Helping Children Thrive and Mature


Christopher Ebbe, Ph.D.    9-13,9-20

ABSTRACT:  The guidance and experiences that a child needs in order to most easily and completely mature psychologically and morally are described.

KEY WORDS:  maturity, childrearing, raising children, morality, ethics

Most parents would like to equip their children to become mature adults, with experiential learning as well as adequate food, clothing, and shelter.  Using my definition of the processes and evidences of maturity, experiences for children that will help them to grow and mature are presented below.

The capabilities needed for maturity are (1) a reasonably accurate understanding of self, others, life, and the world (including an accurate sense of likely consequences of various behaviors; (2)  awareness of how people tend to make reality what they want it to be and to fool themselves about this, and a desire not to do this when it could result in harm; (3) enough empathy to enable one to understand others and their needs and feelings reasonably well, and the desire to understand them; (4) reasonably good ability to manage emotions (not letting them push one to distort reality or push one to violent and impulsive behaviors that harm self or others); and (5) a basically positive attitude toward others, so that one is oriented toward cooperating and helping others   Persons who have these abilities in sufficient measure will be mature and will be seen by others as mature.

Observable behaviors that usually result from engaging in the five processes above and that most people would consider evidence of maturity are honesty, responsibility, trustworthiness, self-control, good judgment , fairness, positive relationships with others, above average concern for those around one, tolerance for people in general, generally appropriate behavior (resulting from above average clarity about right and wrong and above average concern for others), constancy in mood, emotion, and behavior (including willingness to endure discomfort in order to reach goals), a tendency to avoid excess and harmful behaviors, and being self-supporting.

These attributes result in mature persons fulfilling their various roles (parent, worker, leader, friend, citizen, etc.) in a praiseworthy and effective way and result in them contributing more than others to the essential tasks of society—raising children to be productive members of the community, sustaining life, and building and sustaining the community itself.

What You Can Expect From Using These Principles

Every system of ideas that promotes a program for living or a way of living has a particular way of living in mind, whether that is made clear or not.  The principles presented here will move your child toward being a person who is honest, responsible, loving, accepting, cooperative, fair, self-aware, self-confident, empathic, and compassionate, who has good self-control and can manage his or her emotions effectively, and who can stand alone when necessary in support of what is right.  They promote a way of being and an existence that has the greatest chance of maximizing joy, fulfillment, contentment, and satisfaction for individuals, maximizing equality among people, and minimizing conflict, hatred, and violence.  These principles provide a comfortable context within which to live joyfully, serenely, effectively, with great satisfaction, and at peace with oneself, others, and life.  People who utilize the principles presented here will be generally happy with themselves, others, and life, will be zestful in using their abilities in seeking goal attainment, and will be seen by others as unusually mature.

This system promotes “good” or “positive” interactions among people, which are defined as interactions in which both parties feel comfortable and safe (as a result of understanding each other and feeling treated appropriately by the other person) and in which both parties are motivated to cooperate to achieve mutually agreed-upon goals.  These interactions succeed through understanding and cooperation and result in minimum amounts of conflict and violence between people.  People living by these principles will approach others and life with positive expectations, will be able to be emotionally close with at least some others, will seek good outcomes for both self and others from all of their behavior (partly through “doing the right thing” in all circumstances), and will be calm, compassionate, and understanding with others.

Guidelines For Parents


Meet your child’s needs reasonably, promptly, and reliably, so that the child accepts and becomes comfortable with his needs. Don’t make your needs (or those of anyone else) systematically more important than the child’s needs, for if you do, you will teach the child that he is inferior.

Be trustworthy and responsible toward your child, thus demonstrating that she is worth treating well.

Teach your child that a certain amount of stress, pain, and discomfort is an inevitable and necessary part of life but not to accept pain that is unnecessary.

Teach your child to do what is truly best for himself at all times, since doing what is truly best for himself includes taking into account all of the consequences of his behavior (immediate and long-term, as well as his impact on others) and often includes letting others take a turn or have their way.

Help your child to recognize and believe that she will get more out of life by treating others well than she will by trying to take advantage of them.

Give special support to children who have been victims of trauma or who for some reason receive chronically negative messages about themselves.


Help your child to learn about and become comfortable with everything about herself—all of her perceptions, thoughts, feelings, needs, motives, potentials, abilities, and body.  Help her to be always self-aware so that she can make the best behavioral decisions.

Help your child to establish sufficient security in the world by facing problems confidently, acting responsibly, and accepting life’s inevitable misfortunes with good grace yourself.

Make it clear that the child has a definite and irrevocable right to exist in this world, by taking the child’s needs seriously and communicating that he is important to you.

Help your child to be adequate in the world by teaching her needed knowledge and skills and by encouraging her as she practices new skills.

Help your child to feel adequate and feel like she is “enough” by demonstrating your love and acceptance of her.

Give affection and love generously, including safe, appropriate, and loving physical contact.

Convey to the child, verbally and non-verbally, that she is valuable, worthwhile, important, and deserving of nurturance and good things in life.

Respect your child’s equal rights and basic equality with others (including yourself) at all times and in all circumstances, without exception.

Act toward your child with respect at all times, just as you would show respect to an adult and would want respect from others yourself.

Help your child to be appropriately accepting of himself, by accepting your child as he is, with his own needs, feelings, and behaviors. Help him find a way both to be himself and to be socially acceptable. Don’t pressure him to be someone he is not. Accept the ways in which the child is different from you, and don’t force him to be just like you.

By recognizing, acknowledging, accepting, and praising the child’s personality and unique traits and abilities, give the child the message that she has the right to be exactly who she is, and that to be herself is a great thing.

Help your child construct a positive self-concept by verbalizing positive perceptions of the child whenever possible.

Help your child construct an accurate self-concept by helping him recognize his negative and his positive behaviors and traits.

Help your child develop a positive identity by showing your love and acceptance of her.  This will also remove the need for trying to be OK through being superior to others.

Accept your child’s feelings as a natural part of him. Don’t make them “bad” in an effort to control his behavior. Help him to control the expression of his feelings by teaching him adaptive ways to manage feelings and by showing him how you do this. Accept that it takes children years to learn to manage their feelings.

Be satisfied with your child.

Help your child to feel just as deserving of the good things available in life as others are.

Praise and encourage your child’s efforts and successes.

Provide comfort and support in times of frustration and failure, so that your child can learn to comfort herself.

Help your child to understand what it is to be oneself with integrity—to be true to oneself, to make one’s private and public selves as congruent as possible, to stand up for one’s values, and to express one’s love and enthusiasm for oneself by being oneself completely and with vigor.

Encourage your child to express thoughts and emotions as needed and useful every day.  (This could involve conversing, singing, dancing, or creative arts, alone or with others!)

Tolerate your child’s “adolescent rebellion” by supporting his need to prove to himself that he can disagree with you and be his own person without losing your love.

Expectations and Standards

Hold clear, consistent, humane, and appropriate expectations and standards for your child that she can readily understand and, with appropriate effort, can readily meet.  If you always expect more or urge the child to be perfect, she will learn that she is not OK.

As your child matures, encourage him to evaluate all standards and expectations, including yours, and to formulate his own humane and reasonable standards and expectations, particularly his standards and expectations for himself.

As your child grows, encourage your child to think hard enough about right, wrong, good, and bad, to construct—using the basic values that you have taught—his own values and sense of right and wrong.

Teach your child to do all that she wants to do to make herself, others, and life the way she wants them to be, and then accept the results without further desire, distress, internal conflict, or stress.

Help your child to learn that while certain behavioral standards must be obeyed, all human standards are the opinions of fallible men and women and should be questioned or replaced when more humane and reasonable standards are possible and appropriate.

Show your child how to play and relax, so that he understands that it is good to work hard but also good to play.

Discipline/Behavior Control

Use only appropriate and fair means of discipline with your child, concentrating on withdrawal of privileges and communicating your feelings in response to the misbehavior, and avoiding physical punishments except for light spanking in the early years.

Do not use the overly simple and terribly destructive labels of “good” and “bad” on your child. You can communicate your love or your displeasure (e.g., “I don’t like that,” “I don’t like it when you do that”) clearly without “good” and “bad,” and you can reinforce behavior adequately without them.

In showing disapproval as a method of training a child, help the child to understand that it is his behavior that is unacceptable, rather than himself as a person.

Help your child to be able to know what is appropriate, by taking into account standards and expectations, using empathy to understand the needs of others, and applying the principle of fairness.

Teach your child appropriate self-control by demonstrating good self-control yourself.

Help your child to learn to delay action and delay gratification when useful, so that he has the self-control necessary for achieving his goals.

Help your child not to automatically “feel bad” just because another person is upset with her or wants her to be different.  What your child wants is just as important as what anyone else wants.

Help your child to avoid extreme, excess, and dangerous behavior by showing good judgment yourself.

Thinking and Problem Solving

Encourage your child to learn as much about the world as possible, so that he is not restricted to his immediate environment in his thinking or his relating.

Help your child to learn useful methods of deciding what is true and what is not.

Discuss with your child how people make thinking errors by such things as overgeneralizing or broadening definitions, so that he can improve his thinking.

Help your child to understand how people distort reality to make it what they want it to be, and encourage her not to do this herself.  Show her how to stick to the truth, rather than make herself feel better by denying or lying about it.

Help your child recognize how much we dislike the unknown and not knowing and how we are prone to making up answers when we have none, in order to manage our anxiety.  Help her to accept and tolerate ambiguity and not knowing.

Help your child to not base his perceptions of reality on momentary and changeable emotions, so he can be “a rock” for others when needed.

Show your child how to reflect on and choose her own attitudes, assumptions, and expectations about others and about life, by showing her that you know how to talk about your own attitudes, assumptions, and expectations.

Help your child to learn how to consider what is right, independent of how she wants things to be, so that she can come to appropriate conclusions in balancing her needs with the needs of others.

Help your child to understand that sometimes longer-term rewards are more important than short-term gratifications (getting an education, contributing to the community, deeper relationships, etc.).

Help your child to develop good judgment by showing him how to take all relevant information into account (including long-term as well as short-term results and the impact of his behavior on others), to consider others’ welfare as well as his own, to understand the reasons for the rules, to remove his personal biases, emotions, and needs from his conclusions about reality so as to make them as accurate as possible, and to choose actions that create the greatest benefit for both self and others.

Discuss with your child the fact that a culture’s beliefs and assumptions are just that—beliefs and assumptions—rather than truths. 

Help your child achieve the insight that no one’s and no group’s “reality” is really “reality,” which helps us to avoid conflict and to allow for learning and cooperation.

Help your child to have a well-developed sense of morality and ethics by focusing on the positive or negative impact that we each have on others with our behavior, by helping your child to empathically appreciate what others experience, and by telling her your formulations of principles of right behavior.

Help your child to develop inspiring and useful ideals, by living in ways that are consistent with your own ideals and telling her what those ideals are.


Help your child to know his emotions (by properly identifying your own) and to manage them adaptively (by your example).  Demonstrate for him appropriate restraint and appropriate expression.

Be available to listen to your child concerning his emotions (insecurity, shame, guilt, rejection, disappointment, loneliness, etc.) and his attempts to figure the world out.  (How can I both be myself and be pleasing to others?  How can I be close without losing myself in the relationship?  How do I tolerate the risks in life that are there all the time but that we mostly ignore?  When should I stand up for what I believe, and when should I keep quiet?  Etc.).

Give your child life experiences that provide opportunity for her to develop tolerance for unpleasant emotions but that do not overwhelm or ask too much of the child.  We learn how to tolerate or live with frustration, disappointment, and other painful emotions through experience, by getting familiar with and used to them and by developing ways of understanding those situations and “advising ourselves” on how to get through them.  Help your child by describing for her your methods of managing emotions.  Do not give her the belief that all pain should be avoided or try to take away all of her pain.

Help your child understand her motives, so that she can choose better when to get what she wants and when to allow others to get what they want.

Teach your child to deal himself with his emotional reactions to others and their behavior (instead of trying to get others to change so that he can feel better or more comfortable).

Teach your child to enjoy being herself, so that she can be alone sometimes and still be happy.

Social Relations

Show your child how to be comfortable and happy being around others outside the family, so that he can have a basically positive attitude and positive expectations of others.

Help your child learn the skills needed in order to get along well with others and to get what she needs from others, in positive, mutually beneficial relationships.

Help your child develop realistic trust, based on the assumption that most others will treat one well in most circumstances, and the ability to determine in what ways and to what degree each person can be trusted.

Help your child make his peace with the facts that his needs are not the most important thing in others’ lives (as they were to his parents), that he has the primary responsibility to gratify his own needs (instead of continuing to depend on others for this), and that in general he can take better care of himself than others can (because one’s needs are primary for oneself and because one knows oneself much better than anyone else can).

Help your child to have a basically accepting attitude toward others, instead of wishing to change them so that she can be more comfortable, while knowing enough to avoid people who are harmful or toxic.

Help your child to be able to love and to join in loving relationships and treat others lovingly, by showing your affection and love for him and for others openly.

Teach your child to treat others as she would most like to be treated, to use reciprocity as a guide to ethical living, and to make fairness the touchstone of her ethics.

Help your child to recognize and believe that she will get more out of life by treating others well than she will by trying to take advantage of them.

Educate your child that many people try to appear to be superior to others as a means of competing with others and of feeling OK about themselves, and make clear to her the damage that this does to the self-esteem of those who are defined as inferior.

Through helping your child to feel good about himself and to be confident that he is adequate and lovable, minimize your child’s temptations to use hatred, status striving, and superiority to bolster his self-esteem.

Help your child to insist on basic equality with others in the world and not to settle for less.

Help your child develop appropriate assertiveness skills, to support the various requests and demands he must make of the world.

Give your child experience with people from other cultural backgrounds, so that she will learn that most differences do not have to divide us, and she can be tolerant of others.

Help your child to recognize how we tend to identify others as either being part of “us” or part of “them,” with the latter being more likely to be seen as outsiders, competitors, and unworthy and to be treated less well than those who are “us.”  Help your child to have the broadest possible definition of “us,” so that he can get along with everyone in the world.

Help your child to achieve the insight that no one’s and no group’s “reality” is really “reality,” which helps us to avoid conflict and to allow for learning and cooperation.

Show your child how to understand others using empathy for them and for their experience, so that he develops concern for others’ welfare.

Help your child to view others’ needs as being as important to them as his are to himself, so that he can see the fairness and workability of viewing others as basic equals.

Teach your child to be honest and to tell the truth, by being honest and telling the truth yourself.

Teach your child to be responsible and trustworthy, by being responsible and trustworthy yourself.

Encourage your child to see the humor in his foibles and his behavior and in those of others.

Help your child to make a healthy adaptation to competition, enjoying the challenges that stretch our limits but knowing that application of our capacities to real life is much more important than expending energies in delimited, structured competitions, and knowing that more cooperation, rather than more serious competition, is the key to better outcomes for everyone.

Help your child to be assertive in life but to refrain from violence and hurtful behavior in general, through having empathy for the pain that our violence and hurtful behavior causes to others and through believing that compromise, communication, and cooperation almost always provide better outcomes than violence.  Demonstrate for your child, both at home and in your dealings with those outside the home, that compromise, communication, and cooperation do provide good outcomes.

Help your child to tolerate rejection, through understanding that we all choose the relationships we prefer and that not being chosen is not a statement about one’s unacceptability or unworthiness.  This is much easier for your child if you do not make her “bad” or withdraw your love for unacceptable behavior, but instead focus on improving behavior and administering reasonable negative consequences.

Help your child to judge accurately the difference between when another person’s feelings are hurt and when that person is actually harmed, and to assess realistically whether he himself has harmed the other person (instead of assuming that any time someone else is upset or “hurt” that he must have done something wrong).

Help your child to achieve a healthy sexual adaptation, by demonstrating an appreciative, accepting, but appropriately controlled attitude toward sex yourself.

Help your child to develop appropriate boundaries and comfort with our lifelong existential separation from others and with being appropriately autonomous, so that she can function independently and can protect herself from infringement and mistreatment by others.


Help your child to understand and to accept that everyone makes mistakes, including you.  Help her to respond to her mistakes with analysis and plans to minimize mistakes in the future, instead of denying them or sweeping them under the rug.  Demonstrate how to do this yourself.

Teach your child to take responsibility for as much of his life as he can (for all of his reactions to everything that has happened to him in the past and for everything that he can do from now on to make his life what he wants it to be), which will make him see himself as the primary determiner of his fate.  This includes defining oneself and defining one’s standards and expectations for oneself, instead of allowing others to do this.

Help your child to understand the importance of each day’s efforts in the context of our limited and somewhat unpredictable life spans.


Teach your child to be effective in the world and to view herself as being effective.

Help your child to cooperate with others helpfully, responsibly, and without complaint in achieving joint goals


Show your child how to meet her own needs, by taking good care of yourself, meeting your needs acceptably, and doing good things for yourself.

Show your child how to take good care of herself by taking good care of yourself (being understanding toward yourself, rewarding yourself appropriately, comforting yourself, treating yourself lovingly, meeting your needs acceptably, having compassion for yourself)

Show your child how to be nice to himself, by loving yourself, being kind to yourself, and comforting yourself.

Help your child to develop good friendships with people who can treat her well and to seek support from others during difficult times, as well as being supportive of herself.

Help your child see the wisdom of leaving punishing, harmful, adult relationships that cannot be improved, in order to seek better relationships in the world.  Your child has no obligation to suffer for the sake of someone else.

Help your child develop the ability and mechanisms for forgiving herself and others, when appropriate, by demonstrating how to recognize your errors, forgive yourself, and avoid similar errors in the future.

Help your child to become appropriately self-sufficient, so that he can support himself and those who are legitimately dependent on him.

Teach your child to assert his worth and value in the face of group standards or expectations that demean certain people.

Encourage your child to talk to herself every day, lovingly, intimately, and humorously.

Being a Good Citizen

Help your child to understand what it is to use his talents and uniqueness to contribute to the social good. 

Help your child learn to participate adequately in roles necessary for group cooperation and maintenance (including socialization of new human beings and passing on personal and cultural wisdom).

Educate your child about good parenting by being understanding, supportive, loving, and fair with her, and using appropriate and fair discipline.

Help your child cultivate the skills of empathy and cooperation that will enable her to join in group efforts and conform as necessary for group survival.