Parenting is not only the most important role most of us will hold in our lifetimes, but also determines the health, well-being, and future potential of the tiny people we are entrusted to raise — yet, remarkably, it’s a job that comes with very little training. There is no tried-and-true parenting manual, no required certifications, no mandatory course work prior to your first day; you just acquire a tiny, helpless human being and the world trusts you to figure it out.
The prospect can seem rather overwhelming as you gaze at the living, breathing blank slate whose story you will help write, but a combination of parenting resources, instincts, adaptability, and life experience will help you polish your parenting practices, to put you and your child on the path to future success.
Here’s what we’ll cover:
- How to improve as a parent
- Communicate effectively
- Support positive relationships
- Value health and safety
- Commit to social-emotional development
- Foster confidence and self-esteem
- Engage in education
- Invest time and attention
How to improve as a parent
The desire to improve as a parent is a promising sign that you’re already dedicated to your role, aware of its importance, and invested in your child’s development, so give yourself a proverbial pat on the back for taking the steps to seek out additional information.
There is no singular “right” way to parent; so much depends on your child’s specific needs and disposition, your own parenting style, and life’s circumstances, but the general recipe to become as educated and well-informed as possible involves three ingredients:
- Expert advice: Although there is no sole source of truth when it comes to how to be a good parent, there is an abundance of scientifically-backed research that has explored various ideas, techniques, and outcomes. Ask your pediatrician for advice, get input from educators, check out parenting books written by qualified authors, and do your research on relevant websites.
- Collective experience: It really does take a village, and that village is just as instrumental in raising the parent as it is the child. Find a community of parents that you can connect with, whether it’s an online parenting forum or a local playgroup, and share, vent, and learn from your peers.
- Instincts and intuition: You are inherently an expert when it comes to your child, even if you don’t know the first thing about parenting. Pay attention to the advice, concerns, and impulses your inner voice may try to communicate and give yourself credit for being a credible source of information when it comes to your little one.
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Finding the right resources, along with a commitment to improving the following parenting skills, can help support your child’s success:
Clear and open communication is essential to any healthy relationship but is particularly important between a child and parent. Communicating is more than just dialog; it involves listening without judgment, an ability to share feelings, a willingness to express our needs, a desire to understand the other person’s position, and a commitment to resolving any issues — and this works both ways. Model good communication skills by being consistent, patient, responsive, and a generous listener.
Support positive relationships
Just as you gain wisdom from multiple sources of information, so does your child. Exposing children to a variety of perspectives, experiences, and personality types is valuable to their social development, particularly in early childhood. Encourage healthy relationships with child care providers, caregivers, friends, and family members, to ensure that your child feels supported and appreciated by others, and to help them learn about the importance of making and maintaining social connections.
Value health and safety
From understanding developmental milestones to correctly installing a car seat, there’s a lot of ground to cover when it comes to advocating for and protecting your child. Be proactive about researching potential health and safety issues for each new age range your child reaches, and when it comes to matters of health and safety, always seek out expert advice.
Commit to social-emotional development
Social skills are largely learned through a combination of practice and observing others. Young children do a lot of their learning through play, and playing is an ideal way to work on connecting and communicating with peers. Enroll your toddler or preschooler in an activity or playgroup to help them refine the art of making and keeping friends. Parents can help by teaching children how to introduce themselves to others, how to ask another child if they would like to play, and by working on basic social etiquette to give them a head start with successful playdates. Providing children with opportunities to practice important social-emotional skills like turn-taking, sharing, and being considerate of others can benefit them for years to come.
Foster confidence and self-esteem
A sense of confidence and positive self-esteem are essential to maintaining a healthy self-image, and can contribute to social, academic, and professional success later in life. Nurturing your child’s self-esteem is a bigger job than simply complimenting them often. Help them carry that confidence out into the world by teaching them problem-solving skills, emphasizing the importance of mental health, and working on self-control and positive behaviors, so that they can thrive in a multitude of environments and situations. Teaching your child life skills empowers them to navigate through the world independently, and their confidence and self-esteem will flourish as a result.
Engage in education
Taking an interest in your child’s education is clearly important, but parental involvement is more impactful than many realize. Research shows that students with parents who are involved in their education often perform better than their peers, regardless of intelligence. The reasons for this are two-fold: involved parents often have more open communication with their child’s teacher, which may result in a more collaborative effort regarding a child’s behavior or development, and children with involved parents feel more cognitively competent. Being involved can range from helping with homework each night to being the PTA president — there are many varied opportunities to have a positive influence on your child’s education.
Invest time and attention
If you’re researching ways to become a better parent, then you’re very likely on the right track with one of the most important skills a parent can have; providing your child with time and attention. Effective parenting involves creating an environment of love, trust, and respect, and this ideally starts at birth. Responsiveness teaches newborns that their needs will be thoughtfully and consistently met and establishes a sense of security. Listen to what your child has to say, observe them for clues about things that they may be unable to express, and make the time to demonstrate that they are a top priority for you.
In most jobs, experience is a better teacher than an employee handbook, and parenting is no different. Take an active role in your child’s safety, social skills, and schooling, be generous with your time, attention, and affection, and keep your parental education current by knowing which resources you can trust and seeking them out as needed.