Parenting skills aren’t always easy to define. They don’t come with an instruction manual. They rarely fit nicely into any sort of uniform pattern. And they can differ wildly depending on both your own temperament—and your own values. So how could you learn how to be a good parent?
How to be a good parent?
But what makes a good parent? Is it a question of providing unconditional love and support? Is it learning to be an effective communicator? Do you think of your child’s best interests in mind 24 hours a day, 7 days a week? Or is establishing a standard to actively strive for, knowing full well that there’s absolutely no such thing as a perfect parent?
The answer is all of the above. But it takes a lot more than hope to be a good parent. It’s going to take work. Change. And as much growth on your end as your child. Because it will ultimately transform the both of you in ways you never could have imagined.
Models of parenting have changed dramatically in the past thirty years. And unfortunately, they’re never absolute. Influencing factors are variable. Everything from economic status to work demands to your child’s own emotional balance will play some role in your skills as a parent. You may have your own moral compass and best intentions guiding you—but they’re not always enough. Patience. Engagement. Communication. These things develop over their own course. And for some people, they take more time to develop than others.
Children can sometimes seem like an exercise in contradictions. They depend on you—but they need their own independence. Their love for you is unconditional, yet their mood swings can be frequent and wild. They need and want to be understood, but can’t always express it fully. So just how do you balance those contradictions and still be the best parent you can be?
What Does Being A Good Parent Mean?
Knowing The Limits
Naturally, as a parent, one of your chief roles is to set boundaries. But your ultimate goal is to raise your child to be healthy and independent. How do you reconcile this conflict? Set smart limits. There’s a thin line between dependence and smothering. Know your child’s needs first, but don’t automatically assume you can provide them everything in the world. Encourage them to explore and find their own solutions. Chances are they’ll find some fairly creative ones.
Choosing Your Battles Wisely
Remember that smaller children are still just starting to understand the very idea of rules. Don’t try to overload them with too many at once. Pick what’s best for your child and don’t sweat the small things. Focus on values that reflect good character—honesty, patience, tolerance and good manners, for example. In the end, those are a little more important than an extra hour of TV or raiding the cookie jar.
Being The Role Model They Need
Children are natural mimics. They learn through imitation. If you’re setting an example for them by constantly losing your temper, pettiness or gossip, it will be a lesson they’re going to take to heart. Being a parent means patience as much as setting boundaries. And that is a lesson that we as humans all need to learn.
Learning And Listening
If you’re not a mind reader, then your child likely isn’t either! Children can sometimes have strange little quirks when attempting to communicate, and it’s something you need to take into account ahead of time. Asking them to clarify what they mean for you can help you avoid crossed signals and streamline communication. Remember that being a good parent is a learning process for you, as well—and there’s no better way to learn how to be an effective communicator than listening to your child.
Connecting With Your Child Daily
Connection isn’t just about nurturing. It’s about actively engaging with your child. Ask lots of questions. You’re probably just as curious about their lives as they are about the world around them. What fascinates them? Who are their friends? Their interests? What’s their school like? You’ve probably already done this. But this form of direct engagement not only lets your child know you’re there for them, but intensely curious about their lives.
Styles of Parenting
One particular form of profiling that’s gained popularity in the past thirty years is the method of approaching parenting as a “style.” Inspired by the pioneering work from psychologist Diane Baumrind in the 1960’s, parenting styles can be categorized into four distinct modes: authoritarian, authoritative, permissive and uninvolved. While you may not see traits of your own parenting neatly falling in one of the four (and you may find that they overlap), it can be a convenient tool to keep in mind when establishing your strengths and weaknesses as a parent.
Authoritarian parenting is unquestionably the most stern and rigid of the four styles of parenting; and one that’s fallen out of favor in recent years. It’s typified by a strict obedience to parental standards, frequently embellished by threats of punishment. In the authoritarian model, manipulative behavior is implied through harsh measures—with the withdrawal of parental affection being one veiled threat.
Interestingly, a 2015 study found that authoritarian behavior had an only marginally higher association with negative child behavior (55 percent) than with positive (45 percent). However, the effects on childhood self esteem needs further examination to prove either efficacy or failure.
Authoritative parenting, on the other hand, is characterized by the same high expectations as authoritarian parenting; only marked by a substantially higher amount of warmth, affection and support. Communication is typically open and encouraging, marked by mutual respect and honesty. In the authoritative model, achievement is encouraged but with an understanding of personal goal making—not parental standards.
A 2011 study found children raised by authoritative parenting had both a markedly better self-concept as well as a better quality of life than children raised in authoritarian or permissive styles.
Permissive parenting tends to be marked by a relatively lax structure of rules and boundaries. Support and communication may be just as open and nurturing as authoritative parenting, but there’s little incentive for children to achieve—either for their own standards or for parental ones. Some common traits of permissive parents include warmth, friendliness and genuine affection; but also a lack of involvement and a lack of confidence in their own parental abilities. Permissive parents are often said to “spoil” their children.
Recent research, however, suggests an association between permissive parenting and future eating disorders resulting from greater use of pressurising feeding practices and fewer reports of monitoring.
Perhaps the most detrimental parenting style, uninvolved (or ‘neglectful’) parenting is characterized by an absolute lack of structure or concern for the development of a child—sometimes extending to their very well being. Involvement in their children’s lives is minimal, as is their investment in their growth and nurturing. The uninvolved parent is marked by emotional distance and disinterest in the daily activities of their children, both socially, personally and academically.
Not surprisingly, research confirms that uninvolved parenting is linked to a high degree of limited social skills in children. But it’s also been linked with aggressive behavior, which can place parents who adopt a strictly “hands off” approach to raising children at legally liable risk.
How Do These Traits Affect Me?
You should keep in mind that the four categories outlined above are fairly broad definitions, and there’s a strong chance you might find your own parenting style fitting into several categories. Parenting skills are as much about a natural acclimation as they are learned. And with the possible exception of the uninvolved parent, there are strengths and weaknesses inherent in the models.
For example, while authoritarian parenting may have a link to strong academic success, it’s often at the cost of emotional balance and independent growth of a child. And while authoritative parenting often applies the same rigorous standards of achievement and discipline, many parents may find it difficult to balance that structure with the necessary warmth and empathy for it to function effectively without hindering a child’s independence.
It’s very easy to fall into the trap of permissive parenting and indulge your child’s every whim, but without an easily defined structure you may find yourself mimicking tendencies of an uninvolved parent.
Parenting techniques need to be balanced if any of the four given styles are to work. Sensitivity to your child’s temperament is critical. Rules, expectations and boundaries should be firm, but communication should be open enough to ensure your child knows that they are ultimately for their own benefit.
Expressing disappointment in your child’s behavior should be avoided, but a “softer” form of discipline (such as helping chores and realistically enforced consequences) can be applied as a penalty. Above all, stay calm. Expressing outright anger is rarely helpful. One of the strongest characteristics of a good parent is the ability to justify your actions, and apply reason with love. And that’s the difference between being an authority and not an authoritarian figure.
Positive Parenting—A Positive Solution
Recently, a more personal and integrated parenting technique has emerged that is distinct to the previously mentioned models. Known as positive parenting, the technique encourages parents to treat children with the same level of mutual respect that they would expect from their peers. It encourages openness and communication, and is flexible enough to suit a child’s personal temperaments and sensitivities.
Essentially, positive parenting reimagines your role as a parent to be a personal coach to your child—not an authority figure. It requires a clearly defined set of guidelines and rules you expect from your children, but is based on love and empathy, ensuring your child always knows these boundaries are for their personal growth and benefit.
How to be a good parent with positive parenting?
One effective method of instituting a positive approach has been to establish a reward system where positive behavior can result in privileges, such as additional play time or the occasional treat. But you can also communicate firmly that negative behavior can result not only in the loss of those privileges, but punishments such as time-outs.
Time-outs aren’t a foolproof method, however. They can sometimes result in negative consequences to a child’s self esteem if overused. Try to explain to your child that a time-out is meant for them to “cool down,” to reexamine their behavior and clear their heads, allowing them to think calmly. Try to get them to rationalize their behavior. Encourage their understanding of more productive solutions in the future. Remember, you’re the coach. Coach them through reason, not penalties.
Another discipline which can be useful is assigning additional helpful chores. This can also have a positive effect, as children generally like to contribute. But that also means you’ll have to use caution when assigning them. Emphasize that it’s a consequence of their behavior, and try to assign them a task relatively tedious, such as raking leaves, folding laundry or tidying up around the house (no child will ever think positively about cleaning up.)
No matter whether you’re presenting them with rewards or having them sweep the floor after a particularly exhausting tantrum, always ensure you’re giving your child a voice. Let them speak honestly, but hold your ground.
Remember that reason and logic are learned behaviors and not innate. Teaching them to rationalize their behavior in both positive and negative instances is critical, but suggest rather than command. Help them reach the decision for themselves whether or not their actions were of any benefit to them. After all, benefits are key to positive outcomes.
Qualities Necessary For Good Parenting Skills
- Can you relate to your child in a deep, meaningful way? Remember, they’re looking to you for guidance, and in many ways look to you as an equal. They need a bond, and the stronger and more personal you make that bond, the more secure they’ll feel in facing the world around them.
- Can you calmly explain to your child the consequences of their actions? Can you clearly define your expectations and goals? Take some time out to reflect on the guidelines you’d like them to follow. Ask yourself if they’re realistic, and whether or not you’d be able to follow them if you were their age. Be as succinct as possible in establishing them, and leave no room for misinterpretation.
- Ironically, this requires a certain level of detachment to be applied effectively as a parent. When a child comes to you in tears, they’re expecting you to soothe all their troubles and frustrations away. And you can’t necessarily do so if you’re feeling their pain as deeply as they are.
- There’s simply no room for misleading a child when it comes to being a parent! Speak from the heart. Encourage your child to do likewise. Integrity only comes from ingenuity. Children are more intelligent than you might give them credit for, and they can see deceptive behavior for what it is.
- Not only should you accept your child no matter what, but you need to learn to accept yourself as well. Remember that while no parent is perfect, you have a duty to learn from your mistakes. Self-forgiveness is one of the most overlooked characteristics of being a good parent. Practice it often, and you’ll find it’s contagious for those around you.
- As a parent, you’re faced with a complex situation. You want what’s best for your child, but can’t be there around the clock for them. If you’re a working parent, you have your own obligations. Try to see them not for your own benefit, but for the benefit of your child. Sacrifice doesn’t necessarily mean learning what to give up, but giving what you already have for the sake of someone else.
- Only through a genuine and deep comprehension of your child’s needs—physically, mentally and emotionally—can you come to a thorough understanding of who your child is. And understanding doesn’t happen overnight. It takes time, patience and experience. It’s one of the most subtle qualities you can hope to have as a parent. And one of the most absolutely necessary ones, as well.
Communication—The Key To Understanding
As we said, being a good parent doesn’t come with an instruction manual. And while it can seem frustrating and bewildering at times, the secret is right in front of you.
Your child is trying to communicate with you. They want to communicate with you. They need to communicate with you. And you need to know how to listen. You may not have all the answers, but you can begin by allowing them to express themselves fully, with the knowledge that your support will be unconditional.
Listen. Observe. Communicate. And understand. Talk with them, not at them. Though it may seem like you’re speaking two different languages at times, understanding goes beyond mere words. It colors your experience of each other. Enriches you. It nourishes them. And without it, you’re simply in dress rehearsal mode.
Except the curtain’s about to be drawn. Sit back and enjoy the show.