Being a parent can be one of the most rewarding and fulfilling experiences of your life, but that doesn't mean it's easy. No matter what age your child/children is/are, your work is never done. To be a good parent, you need to know how to make your children feel valued and loved, while teaching them the difference between right and wrong. At the end of the day, the most important thing is to create a nurturing environment where your children feel like they can thrive and develop into confident, independent, and caring adults. If you want to know how to be a good parent, see Step 1 to be on your way.
Loving Your Child
Give your child love and affection. Sometimes the best thing you can give your child is love and affection. A warm touch or a caring hug can let your child know how much you really care about him or her. Don't ever overlook how important a physical connection is when it comes to your child. Here are some ways to show love and affection:
- A gentle cuddle, a little encouragement, appreciation, approval or even a smile can go a long way to boost the confidence and well-being of your children.
- Tell the you love them every day, no matter how angry at them you may be.
- Give lots of hugs and some kisses. Make your children comfortable with love and affection from birth.
- Love them unconditionally; don't force them to be who you think they should be in order to earn your love. Let them know that you will always love them no matter what.
Praise your children. Praising your children is an important part of being a good parent. You want your kids to feel proud of their accomplishments and good about themselves. If you don't give them the confidence they need to be out in the world on their own, then they won't feel empowered to be independent or adventurous. When they do something good, let them know that you've noticed and that you're very proud of them.
- Make a habit of praising your children at least three times as much as you give them negative feedback. Though it's important to tell your children when they're doing something wrong, it's also important to help them build a positive sense of self.
- If they are too young to fully understand, praise them with treats, applause, and lots of love. Encouraging them for doing everything from using the potty to getting good grades can help them lead a happy and successful life.
Avoid comparing your children to others, especially siblings. Each child is individual and unique. Celebrate their differences and instill in each child the desire to pursue their interests and dreams. Failure to do so may give your child an inferiority complex, an idea that they can never be good enough in your eyes. If you want to help them improve their behavior, talk about meeting their goals on their own terms, instead of telling them to act like their sister or neighbor. This will help them develop a sense of self instead of having an inferiority complex.
- Comparing one child to another can also make one child develop a rivalry with his or her sibling. You want to nurture a loving relationship between your children, not a competitive one.
- Avoid favoritism. Surveys have shown that most parents have favorites, but most children believe that they are the favorite. If your children are quarreling, don't choose sides, but be fair and neutral.
Listen to your children. It's important that your communication with your children goes both ways. You shouldn't just be there to enforce rules, but to listen to your children when they are having a problem. You have to be able to express interest in your children and involve yourself in their life. You should create an atmosphere in which your children can come to you with a problem, however large or small.
- You can even set aside a time to talk to your children every day. This can be before bedtime, at breakfast, or during a walk after school. Treat this time as sacred and avoid checking your phone or getting distracted.
- If your child says he has to tell you something, make sure you take this seriously and drop everything you're doing, or set up a time to talk when you can really listen.
Make time for your children. Be careful not to stifle or smother them, however. There's a big difference between protecting someone and imprisoning them within your too unyielding demands. You want them to feel like your time together is sacred and special without making them feel like they are forced to spend time with you.
- Spend time with each child individually. Try to divide your time equally if you have more than one child.
- Listen and respect your child and respect what they want to do with their life. Remember though, you are the parent. Children need boundaries. A child who has been allowed to behave as they please and had their every whim indulged will struggle in adult life when they have to obey the rules of society. You are NOT a bad parent if you don't allow your children to have everything they want. You can say no but you should provide a reason for saying no or offer an alternative. "Because I said so" is an invalid reason!
- Set aside a day to go to a park, theme parks, museum or library depending on their interests.
- Attend school functions. Do homework with them. Visit their teacher at open house to get a sense of how they are doing in school.
Be there for the milestones. You may have a hectic work schedule, but you should do everything you can to be there for the important moments in your children's lives, from their ballet recitals to their high school graduation. Remember that children grow fast and that they'll be on their own before you know it. Your boss may or may not remember that you missed that meeting, but your child will most certainly remember that you didn't attend the play they were in. Though you don't actually have to drop everything for your children, you should at least always try to be there for the milestones.
- If you were too busy to be there for your child's first day of school or another important milestone, you may regret it for the rest of your life. And you don't want your child to remember his high school graduation as the time when his mom or dad couldn't show up.
Enforce reasonable rules. Enforce rules that apply to every person leading a happy and productive life — not model rules of your ideal person. It's important to set rules and guidelines that help your child develop and grow without being so strict that your child feels like he can't take a step without doing something wrong. Ideally, your child should love you more than he fears your rules.
- Communicate your rules clearly. Children should be very familiar with the consequences of their actions. If you give them a punishment, be sure they understand the reason and the fault; if you cannot articulate the reason and how they are at fault the punishment will not have the discouraging effects you desire.
- Make sure that you not only set reasonable rules, but that you enforce them reasonably. Avoid overly harsh forms of punishment, ridiculously stringent punishments for minor infractions, or anything that involves physically hurting your child.
Control your temper as much as you can. It's important to try to be as calm and reasonable as you can when you explain your rules or carry them out. You want your children to take you seriously, not fear you or think of you as unstable. Obviously, this can be quite a challenge, especially when your children are acting out or just driving you up the wall, but if you feel yourself getting ready to raise your voice, take a break and excuse yourself before you finish talking to your children.
- We all lose our tempers and feel out of control, sometimes. If you do or say something you regret, you should apologize to your children, letting them know that you've made a mistake. If you act like the behavior is normal, then they will try to mimic it.
Be consistent. It's important to enforce the same rules all the time, and to resist your child's attempts to manipulate you into making exceptions. If you let your child do something he or she is not supposed to do just because he or she is throwing a tantrum, then this shows that your rules are breakable. If you find yourself saying, "Okay, but only once..." more than once, then you have to work on maintaining more consistent rules for your children.
- If your child feels like your rules are breakable, he'll have no incentive to stick to them.
Be a united front with your spouse. If you have a spouse, then it's important that your children think of you as a united front — as two people who will both say "yes" or "no" to the same things. If your kids think that their mother will always say yes and their father will say no, then they'll think that one parent is "better" or more easily manipulated than the other. They should see you and your spouse as a unit so there's order in your high school, and so you don't find yourself in a difficult situation because you and your spouse don't agree on certain things when it comes to raising the kids.
- This doesn't mean that you and your house have to agree 100% about everything having to do with the kids. But it does mean that you should work together to solve problems that involve the children, instead of being pitted against each other.
- You shouldn't argue with your spouse in front of the children. If they are sleeping, argue quietly. Children may feel insecure and fearful when they hear parents bickering. In addition, children will learn to argue with each other the same way they hear their parents argue with each other. Show them that when people disagree, they can discuss their differences peacefully.
Provide order for your children. Your kids should feel like there's a sense of order and a logic to things in their household and in their family life. This can help them feel safe and at peace and to live a happy life both in and outside of their home. Here are some ways that you can provide order for your children:
- Set boundaries such as bedtimes and curfews, so they learn that they have limitations. By doing so, they actually get a sense of being loved and cared about by their parents. They might rebel at those boundaries, but inwardly enjoy knowing that concerned parents guide and love them.
- Encourage responsibility by giving them jobs or "chores" to do and as a reward for those jobs give them some kind of privilege (money, extended curfew, extra play time, etc.). As "punishment" for not doing these jobs, they have the corresponding privilege revoked. Even the youngest of children can learn this concept of reward or consequence. As your child grows, give them more responsibilities and more rewards or consequences for completing those responsibilities or ignoring them.
- Teach them what is right and wrong. If you are religious, take them to the religious institute that you follow. If you are an atheist or an agnostic, teach them your moral stance on things. In either case, don't be hypocritical or be prepared for your child to point out that you are not "practicing what you preach"
Criticize your child's behavior, not your child. It's important to criticize your children's actions, instead of your actual child. You want your child to learn that he or she can accomplish whatever he or she wants through his or her behavior, instead of being stuck being one kind of person. Let him or her feel like he has the agency to improve his behavior.
- When your child acts out in a harmful and spiteful manner, tell him or her that such behavior is unacceptable and suggest alternatives. Avoid statements such as: "You're bad." Instead, say something like, "It was very wrong to be mean to your little sister." Explain why the behavior was bad.
- Be assertive yet kind when pointing out what they have done wrong. Be stern and serious, but not cross or mean, when you tell them what you expect.
- Avoid public humiliation. If they misbehave in public, take them aside, and scold them privately.
Teach your children to be independent. Teach your children that it is okay for them to be different, and they do not have to follow the crowd. Teach them right from wrong when they are young, and they will (more often than not) be able to make their own decisions, instead of listening to or following others. Remember that your child is not an extension of yourself. Your child is an individual under your care, not a chance for you to relive your life through them.
- When your children get old enough to make decisions for themselves, you should encourage them to choose which extra-curricular activities they want to do or what friends they want to play with. Unless you think an activity is very dangerous, or a playmate is a very bad influence, you should let your children figure things out for themselves.
- A child may have an opposite disposition, ie: introverted when you are extroverted, for instance, and will not be able to fit into the pattern and style that you choose, and will make his or her own decisions instead.
- They need to learn that their own actions have consequences (good and bad). By doing so, it helps them to become good decision makers and problem solvers so that they are prepared for independence and adulthood.
- Don't routinely do things for your children that they can learn to do for themselves. While getting them a glass of water before bed is a nice way to make them get to sleep faster, don't do it so often that they come to expect it.
Be a good role model. If you want your child to be well-behaved, then you should model the behavior and character you hope your children will adopt and continue to live by the rules that you set. Show them by example in addition to verbal explanations. Children have a tendency to become what they see and hear unless they make a conscious and concerted effort to break the mold. You don't have to be a perfect person, but you should strive to do as you want your children to do, so you don't look hypocritical if you tell your children to be polite to others when they find you getting in a heated argument in the supermarket.
- It's perfectly okay to make mistakes, but you should apologize or let your child know that the behavior is not good. You can say something like, "Mommy didn't mean to yell at you. She was just very upset." This is better than ignoring that you made a mistake, because that will show the child that he or she should model this behavior.
- Want to teach kids about charity? Get involved and take your kids with you to a soup kitchen or homeless shelter and help serve up meals. Explain to them why you do acts of charity so they understand why they should.
- Teach kids about chores by setting a schedule and having them help you out. Don't tell your child to do something, but ask for their help. The earlier they learn to help you, the longer they will be willing to.
- If you want your son or daughter to learn to share, set a good example and share your things with them.
Respect your child's privacy. Respect their privacy as you would want them to respect yours; for example, if you teach your child that your room is out of boundaries to them, respect the same with their room. Allow them to feel that once they enter their room they can know that no one will look through their drawers, or read their diary. This will teach them to honor their own space and to respect the privacy of others.
- If your child catches you snooping through his or her things, then it may take him a long time to be able to truly trust you again.
Encourage your children to have a healthy lifestyle. It's important to make sure that your children eat healthy food as much as they can, that they get plenty of exercise, and that they get enough rest every night. You should encourage positive and healthy behavior without harping on it too much or making it seem like you're forcing your children to eat or act a certain way. Be the adviser, not the dictator. Let them come to these conclusions on their own while helping them see the meaning and importance of a healthy life.
- One way to encourage them to exercise is to get them to play a sport early on in life, so they find a passion that is also healthy.
- If you start over-explaining to the child that something is unhealthy or that they shouldn't get it, they may take it the wrong way and feel like you are condemning them. Once this happens, they may no longer want to eat with you, and they may feel bad eating around you, which could make them want to sneak and hide junk food from you.
- When trying to enforce healthy eating habits, start it at a younger age. Giving rewards of candy to children may create a bad habit, because once they get older, some may feel they should reward themselves which can lead to obesity. While they are young, start them out with healthier snacks. Instead of chips, try goldfish (crackers), grapes, etc.
- The eating habits they learn as they are younger are the ones they continue to have. Emphasize on finishing their plates, and teach them to take a small portion at a time; they can always take more afterwards, but they can't put food back after it has been on their plate.
Emphasize moderation and responsibility when it comes to alcohol consumption. You can start talking about this even when children are young. Explain that they will have to wait until they are old enough to enjoy a drink with friends, and talk about the importance of designated drivers. Failure to discuss these issues early sometimes contributes to sneaking and dangerous experimentation, if they don't understand.
- Once your friends get to an age where they and their friends start drinking alcohol, encourage them to talk about it with you. You don't want them to fear your reaction and to end up doing something regrettable, like driving drunk because they're too scared to ask for a ride.
Allow your kids to experience life for themselves. Don't make decisions for them all the time; they must learn how to live with the consequences from the choices they make. After all, they will have to learn to think for themselves sometime. It's best they start when you are there to help minimize the negative consequences and accentuate the positive ones.
- They need to learn that their own actions have consequences (good and bad). By doing so, it helps them to become good decision makers and problem solvers so that they are prepared for independence and adulthood.
Let your children make their own mistakes. Life is a great teacher. Don't be too quick to rescue your child from the results of their own actions if the consequences are not overly severe. For example, cutting themselves (in a minor way) may hurt, but it's better than leaving them unaware of why sharp objects should be avoided. Know that you can't protect your children forever, and they're better off learning life's lessons sooner than later. Though it can be hard to stand back and watch your child make a mistake, this will benefit both you and your child in the long run.
- You shouldn't say "I told you so" when your child learns a life lesson on his own. Instead, let your child draw his own conclusions about what happened.
Give up your vices. Gambling, alcohol and drugs can jeopardize your child's financial security. Smoking, for example, almost always introduces health hazards to your child's environment. Second-hand smoke has been linked to several respiratory ailments in children. It could also contribute to the early death of a parent. Alcohol and drugs might also introduce health hazards or violence to your child's environment.
- Of course, if you enjoy having some wine or a few beers now and again, that's perfectly fine, as long as you model healthy consumption of alcohol and responsible behavior while you do it.
Don't place unreasonable expectations on your child. There's a difference between wanting your child to be a responsible, mature individual and forcing your child to be perfect or to live up to your idea of what perfect should be. You shouldn't push your child to get perfect grades or to be the best player on his soccer team; instead, encourage good study habits and good sportsmanship, and let your child put in the effort that he is capable of.
- If you act like you only expect the best, your child will feel like he or she may never measure up, and may even rebel in the process.
- You don't want to be the person that your child is afraid of because he feels like he will never measure up. You want to be a cheerleader for your child, not a drill sergeant.
Know that a parent's work is never done. Though you may think you have already molded and raised your child into the person he or she will become by the time your child dons his or her graduation cap, this is far from true. Your parenting will have a life-long effect on your child and you should always give your child the love and affection he needs, even if you're hundreds of miles away. While you won't always be a constant daily presence in your child's life, you should always let your children know that you care about them and that you'll be there for them, no matter what.
- Your children will still turn to you for advice, and will still be affected by what you say no matter what age they are. As the years go on, you can not only improve your parenting techniques, but you can start to think about how to be a good grandparent!