Raising kids is never easy. In fact, it’s often one of the most challenging—and frustrating—things you will ever do, especially because you are learning parenting skills as you go. No one goes into parenting knowing exactly how to handle everything that is thrown at them. But the best parents are always looking for ways to improve.
If you want to learn more about parenting, you’ve already made the first step toward becoming the best parent you can be. Clearly, you care about how you interact with and raise your kids; that’s likely the most important part of being a good parent.
Parents who struggle with their parenting responsibilities or feel too overwhelmed to try to improve may be negatively impacting their kids. Neuroscience research shows that when kids are exposed to negative experiences during their childhood, it can be harmful to their developing brains.1
But being a good parent can offset those negative experiences—and enhancing your positive parenting skills is a great place to start. To help you work on consistently improving your parenting skills, view this parenting skill checklist of six things you can do right now to be a better parent to your kids.
Listen to Your Kids
Have you ever been so busy that you don’t realize your kids are talking to you? Don’t worry—it happens to the best of us. However, when you are spending time with your child, do your best to avoid distractions, including those intrusive thoughts about work, the laundry, or your phone that seems to be calling your name.
Make it a priority to know what your kids are hoping for, what they fear, and what they feel anxious about. Listen and ask questions, even if they ignore you or try to evade answering. When you demonstrate that you care, you are showing them that you love and value them and their thoughts and opinions.
Active listening also means you focus on what is being said without thinking about how you’re going to respond. It’s about watching body language and picking up on cues.
Another way to improve your listening skills is to get on your child’s level so that you can look them in the eye. That may mean kneeling down so that you match their height. Give your kids your complete attention and make good eye contact.
Even reaching out and gently touching their arm or holding their hand when they’re upset communicates not only that they have your full attention, but that you empathize with what they’re feeling.
Stick to Your Rules
As a parent, it’s your job to teach your kids the difference between right and wrong, which means you need to follow the rules, too. So, when you do something wrong, make a mistake, or lose your cool, fess up. Model how to apologize, take responsibility for your actions and make amends.
You also need to be sure your discipline is consistent but flexible. For instance, there will be times when you’ll say no to your kids and mean it. There will be other times when you realize you’ve made a mistake or perhaps responded too harshly.
If you do change your rules, be sure you say, “I was wrong,” and explain why you changed your mind. Also, remember that we all make mistakes. So, don’t be afraid to admit that.
However, when the punishment fits the crime, stick to your guns. Kids notice inconsistencies and will use them in their favor. Remember, rules must be enforced after they are made. And whatever rules are set in your house, you need to follow them as well, unless you have a really good reason why you’re excluded.
Be a Good Role Model
Don’t do anything in front of your children that you wouldn’t want them to do. If you find yourself exhibiting behavior that you don’t want your child to mimic, then it’s a sign you should change how you react in certain situations. Kids will copy what you do, not what you say.
Remember, your kids are watching you head off to work every day. They see you doing chores, making dinner, and paying the bills. As a result, it’s important that they see you managing your responsibilities to the best of your abilities. Just remember, you aren’t trying to be perfect, you’re just teaching them about the importance of hard work, responsibility, and honesty.
Control Your Emotions
If you lose your cool in front of your kids, they may become fearful or anxious, especially if they are younger. Whether you’re arguing with a customer service representative on the phone or you’re having a disagreement with your spouse, do your best to avoid exhibiting reactive, immature, or mean behavior in the presence of your children.
Anytime you lose control, yell, or argue with someone, you’re showing your children this is how people react when times get tough. Instead, demonstrate how you can keep your cool and resolve problems in a calm manner. When you do, you’re showing them what emotional intelligence looks like.
If you do blow up, be sure to apologize and take responsibility for your anger. Doing so is another way to model healthy behavior.
Sometimes parents struggle with unrealistic expectations and goals for both their kids and for themselves. When this happens, parenting can feel burdensome and overwhelming. If you find that you regularly feel that way, you may need to be more flexible when it comes to yourself, your kids, and your parenting.
Being a perfectionist parent is stressful. Not only do parents in this camp fear messing their kids up for life, but they also put extreme pressure on their kids to perform flawlessly. They also expect way too much of themselves.
Likewise, if you are a perfectionist, you may worry about what other parents think of you or that you will be shamed for your parenting. For instance, you might feel that your toddler isn’t potty training fast enough or that your school-age kids aren’t doing well enough in school. This kind of pressure can backfire, especially if your expectations set your child up to feel like a failure.
It’s important to take a step back and reevaluate whether or not your expectations are realistic.
Likewise, learn to be more flexible and let go of things that don’t matter in the long run. Both you and your kids will benefit from a more go-with-the-flow attitude.
Show Lots of Love
There’s no doubt that you love your kids, but how do you show them? Do you shower them with kisses and hugs as often as you can? Remember, embracing your child will make them feel safe and loved. So will holding their hand, stroking their hair, and kissing their cheek.
Another way to show love is to spend time together. This is a great way to show kids that they are a priority to you. Just don’t forget to actively engage with them. This means putting down your phone and really engaging with your kids.
Also, initiate activities, such as playing board games, enjoying outdoor activities, or simply talking with your children to make the most of the time you have together. Showing interest in things that they are passionate about is another great way to show your kids that you love and understand them.
So, if your child loves basketball, watch a basketball-themed movie or play HORSE (a two-person basketball game) together. You could even watch March Madness or the NBA playoffs with them. Likewise, if your child likes painting, consider spending an hour painting with them or taking them to the art museum or an arts and crafts festival.
No matter what your kids’ interests are, they can be a great vehicle for engaging with them. When you show you care about what your kids care about, that encourages them to be more compliant with your rules and lets them know that you love them.