How to Improve Parenting Skills

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Your role as a parent is one of the most important jobs you will ever have. You are responsible for taking care of your children and making sure they have the tools they need to grow into successful and well-adjusted adults. Even the best parents have room for improvement. You can improve your parenting skills by having more positive interactions with your child, avoiding negative behaviors, and supporting yourself.

 

Increasing Positive Interactions

Spend quality time with each child. The foundation of good parenting lies in the relationship you have with your kids. If you never sit down and have one-on-one time with your children, you’ll find it challenging to relate to them, and vice versa. Devote at least one hour of quality time per week with each child.[1]This time should be spent with positive interactions, such as cheering your child on as they build a fort or talking to them about their school week. Avoid using this time to correct or teach. Simply enjoy being together.

Set clear, empathetic limits. No matter how hard they may push against it, children thrive with structure. You can practice good parenting by setting limits with your child from a very young age. Limit-setting isn’t the same as punishment. In fact, you will use empathy to establish appropriate limits while still showing your child that you’re on their side.[2]For example, you might set the limit that your child cannot play with his ball in the front yard. You might say, “I know you like playing with your ball in the front yard, but you get caught up in playing and run out into the street. It’s safer if you play in the gate out back.”

With this method, you are explaining the limit while still showing that you understand why your child wants to play with the ball in the front. By showing empathy for their feelings, they are much more likely to follow your directive.

Ask them questions, and listen to the answers. Starting out communicating with your children while they are young sets a positive tone for adolescence. A great rule-of-thumb is to ask three “you” questions each day. This teaches your child conversation skills while also helping you learn more about them and their experiences.[3]You might ask, “What would you like to do for fun this weekend?” “What did you learn in school today?” or “What are you going to wear for picture day?”

Once you ask the questions, actively listen to their answers. Look for openings to take the conversation further and to keep them talking. For instance, you daughter says, “I don’t know what I want to wear for picture day” with a moan. You might say, “You don’t sound excited. I thought you usually enjoyed picture day.”

Practice what you preach. Many parents go by the “do as I say, not as I do” principle. Such an attitude may lead to a confused child. Plus, your child may still end up following in your footsteps. Send the message that the limits you set are important by upholding them yourself.[4]This includes all habits, from not bullying to not abusing drugs or alcohol. Instead set a positive example with healthy behaviors that you child will pick up from you.

Decreasing Unhelpful Habits

Soften intense reactions. Children and adolescents are notorious for pushing buttons. Often, they do this to get a rise out of their parents. However, when you respond with anger, you teach inappropriate emotional regulation. Take a moment to collect yourself. Then, respond in a soft, empathetic way.[5]For example, your son asks can he play the video game for the tenth time. Instead of exploding with “No, stop asking!” say “Tom, I know you like to play the video game, but the answer is still no. Your privileges were taken away for a reason.”

Avoid over-functioning for the kids. Children and adolescents need some level of autonomy to learn new skills and increase self-efficacy. They can’t do that if you’re always doing everything for them. As a parent, it can be hard to give your child some space. But let them do the tasks they are capable of doing for themselves so that they can learn.[6]Once you see that your toddler has tooth brushing down, let them do it for themselves. Resist the urge to take over when you’re feeling rushed.

Skip the nagging and praise positive behaviors instead. Reinforcement works for both negative and positive behaviors–whatever you give attention to increases. Instead of nagging your child about inappropriate behaviors, stop giving attention to them. On the other hand, when your child does something desirable, offer praise or encouragement.For instance, your child helps their younger sibling clear away their toys. You might say, “Wow, Henry! Thanks so much for being a good helper!”

 

Learn how to handle parenting conflicts. Bad-mouthing your spouse’s approach in front of the kids can give your kids an open door for playing you against one another. Respect your spouse or co-parent’s differences. Discuss disagreements away from little eyes and ears.Try to compromise based on who feels more strongly about what. If you are passionate about your children eating a plant-based diet, stick to your guns. However, if you don’t have a strong opinion about your children’s religion, then don’t fight your spouse about it, if they do. If you both feel strongly about a subject, brainstorm ways you can meet in the middle.

 

Helping Yourself Be a Better Parent

 

Build a strong support system. It really does take a village to raise a child. You might count on a variety of other adults to help you with your child—teachers, coaches, child care professionals, and parents. But, oftentimes parents don’t really activate the available resources. Leaning on social support can help you fight stress and become an even better parent.Don’t hesitate to ask for help or advice when you need it. You might ask your child’s teacher, “Things have been a little rocky at home since the divorce. Do you mind keeping an eye on Talia to see if she’s adjusting okay?”

Social support also means spending time with other adults on occasion. Schedule in time to hang out with friends, host a family dinner, or plan a romantic date night with your partner.

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