It’s never too early to start parenting. Neuroscience research has shown us that a young child’s brain is more malleable and teachable, while change is a bit more work in later years. So it’s a good idea to have your approach to parenting applied while the cement is still wet, so to speak.

Here are some ground rules you can use with children to help guide them into maturity and success. They have been organized as contrasts in each area: “DO this” and “DON’T do that.” They will provide a simple manual for being with, and relating well to, your child.

Care for your own health: The younger a child is, the more vulnerable. Your child is a very, very high priority, but you must be as healthy as possible to give what is needed.

  • DO be intentional about great health, self-care and being with supportive people who love you.
  • DON’T drain yourself from your energy sources nor isolate from those who care.

Attach to your child: The primary need of young children is to be safely and emotionally attached to their parents. Nothing takes the place of this.

  • DO be warm and comforting.
  • DON’T get lost in the tasks of the day and forget to make the connection.

Stay attuned: Enter your child’s world every day to see how he or she sees things. This could be as simple as sitting on the floor, playing with blocks and engaging in active listening.

  • DO ask children what they think and feel, and affirm their feelings.
  • DON’T require them to listen to a great deal of your opinions and stories, just a few.

Provide structure: A consistent and loving structure keeps your child safe and focused.

  • DO provide a stable home life structure and schedule.
  • DON’T expose them to chaos and unpredictability.

Set boundaries: Clear, age-appropriate expectations for healthy behavior help your child feel secure and actually empowered.

  • DO be consistent in boundaries and consequences.
  • DON’T give up on following up because you are tired or feel guilty.

Allow full expression: Kids need parents to make them feel safe to disagree and develop their opinions.

  • DO let them have their own ideas and feelings, including challenging you respectfully.
  • DON’T prohibit them from their voice, but DON’T allow them to disrespect you in the process either.

Accept imperfection: Parents need to help their children face failure and loss, and to grow from these experiences.

  • DO help them feel OK about themselves when they make mistakes and help them learn from their experiences.
  • DON’T shame them when they fail.

Provide a guide to friendships: Learning to pick the right friends and having socialization skills are predictors of future success.

  • DO help them make friends and learn to be a friend as well.
  • DON’T keep them sheltered from friends, and DON’T forget to show them how to act with others.

Develop their passions and talents: Good parents help their children find out what they love and what their competencies might be.

  • DO help them to find their passions and gifts.
  • DON’T impose your dreams on their dreams. Their lives ultimately are their own.

Best to your parenting!