Parenting principles matter. They matter tremendously, even if 100% of the outcome (the adult that the child will become) is not within the parent's control. Amy Chua has parenting principles, and her parenting tools and style will shape her children for years. I have parenting principles, and I imagine that my parenting tools and style will shape my kids, too (and my failures to live up to them will also affect them). Parenting principles matter, and I think it's so beneficial to be as absolutely clear about them as you can be.
So that's one thought. Here's another:
Punishments and Rewards. We really don't use them at all; we really, really don't. There are no time out chairs or sticker charts at my house. I don't use punishments or rewards on my kids any more than I use them on myself or my husband.
When the result of my actions or decisions occurs, I must cope with it. If I click a link I shouldn't have and it spams my whole email address book (which happened lately), I must do my best to apologize and clean up the mess. If I forget to pay a bill, I must get it paid quickly and deal with the fact that there is a penalty for paying it late. If I have wronged someone, I must make amends. If I cause a mess, I must clean it up. If I make the same mistake a whole bunch of times, I must figure out a new process so I will remember not to make that mistake again.
When my husband doesn't bring his dishes out of the family room or doesn't take the garbage can to the curb, I don't ground him. I don't have a chart on the wall where he can put a smiley face sticker each time he remembers, with a reward for 10 stickers. We talk about the problem and make a plan for handling it.
I make mistakes all the time, every day, and the way I remember to do better is to accept responsibility for my mistake, try to fix it, and try to find ways to improve so that I don't make that mistake again. Same with my husband and all of the other grownups I know.
And that is just what we expect of the kids, only they're little, so they need our help. We help them A.) understand that they need to take responsibility, fix it, etc, and B.) help them implement those steps. No punishment necessary. No reward systems necessary. Lots of reminding people where we keep the paper towels (they tend to forget in the panic of the moment). Lots of honest expression of emotion (from parents and kids). Lots of communication. Lots of empathy and helping them learn coping skills when they are upset by something. Lots of celebration of accomplishments.
They are learning to take responsibility for mistakes and pride in their accomplishments. No artificial negative or positive reinforcement necessary. Which is good because when I think about punishment and reward systems, they sound like quite a lot of extra work for me, and I'm already really busy.
One more thought, a nicely condensed tweet I sent out a couple weeks ago:
The purpose and goal of parenting is not a well-behaved child. Good behavior is something they learn on the way to self-discipline.
Sometimes this is hard to remember in the moment, when all you really want is for them to stop blowing straw wrappers across the restaurant. But what I want for my children is much larger than the behavior issue of the moment. I'm sure we all want that.
So to sum up my three parenting thoughts for the moment: principles matter; kids will learn how to behave when Mom or Dad helps them handle and accept responsibility for the consequences of their actions/inactions; and behavior matters, but self-discipline matters more in the long run (which is influenced by the parenting principles of their parents....and oh look at that, I've gone cross-eyed!).