National Catholic Register

Culture of Life

Prescription Parenting

Family Matters: Childrearing: I recently read that parents should compliment their children three times as much as they correct them. Is "parenting by the numbers" recommended?

BY Dr. Ray Guarendi

April 7-20, 2013 Issue | Posted 4/1/13 at 3:48 PM


Formula childrearing: the new, up-to-date, improved way to raise kids.

You’ve come across but one small example in the relentless tide of psychological correctness, a movement that is threatening to turn parenthood into a series of techniques and prescriptions for ensuring a well-adjusted, competent child.

And the formulas are multiplying: one ask, one warn, one tell; more "I" messages than "you" messages; one minute for every year of age in timeout. (Or is it one year for every minute of age? I get that one all confused.)

However well intentioned, too many experts are laying out their own personal yardsticks by which parents can measure their degree of modern, psychologically savvy childrearing skills.

Even the word "parent" bespeaks of this trend. It can now be a verb, as in "to parent" or to apply the proper ideas and approaches. What used to be considered primarily a relationship infused with love, supervision, discipline and openness is increasingly being codified into what are "appropriate parenting" practices (active listening, timeout, "I" messages) and "inappropriate parenting" practices (spanking, saying "No" to a toddler, written apologies).

Certainly parents need skills and expertise and practice. They must be willing to learn from everywhere, even from experts.

But solid motherhood or fatherhood will always be grounded on the intangibles: love, good judgment, morals and common sense. These risk being reduced to a simple set of dos and don’ts, applicable to all parents, all kids and all situations.

In defense of the three-compliments-to-one-correction ratio, the intent may have been to underscore a broader guideline — encourage and praise more than you discipline. Doubtless, this is tougher with some kids than with others, but it’s something to aim for. Generally, the more you notice the good, the less you have to bridle the bad — up to a point, that is. All kids require some discipline, no matter how positive their parents are.

Like you, I’m very uneasy with such numerical advice. It implies there is a correct amount of parenting practice and that this amount applies pretty much across the board.

Even if this were true, what parent could keep track of the proper ratio for just one child, let alone for two or more? I can picture my wife running to the refrigerator after every encouraging word to make a hash mark in the appropriate column. Actually, after I told her about this column, she did say, "That doesn’t seem so tough," and then she proceeded to tell our daughter, "Hannah, please eat your toast over the table … and I like your sweater, your teeth look clean, and I appreciate the way you’re eating."

Maybe I could get her to use the 3:1 ratio with me. I’d settle for 2:1. Then again, maybe I haven’t earned it.

Dr. Ray Guarendi is a clinical psychologist, speaker, author and EWTN host.