|"Treat all others as you would like to be
The Golden Rule has proved its excellence as a moral guide
since ancient times. Greek and Jewish thinkers, Confucius,
Jesus, and other teachers of ethics all taught this rule, which
is called "golden" to indicate its revered place as
the ultimate rule of life. What better teaching can we utilize
in our day-to-day approach to parenting? A variation of the
Golden Rule for parents would be "Treat your child as you
would like to be treated if you were in the same position."
It might be illuminating to apply this "Parenting Golden
Rule" to several common methods of discipline, by
considering the case of a husband and wife in the "same
position" as that of children being disciplined in various
1. Physical punishment
The wife accidentally spills coffee on her husband's new
jacket. He hits her.
Will the wife be more careful with his belongings in the
future? Or might she have him arrested for spousal abuse?
The husband starts to argue with a visiting friend. The
wife tells him "It's not nice to argue with your friend!
I won't have this! Go sit in the bedroom for half an
Will the husband become less argumentative? Will the
embarrassment of the situation set him straight? Will he feel
like apologizing to his friend?
The wife is out driving, forgets to fill the tank, and runs
out of gas. She phones her husband to ask him to take his car
to buy some gas and bring it to her. He refuses, explaining
that she has to learn from "natural consequences" to
be more responsible.
The next time the tank is low, will the wife remember to
get it filled? Or will she be too preoccupied with fantasies
of divorce to think about less important matters like car
The wife reminds her husband, who is reading the newspaper
after dinner, that it's his turn to do the dishes. He murmurs,
"Mm hmm," and keeps on reading. The wife says,
firmly "You have to do the dishes now!
Will the husband then feel like cooperating with his wife?
Or will he conclude that he's married a lunatic? And would he
feel the least bit loved?
All of these disciplinary methods look ridiculous when viewed
in this way. But the reason for this is that our society at some
point decided that children and adults respond to others
according to different principles of behavior. This has been a
very harmful mistake. The truth is that children, like adults,
feel most like cooperating with those who treat them with
kindness, respect, understanding, and dignity. The only
"method" that makes sense in a humane relationship -
whether with a child or an adult - is unconditional love.
In our society, we have been asking the wrong question. We
have asked, "Which set of rules work with children, and
which set works with adults?" The reality is, happily, far
simpler: all humans behave as well as they are treated. Age
makes no difference.
Parents wanting to help their children grow to be loving and
responsible adults can do no better than to remember the
Parenting Golden Rule: "Treat your child as you would like
to be treated if you were in the same position." It's
simple, straightforward, and effective. And we don't need to
spend any time finding out what age someone is before consulting
this rule. One size fits all.