The Three R’s of Parenting

It is very much in vogue today to talk about “the three R’s” of education (reading, ’riting, ’rithmatic), of being green (reduce, reuse, recycle), of self-care (rest, reflect, refuel), etc. It is convenient and memorable to reduce complicated concepts to three simple evocative words. At the risk of seeming glib, I’d like to talk about Three R’s of Parenting: Rules, Relationship and Respect. These three concepts, taken together, can reduce conflict and foster more appreciation among family members. Remove any one, and interactions become unbalanced and parents and children become miserable together. Let’s take a look at each concept separately.

Rules: Every family has rules, whether clearly stated or simply assumed. Rules structure interactions and define expectations. Explicit, clearly defined, and consistent rules are the building materials of successful parenting. Everyone knows what is expected, and while expectations may mature as the children mature, for the most part they remain stable over time. Rules make life secure and predictable, for the kids as well as parents.

Relationship: Relationship in this context refers to an intentionally fostered sense of good will and caring among all members of the family. When children feel (mostly) cherished and parents feel (mostly) appreciated, the family can weather the challenges of a failure at school, a bad day at work, breakdowns in communication, and the inevitable flaunting of the rules. Relationship is firmness blended with kindness, awareness of others’ feelings, and acceptance and forgiveness of others’ imperfections. While rules are the building materials of successful parenting, relationships are the foundation.

Respect: Respect in a family unit is both the result of explicit and consistent rules combined with caring relationships, and the catalyst for the maintenance of rules and relationships. To continue our building analogy, respect is the mortar that binds the building materials together and keeps them anchored on a strong foundation. Respect is understanding each others’ needs, physical, emotional, and spiritual, and striving to meet those needs, and it is acceptance of individual differences. Parents who respect their children enforce the rules while expressing their caring and understanding of a child’s frustration with the rules. Children who respect their parents challenge the rules and struggle for independence, while needing and wanting their guidance.

When rules are created or enforced out of anger instead of caring concern, relationships suffer and respect disappears. When “getting along” and appeasement are given priority over appropriate rules and limits, anger and resentment undermine respect, and in the end destroy relationships. And when respect in the form of understanding and acceptance of needs and differences is absent, rules become punitive and mutual care and concern become impossible.

Keep in mind these three R’s while creating rules, meeting out consequences, developing behavior charts and reward systems, assigning time outs, and whatever else you do to “manage” your children and their behaviors. In time, you just might find yourself “managing” less and enjoying more.


Lisa J. Bechtel, is a Licensed Professional Counselor and Registered Play Therapist Supervisor who works with children, adolescents and families at Franco Psychological Associates, PC.