You start out as the most important person in your child’s life. While your goal is to raise an independent individual who will forge their own path in life, the choices you make now could make or break their future.
This pressure can feel overwhelming at times, and there are no easy answers that will guarantee that you’re doing the right thing. However, if you approach parenting with diligence, empathy, and a willingness to keep learning, you can’t get it too wrong.
Let’s talk about some of the cornerstones of being a good parent.
Create Sufficient Time for Your Children
It is fundamental that you spend enough time with your kids. Parenting requires significant attentiveness. You have to do your best to always be there when they need you.
But this is one of the greatest challenges a parent may face. After all, part of your role is to provide the material circumstances that will help your child flourish. Not everyone can afford to be a stay-at-home parent, and flexible workplaces are still too rare.
How do you find time for your child? Here are a few tips you can start with:
- If possible, create parent-children talk time to build communication and confidence between you and your children. This could be before bedtime or when walking after school.
- Do chores together.
- Spend some planned time alone with the kids, without your partner. For example, take them out for a hike or just stay home and see a movie. Similarly, if you have more than one child, try to spend some one-on-one time with each of them.
- Prioritize the time spent together over other considerations. Sometimes, this means signing the children up for fewer extracurriculars, and sometimes it means turning down a promotion.
Even if you do your best, establishing this balance can be extremely challenging. Single parents are in an especially difficult position, and so are working-class parents. But there’s some good news to keep in mind. There is a growing awareness of how important it is for parents to spend time with their kids. Some workplaces and educational institutions are trying to make this easier than it used to be.
Some Heartening Statistics
Research (Dotti Sani & Treas 2016) from 11 wealthy nations revealed that parents spend considerably more time with their children now than they used to.
In 1965, mothers would spend an average of 54 minutes daily with their children. Fathers dedicated much less time to the kids, spending only around 16 minutes a day with them.
By 2012, the numbers have more than doubled. Mothers dedicated around 104 minutes daily to their kids, while fathers managed 59 minutes.
This paper also showed that more time spent with children improves their success rate, and that the time spent with them grows significantly every year.
Be a Good Listener
An interesting study from the International Journal of Engineering Development and Research revealed a “significant positive relationship between depression and authoritarian parenting styles. It indicates that the higher the authoritarian parenting style is, the higher the level of depression.” (Susheela 2018)
One of the takeaways here is that setting rules for your child isn’t the most important part of being a parent. The study showed that empathy is a core parental virtue. Seeing things from your children’s perspective gives you a chance to help them solve their problems. But you may also recognize some mistakes in your parenting methods, which gives you a chance to course-correct.
Communication between you and your children must be two-sided, meaning that opinions need to flow both ways. Never think that your children are too old to have a relevant and honest opinion. Even if they lack the experience to understand the situation to the fullest, it’s important not to mock them or brush off their concerns.
Do your best to empower your children to express their grievances. Listen carefully when they talk to you, show attentiveness by looking them in the eye and gesturing to show you empathize with them. Brief statements like “I understand”, and “oh, I see” are crucial in showing your children that you are hearing them out in detail. Additionally, make sure to avoid distractions, like checking your phone or glancing at the television. Even when your child is young, they may pick up on your disinterest.
Feel Free to Commend Them
Many parents are reluctant to praise their children, as they fear that compliments could inflate the ego of the child. However, this isn’t the best approach. Your children need to be commended for their achievements so they can appreciate their own accomplishments. Congratulating your kids on positive feats builds their desire to conquer more milestones.
If your child succeeded at something, compliment them. But when possible, praise your kids more for their hard work than for their natural talents. This will prove extremely valuable in their studies and later professional career, as it places the focus on perseverance. It will also help them build a healthy sense of self-confidence which is based on traits they can control. For example, a child who is only praised for being smart may get discouraged if they run into an obstacle they can’t outsmart. But if your child knows that you also consider them to be hard-working and resilient, they will trust their own ability to handle the situation.
Piling negative criticism on your children will severely dampen their self-confidence as they grow. Criticize them constructively when necessary, but don’t shame them or make jokes at their expense.
Control Your Anger
Sometimes, your children will make you angry. However, you should try your best to maintain your composure and avoid flying into a careless rage. Being emotionally unstable creates an atmosphere of unpredictability, one where your children will keep expecting you to lose your temper again. This builds distrust and resentment, and it could make your children overly careful or skeptical around you. Your relationship will suffer as a result.
Keep in mind that your children need to be able to express themselves at home and to trust you to be on their side. If they are excessively wary of your anger, they will understandably try to hide their shortcomings. They also won’t learn productive ways to express their own negative feelings.
So what can you do to stop yourself from reacting with too much anger? Acknowledge your own emotions, and then take a break and try to diffuse that mental tension. Walk away, if you have to. Then return and make sure to talk about the situation. Cold, silent anger on your part is no better than explosive rage.
You might slip up on occasion, reacting badly in a tense situation. In this case, be humble enough to acknowledge your wrongs and apologize to your children.
Avoid Making Comparisons
If you have two or more children, take a moment to appreciate the individuality of each child. Everyone’s genetic makeup is unique, and so is their personality. No two children have the exact same experiences, needs, and priorities.
You should do your best to celebrate – rather than condemn – the differences between your children. Obvious favoritism will only breed rivalry among your children. Ideally, siblings should inspire each other, rather than bring each other down.
But comparing your children to their classmates can also have severe detrimental effects to their mental health and their success in life. Parenting expert Julie Lythcott-Haims says that being overly concerned with grades and school accomplishments can be just as dangerous as neglecting the wellbeing of one’s child.
“We expect our kids to perform at a level of perfection we were never asked to perform at ourselves,” Lythcott-Haims warns. This mindset can lead to anxiety and depression in children and teenagers. At the same time, many of the kids growing up in this kind of high-pressure environment never learn to be assertive and to make decisions independently (Lythcott-Haims 2016).
For more information on these pressures and how to avoid them, check out the following TED Talk by Lythcott-Haims about the dangers of ‘checkmark childhoods’.
The takeaway is simple – if you want your children to improve, let them develop at their own pace, without constantly comparing them to anyone else. This will make them feel as if they’re not good enough for you and for the world.
More than anything else, you should love your children. Shower them with acceptance and affection when you can. Don’t forget about the power of touch: a kiss, a hug, a gentle squeeze can do wonders.
Good parenting is one of the best gifts you can ever give to your child, and you have what it takes to provide that. Remember that there are many resources at your disposal, whether you need advice or a listening ear. You don’t have to do all this alone.
- TED Talk – Lessons from the Longest Study on Human Development
- Nine Steps to More Effective Parenting
- 10 Commandments of Good Parenting
- Never Too Late to Become the Parent You Want To Be
- The collapse of parenting: Why it’s time for parents to grow up