Building Successful Relationships: On Effective Parenting: Part 3

Dr. Clifford N. Lazarus


Steve wanted to be a good father but he made a crucial mistake. He thought that if he insulted and verbally abused his children — telling them how stupid and inept they were — this would motivate them to prove him wrong, and they would get good grades and try to get ahead. Instead, he only succeeded in undermining their self-confidence.


Being an effective parent is not easy. Parents “fly by the seat of their pants,” and they often repeat the same mistakes with their own children that their parents made with them.

In fairness, it should be said that the tendency to blame parents for almost everything that goes wrong with their children is unfair and inaccurate. All of us inherit certain tendencies over which our parents have no control (they may give us our genes, but they can’t change them — yet! ). And the influence of peer groups can be more powerful than the benefits of even excellent parenting.

Nevertheless, good parents can make a difference by avoiding some of the main mistakes that uninformed parents tend to make. Less effective parents, for example, make their children feel guilty if they misbehave. In other families, a poor school report is made into a sin. A child who is made to feel morally wrong for some minor shortcoming may come to view herself as a bad person, and fail to develop an inner sense of self acceptance: “You lazy bum, you’ll never amount to anything! I told you to do the dishes before you went out to play!”

Poor parenting would have a little boy who runs into the street being chastised and called a “Bad boy!” A wise parent would issue a firm warning about the dangers of running into the street without attacking the child. It’s more effective and less potentially harmful to make a clear distinction between what a child does and what he or she is.

• Don’t confuse inappropriate behavior with the basic identity of the child.

Say, for example “What you did was naughty!” — not, “You are naughty!” There’s a huge difference between calling a child stupid, selfish, or nasty, and telling him or her that a specific action was stupid, selfish or nasty.

Finally, consider this: If very minor infractions receive major penalties, what’s left for parents to do if something really serious occurs?

• Keep the punishment in line with the offense.

• Think long term: will my action help this child to grow up able to make healthy, independent judgements in his or her life?


Dr. Clifford N. Lazarus is a licensed psychologist, Co-founder and Clinical Director of The Lazarus Institute. In addition to his general psychotherapy practice, Dr. Clifford Lazarus specializes in health and neuropsychology.

Dr. Clifford Lazarus received his B.A., M.S., and Ph.D. in psychology from Rutgers University where he was a Henry Rutgers Research Scholar.  Seen here are excerpts from one of his books, The 60-Second Shrink – 101 Strategies For Staying Sane In a Crazy World, a book, he co-authored with his father “One of the ten most influential psychotherapists in America”  Arnold A. Lazarus, Ph.D.  For more details on Dr. Clifford Lazarus visit this link to The Lazarus Institute.  Or visit his page here on

Books available at Amazon by Arnold and Clifford Lazarus

Direct links to two highly recommended books by Dr. Clifford Lazarus and Dr. Arnold A. Lazarus:

The 60-Second Shrink: 101 Strategies for Staying Sane in a Crazy World 

Don’t Believe It for a Minute!: Forty Toxic Ideas That Are Driving You Crazy

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