Over more than 40 years we have worked to help parents build healthy relationships with their children. Whether a child has experienced trauma or neglect, has an attachment disorder or behavioral issues or simply is going through a challenging phase, time and again we encourage parents to practice the 10 Cs of parenting. The 10 Cs are a foundational approach based in compassionate care, appropriate structure and mutual respect.

To build this foundation well, it’s also important to understand one of the Ds of parenting: “Discipline.” It comes from the root word “disciple,” which means “follower of a leader or teacher.” Yet discipline is not about employing a particular technique to encourage a child to achieve your desired outcome. Healthy, effective discipline instead depends on building the right relationship with a child to encourage their total development — mind, body, emotions, relationships, and values.

Parents who understand discipline and seek guidance from the 10 Cs of parenting really can have a positive influence on children.

Connection: Connecting with children involves empathy, support, nurturance, structure and love. The ability to form and maintain positive connections is essential for healthy childhood development. Parents who successfully connect with their children are emotionally available, actively involved in their lives, and model respect and compassion.

Calm: To be calm is synonymous with being levelheaded, peaceful, patient and composed. The only effective way to positively influence children is to gain their trust, and a calm and consistent approach works best. Although it is important to be calm and centered with all children, it is critical to remain emotionally balanced with children who have prior maltreatment and compromised attachment. These children did not receive adequate emotional regulation from caregivers and often lack the ability to regulate their emotions and impulses. Parents must teach them to be calm by providing an example of calmness, which reduces the “alarm reaction” (fight, flight, freeze), and allows them to feel safe and secure enough to think rationally and learn.

Commitment: Commitment is a promise and a pledge to be available to a child through thick and thin; a moral obligation to take certain actions and respond in certain ways, which leads to safety, security, and trust. Parents must commit to the following:

  • keeping their child safe;
  • truly knowing their child;
  • providing appropriate structure;
  • having compassion for their child;
  • being a positive role model; and
  • supporting their child’s growth and development.

Consistency: All children need consistent nurturance and stability, as a supportive framework to guide, organize, and regulate their behavior. Children who have endured adverse conditions need even more. Failing to receive the requisite nurturance and structure in the early stages of development has left these children emotionally, behaviorally, and biochemically disorganized. These children desperately need consistent routines, guidelines and love. Consistent and appropriate structure — such as rules, limits, and consequences — enables children to depend on a reliable caregiver, whom they begin to respect and then trust. Providing structure engenders feelings of safety and security in children, anchoring them for the rest of their lives. It is important for consistency to occur among all the adults in the child’s life. Teachers, counselors, daycare providers, child welfare workers, and family members must all be on the same page.

Communication: To communicate is to connect. There is no greater gift to children than to be attuned; they see it in their parents’ eyes, and hear it in their tone of voice. Parental sensitivity to the child’s signals is the essence of secure attachment. Communication begins in the womb, via a neurohormonal dialogue between mother and unborn baby. From the moment of birth, babies communicate with their caregivers verbally and nonverbally through facial expressions, gestures, crying, cooing — the language of infancy. Effective communication is the foundation of all relationships, and creates the conditions in which a child is more likely to confide and connect. Realizing that so much of communication is nonverbal (eye contact, facial expressions, tone of voice, body language, touch), a parent’s style of delivery is often more important than the words. Messages register in the emotional region of the child’s brain (limbic system), and affect learning, trust, stress response, memory, and development.

Choices and Consequences: One of the most important jobs as a parent is to prepare children to function in the real world. To accomplish this, children must learn to live with the consequences of their choices and actions. This leads to the development of responsibility, accountability, and maturity. There is a difference between consequences and punishment. The goal in giving a consequence is to teach a lesson, which encourages a child’s self-examination, acceptance of responsibility for actions, and the ability to learn from mistakes. The definition of punishment is to cause to suffer. Punishment is harmful to a child’s sense of self, emotional development, and the parent–child relationship.

Confidence: Confidence is the ability to rely on yourself with assuredness and certainty. Confident parents have trust in what they are doing to help their children. Children feel safe with confident parents, who they see as capable and dependable. Parents need information, skills, support, self-awareness and hope to develop confidence. When parents understand their children they are more likely to help them. Having support provides the care and encouragement so crucial during difficult times. Self-awareness prevents parents from responding in negative ways. Knowing children do learn and change under the correct conditions creates optimism and hope.

Cooperation: Children need opportunities to learn about the give and take of relationships, including cooperation, empathy, and reciprocity. Parents who are resonant in their attitude and delivery are more likely to have children who are motivated to cooperate. Resonant parents are attuned to the feelings, needs, and mindsets of their children. Parents who are dissonant are out of sync with their children, and their children are not motivated to cooperate. Parents must model cooperative attitudes and behaviors with children, spouse, extended kin, friends, and others. Children learn most by watching what we do, not what we say.

Creativity: When children experience significant stress, such as abuse and neglect, their limbic brains are primed for fight and flight, and they remain in a state of high stress and arousal. The part of the brains responsible for controlling rational thinking, problem-solving, and creativity does not function normally. Creativity is the “language of childhood,” but these children are focused on survival at the expense of creativity and imagination. An important aspect of creativity is humor. Laughter is the best medicine; it reduces stress, creates positive connections, and gives a new perspective on one’s situation. Laughing with, not at, a child increases emotional bonding and interrupts negative patterns of relating.

Coaching: A coach is a mentor who guides, teaches, supports, motivates, and inspires positive values and characteristics in children. Parents are role models and coaches and set an example of who to be and how to behave. Children learn more from modeling than by any other way. A good coach not only imparts knowledge, but also facilitates the attainment of wisdom. Wisdom is knowledge applied: figuring out a problem for yourself by using critical thinking and problem-solving skills. Coaches teach life skills, including self-awareness, self-control, conflict resolution, communication, and cooperation. Coaches encourage the development of positive traits, such as tolerance, enthusiasm, industriousness, integrity, loyalty and perseverance.