening, trying to understand, learning about their life, exploring their interests and being an empathetic person. They’ll listen more if we do.

Tips for becoming a better listener >>

Remember, you are not the only influence on your child’s life – and that’s okay! We should allow ourselves to take advantage of that proverbial village that’s available to help raise our child. Peer groups, neighbors, mentors, church/synagogue/temple members, schoolmates, teachers, coaches – there are many relationships our kids can potentially benefit from.

Tips for encouraging an engaged community >>

Cultivating connections to other caring adults, on our kids’ behalf, and then allowing ourselves to lean into this network when the going is tough, can be a great resource and support for effective parenting. Is there someone else or somewhere else our child can be learning the lesson we are trying to instill? Is there another place they might learn the skills we are trying to help them develop? Pay attention and find other relationships to help you reach your parenting goals. And remember to fill some of these roles for other parents as well. We’re all in that village together!

For more great parenting strategies and information see:

  • Cline, Foster & Fay, Jim. (1990). Parenting with love and logic. Colorado Springs, CO: Piñon Press. Or visit them online.
  • Nelson, Jane. (2007). Positive discipline. New York: Random House.

Photo credit: Daquella Manera on Flick’r.


Excellent advise…I’m going to print this out and post it on my frig. Thanks, Dr. Steve!

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