Before your child is in your care, be it through birth, adoption, or another method, it is normal to wonder whether you’re going to make a good parent. We often think of how our parents took care of us and, while reflecting, consider which of their parenting practices we’d like to use with our own kids and what we’d like to avoid or do differently. For example, if your parents weren’t very receptive to your emotions, or if they had outdated methods of discipline, you might choose to be more sympathetic to the emotions of your own kids, and your discipline methods might better reflect current ideas.
Most new parents have something they want or need to learn before a child comes into the world, and the learning continues while that child grows up.
When it comes to being the best parent you can be, it might be less complex than you think. You’re unlikely to be a perfect parent every day; you can expect slip-ups, and as much as parenthood is about teaching your child, it is also about learning from your child and doing the best you can each day. This is true whether you just had your first or you’re on your third. Every child is different, and you’re likely to learn a lot from each of them.
That said, expecting parents and new parents often worry about finding the right information. Family and friends may have conflicting advice, and it can feel like a lot of pressure. Furthermore, ideas about parenting and family life often differ from culture to culture and group to group. So, we don’t need to parent the same way, but there are some strategies that almost anyone can implement to be the best parent possible.
As you research good parenting practices, you’re likely to come across information about certain parenting styles that most adults employ, knowingly or otherwise, when raising their children. Before we get into the aforementioned strategies, understanding what we know about these different parenting styles will be helpful. While all of these parenting styles are present in our society, they aren’t considered equally beneficial to the children who are brought up using them. There are four widely recognized styles. These include:
Often, you’ll quickly recognize the parent who uses the authoritarian style to raise their kids. They generally value obedience over all else and rarely give their child any say in how they are raised. These types of parents will typically set rules that children must follow without question. If a child breaks a rule, they frequently punish rather than using a different form of discipline. This style of parenting can have negative consequences.
Permissive parenting is generally defined by a lack of boundaries or guidance for kids. A parent may see the child as more of a friend, and their behavior will usually reflect that relationship. Utilizing the permissive style, parents are overall very tolerant and accommodating when it comes to what the child wants to do. And it’s not that they don’t care. They may actually be very present and available; but they often don’t help kids with self-regulating or maintaining discipline.
Uninvolved parenting is, in many ways, almost exactly what it sounds like. This parenting style typically applies to a parent who neglects to provide necessary emotional support or encouragement, fails to set rules or boundaries, and generally places very few demands on the child. Without proper parental guidance, the child is often left to figure things out on their own.
Of the four styles, this one is the most highly recommended. Authoritative parenting is characterized by positive reinforcement, nurturing, respect for the child, and rationality. In other words, this type of parenting is a more moderate approach, taking positive qualities from the other styles and combining them. Authoritative parenting emphasizes good communication between children and parents as well as empathy towards your child’s emotions. It’s a balanced approach where you show interest in your kids’ lives, give them autonomy, and provide them with guidance. Research shows that children raised this way are more likely to become independent, academically successful, and well behaved.
Someone whose style can be characterized as uninvolved, permissive, or authoritarian is by no means a bad parent or person. It’s possible, however, that they can become even better parents by rethinking their approach or simply taking tips and ideas from the authoritative style.
Research-Backed Parenting Tips
Considering so many different things can play into ideas about parenting, it may be tough to identify what matters most. Again, different people have different opinions, and your own familial background, culture, and other factors can play a role, too. Most strategies aren’t going to provide an all-encompassing solution; but by utilizing some of the below ideas, you can add proven, effective tactics to your parenting approach.
Here are some research-backed tips to consider:
Spend More Time Reinforcing Good Behavior And Effort
Parents often think that the only thing keeping their child from behaving poorly is the fear of punishment. Discipline is indeed important, and you will likely need rules (and fair consequences for breaking them); but research shows that children respond better to praise than they do to discipline. If you praise more than you punish, it allows your child to learn what is expected of them and choose constructive behavior instead.
That said, praise doesn’t need to be constant. If it is, it might become the child’s primary motivator. It is also thought that praising effort rather than ability is more beneficial in the long run. So, you might praise a child for sitting down and putting time into their homework instead of simply telling them how hard of a worker they are or how smart they are.
Certain behaviors accompany specific developmental stages and can be expected in most kids — while others indicate that your child may need additional reinforcement or consequences to alleviate the issue. Some boundary-pushing behaviors are to be expected during a child’s development, and of course, kids change as they grow and come into themselves. Be mindful of the age of your child; you may know that they’re, say, 11, 12, or 13, but there are times when you might need to say to yourself, “Okay, they’re 12. I can’t expect them to be like they were when they were 8.”
Embrace the growing ability in your child to form their own thoughts and opinions. Of course, if they pick up on harmful habits and behaviors, you can step in and explain how you’d like to work with them to alter those things, and why. But it is recommended to give kids (especially those in their teenage years) age-appropriate freedom of choice, like picking out their own clothes or having more autonomy over what they read or watch.
Children are almost constantly watching us; and as they grow up, they will likely start to emulate their parents’ behaviors, relationships, and conversational styles. For parents who are aware of their behavioral patterns, this can be a good thing. However, some parents may not have the healthiest habits or might not be as careful about what they say or do; and these things can rub off on the child. They may start to incorporate these actions or behaviors into their life, and it can affect how they feel about themselves, their confidence, and so on.
One common example is negative parental self-talk and body image. Experts note that kids with parents who speak negatively about their own body and appearance are more likely to have a negative body image themselves and may internalize harmful messages that can impact health, mental and physical, long term. To help cultivate a positive body image, highlight that people come in all shapes and sizes when the topic comes up — and try to focus on what the body can do rather than how it looks.
Another example is apologizing when you need to. No parent is perfect, and the time will likely come when you need to say “I’m sorry” to or in front of your child. Not only does this give them closure, but it teaches them to apologize to others when needed, too.
Raising a child is hard work, and it’s work that piles on top of other adult responsibilities, such as maintaining a job, paying bills, and trying to squeeze in hobbies like the gym or spending time outdoors. It is rewarding, but it is a job within itself as well. Some children start to drift away from their parents when they gain more independence, and as a busy adult, you may have trouble noticing any growing distance between you and your child. The truth is that, more than anything, kids need you to be emotionally available. They need a safe space to talk about how they feel, to be honest, and so on. Know that your kids will need you — sometimes, more than ever — as teens and adults.
It’s not that you need to hover; this can have an opposite, and even negative, impact. But it can be helpful to show your child that you really are there and set aside quality time with them.
Make Sure To Provide A Stable, Creative, Loving Environment For Your Child
Structure and stability can help your child to grow and develop. Children often feel unsafe when things aren’t predictable, and they may develop behavior issues if there is no routine. An environment that is not only secure, but also allows them to be creative, learn, grow, and be loved unconditionally will help them thrive. In other words, focus on what really matters. It’s easy to get caught up in the small stuff; but at the end of the day, sticking to your word (e.g., picking them up from school when you say you will), showing them affection, embracing their autonomy, and giving them room to be themselves can make a huge impact in their lives.
Raising a child means making sure they are properly cared for, but it’s vital to look after your own mental and physical wellbeing too. This means practicing self-care regularly and reaching out for additional support so that you can take a break to recharge when needed. Some things, like affording a babysitter, aren’t viable for everyone. And financial matters, stress, and mental or physical health concerns, like postpartum depression, can all have an impact.
You might not be able to access some things the way other parents can, which may create additional challenges. Creativity and support from the people around you can do wonders. Sometimes, people feel guilty for taking care of themselves; but think of it this way: if you take care of yourself, you’re helping ensure that your child is being raised by the best version of their parent. You’re worthy of it — and you’re setting a positive example, too.
Even the American Psychological Association notes the importance of parents taking care of themselves, both for the parent and the child. Know that your needs matter and don’t hesitate to reach out for help when you need it.
Reaching Out For Help As A Parent
Whether you want to speak about your own psychological or emotional health, talk about parenting concerns, or address something else that’s affecting you and your life, the support of a professional therapist can help. They’re unbiased and can create a safe space that’s solely for you and your mental health. It’s a way to care for yourself, which, again, is advantageous not just for you but for your family, too. Signing up for online therapy through BetterHelp is a way to get professional support without leaving your home, making it a practical and accessible option for parents and other people with busy lives. Whether you see a provider in person or remotely, you deserve quality support and care as you navigate the wonders of parenthood.