To preface everything I'm going to say: I've raised four kids (3b1g) and lived through what you're saying. I said that no wonder our kids are screwed up, "they" say be consistant, if one thing doesn't work, try a new strategy...soooo, I was consistant in my non-consistancy. Had to go through a ton of strategies to find what worked with my kid(s). Then after a short time (too short IMO), it wouldn't work sooooo, back to the drawning board.
I went back to school and learned a ton about child development (sorta like closing the barn door after the cows got out?) and stuff I wish I had known then.
I have taken a bit from there and here and developed my own "theory"--common sense/logical that if I were to impart upon parents to enhance their parenting skills I would share them.
1. Trust your gut. Be aware though, of developmental milestones, typical age appropriate behaviours as they will enhance your gut feeling.
2. Know your child. How? Play with them, let them lead the play. Let them have the power in this situation because in pretty much all other situations, you have the final say. Set aside 20 minutes a week that hell or high water, you two will get together and play with them in charge. If you set aside toys/ objects that are only for that playtime, then it is even more special. Your relationship with them will improve because you two will create a relationship that will bind you two forever. You hate playing? Remember its only 20 minutes and if you hate playing, you may need it more than your child!
3. Use "could" instead of "should". Unless there is a safety issue most things can be used as suggestions. "You could dry your hands before eating" "You could place a larger block on the bottom of the tower" ("let's see (if)" also works, it's instead of demanding--use your gut to know when to use it).
4. "first--then". This is one I sooo would have embraced and when I learned this as a special needs assistant, I immediately thought how so few power struggles would have not happened with my own kids! "First we'll do something I want you to do then we'll do something you want to do" or, "first we'll wash our hands then we'll dance to the dinner table" type thing. Sometimes they forget about their perferred activity which you really hoped they would forget about! It is really good and works when they are waiting for something good, "first we stand in this line then we will see Santa". "First we sing then we go to class". It really helps them know what is going on in their lives. So much is not in their control (prepares them for being adults right?) and knowing can reduce their anxiety levels. You are still in charge, you are just letting them in on what the action is.
5. Nature vs. nurture. Both matter. I see nurture as altering negative nature aspects of their lives and enhancing the positives. Holding, hugging, snuggling, telling them you love them, doing things together will alter a child's 'natural' person. If they are caring, gentle amazing little humans, well, they'll just be all that confident! If they tend to be on the wild side, it'll tame them without killing their sense of wonder.
I've worked with traumatized children (abuse of all types) and it is amazing when they are nutured how they grow and become aware of other's pain or joy and respond positively. A traumatized child stops growing emotionally at the age they were abused. What traumatizes one child may not affect another, it is individualized. Of course some traumas are just plain nasty and anyone would be affected by them in some way.
6. There are some good ideas to ponder in all those theories out there. Check some out, ones I like are: attachment theory by Dr. Gordon Neufeld, Montessori method, and Neurosequential development by Dr. Bruce D. Perry, an insightful approach to working with traumatized children which works with typically developing children also because it isn't a "method" or things to do but a way to see how children develop neurologically. Sounds high level stuff but at it's basic concepts, is easy to comprehend. I wrote about it in my last post.
I was at a conference concerning the early years of children (it's actually called "The Early Years" and is every 2 yrs.--an excellent value for anyone, professional or parent) and one of the speakers was talking about Canada's capital punishment law that allowed spanking. She was totally against it. She had many good points. I have one bone I just had to pick at with the anti-spanking group and she got to be their spokesperson (which she was). I started having kids in 1980 and parents were beginning to be told in the 70's not to spank/hit/swat their kids. Period. My bone? I told her that at was fine, but we weren't told what to do instead! She actually agreed. She was about my age, I think a touch older, and she said that was a grave oversight and really hampered the change.
I know some people actually believe "reasoning" with a two year old is possible...but personally I think they're delusional. Since then, I've learned some techniques that replace spanking/hit/swatting and they are effective. They take time to establish because they're preventative, relationship building techniques not 'in the heat of the moment' ones. For those moments I think both taking a time out from the issue is the best. In public? That is where knowing your child, having worked on skills and the relationship works in both of your favours. And knowing what age appropriate behaviours are. Being totally in control of yourself is a major key. And a difficult one to even almost master! Sleep deprevation is not my friend and I'm pretty sure most the same is for most people.
7. Be the parent. Guide them. Teach them. Love them. You don't have to be their friend, they have siblings or other people's chidlren for that. They need a parent who will set boundries and give a hoot what they are doing.
I guess if you're willing to consider any of these, you are already doing the eighth point: be willing to put in the time to try to do stuff right for your child(ren).