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How to Be a Good Parent - a Compassionate Guide to Parenting

Contents

  1. How can I be a perfect parent?
  2. What qualities make a good parent?
  3. What are the most important parenting skills?
  4. How do I know if I am a good parent?

 

Parenting - it’s the toughest job you never trained for! We all strive to be good parents, but how do we know if we’re getting it right? And what makes a good parent?family-watching-childrens-movies

How can I be a perfect parent?

 

Here’s the good news. There’s no such thing as a perfect parent. In fact, being (or seeming) “perfect” isn’t helpful. We’re not making it up - science says so, and it’s not even new news! In the 1950s, paediatrician Dr Donald Winnicott introduced the idea that the ‘good enough’ parent was, in fact, better than the perfect parent. So, let’s look at how to be a good parent.

Firstly, what do kids really need? A recent analysis of children’s views on their well-being and happiness showed that “Feeling loved and having positive, supportive relationships, particularly with friends and family, including having someone to talk to and rely on were consistently stated as a top priority for children to have a happy life.”👩‍👧‍👦

 

What qualities make a good parent?

 

Perhaps you had the world’s best parents, or perhaps there are things you’d like to do differently. 

If you’re constantly researching “parenting 101” or “how to be a parent” then start by using your own childhood as a resource. 

This can be uncomfortable but self-reflection and awareness are vital to working out those parenting kinks, especially when you find yourself reacting strongly to something your child does or fails to do. When this happens, ask yourself why. For example, if you find that you get frustrated and impatient with your child needing you to walk them through their maths homework every week, take a moment to consider how your parents helped you (or didn’t) with schoolwork and how that affected you. 

 

What are the most important parenting skills?

 

It’s hard to provide a definitive list of good parenting qualities – but here are a few that consistently come out on top!

Be positive

One of the top qualities of good parents is positivity. Praising kids doesn’t spoil them, and complimenting them on behaviour and achievements only encourages more of the same while building self-esteem. Think about how you react to positive feedback from your boss or a partner.

If your child comes to you with a problem, work through it together. A good parenting approach is to start by finding solutions collaboratively rather than fixing problems for them. This will help your child develop the skills they need to work through future challenges more independently. By contrast, negative input like criticising or saying things like ‘why can’t you be more like X’ does not help in any way.

Communicate

As renowned psychotherapist Philipa Perry says "All behaviour is communication." Whether your toddler is upset because you gave them a blue spoon (and they were looking forward to choosing the green one – one of the few choices they’re allowed to make in a day) or your teenager is starting arguments at the dinner table (because they’re learning to think critically and challenge things – an important and valuable skill), what your kids do and say is the best evidence you have for what’s going on in their minds and worlds. 

If your child tells you that they’re unhappy, it doesn’t mean you’ve failed at being a parent, but simply that they need your help in navigating their emotions. Let them know that you’re listening to them by acknowledging their unhappiness and letting them express it rather than jumping to solutions.

The way in which we talk to our kids is important. Just because they lack life experience, it doesn’t mean we should talk down to them. Sometimes, it’s easier for us to shout statements from up high rather than explain what’s really going on. Remember, even small kids can handle explanations better than you think.

Your child says: I don’t want to wear my seat belt! It hurts!

You say: You have to wear your seat belt!

Try saying: I know it can be uncomfortable sometimes but I want you to be as safe as possible while we’re in the car – your safety is important to me.

Just as the best leaders acknowledge their faults, the best parents admit when they’ve made a mistake. If you get something wrong or lose your temper unnecessarily, don’t be afraid to address it and apologise. This shows your children that adults mess up too. Again, being perfect helps no one.

Be their safe place

You cannot spoil a child by showing them too much affection. Hugs and declarations of love should be as plentiful as your child needs them to be. Showing unconditional love, even when there’s been an issue or an upset will help your child feel more secure

If they hurt themselves, show sympathy rather than rushing to brush off their pain or discomfort. This won’t lead to them manipulating you for comfort or sympathy, and if you find that they do, it’s better to find out why rather than denying them their safe place.

Responding to what your child is telling you verbally, physically and emotionally is paramount to their development. In fact, studies have shown that “Children, especially preterm children, showed faster cognitive growth when mothers were consistently responsive.”

In social situations, it can be easy to get waylaid by other people’s expectations. Don’t force interactions on your child, especially physical ones. Laying down the boundaries of consent and ownership over their bodies can be a scary one to think about but simple to implement if you talk about it openly.

Whether you give your child the mantra of “my body, my choice” or let them choose whether to say goodbye to people with a hug, a high five or a wave – allowing them to decide how they interact with others is important. 

Be consistent 

Kids need boundaries and consistency. It’s undeniable that you’ll need to think about discipline at some point – but remember that the goal is to help them find their way to behaviour that isn’t harmful to others and learn to regulate their own emotions. Physical discipline such as spanking doesn’t work. According to Katie McLaughlin, a clinical psychologist and Harvard professor; “We know that spanking is not effective and can be harmful for children’s development and increases the chance of mental health issues.” 

Rules and routines help kids know what’s expected of them and what’s coming next. Involving older kids in the development of rules and routines can prevent them from feeling things are being imposed on them unreasonably.

Having boundaries in place doesn’t mean you can’t be flexible, especially as your kids grow. What was an appropriate rule for a toddler may be less suitable for a young child. Watching their boundaries grow helps children towards greater independence. 🌱

Give them your time

For busy working parents, it’s natural to want to treat your kids to bigger, more costly, activities to make up for the times when you haven’t been there. Whether you work because you need to, or you work because you love your job - or a combination of the two- you do not need to feel guilty for working.

Think about it like this, how can we encourage our kids to work hard to get into careers that they love if they’re then expected to give them up when they have their own kids? What does that teach them?

What matters is quality time. If, like most good parents, you’re time poor and worried that you aren’t getting enough quality time with your kid – try introducing a play session where they dictate what you do. Give them half an hour (or however long you can reasonably spend) where you actively engage in their favourite activity and do nothing else in that time – no laundry, no phones, no distractions. You may find that it turns out to be their favourite part of the day.

Self-Care (and self-kindness)

You are your child’s first role model so if they don’t see you taking care of yourself, how will they learn how to do the same for themselves? 

A recent survey found that 88% of women aged 35-49 who care for kids and their own ageing parents were stressed at work. That’s hardly surprising considering the multitude of things any parent has to juggle. Parenting can be hard and there are days when you collapse in an exhausted heap onto the sofa after loading the dishwasher, tidying away the toys and packing tomorrow’s lunch – and then you hear a cry from upstairs and want to burst into tears yourself.😿

The best parents know how to ask for help. If you have a partner, make sure you’re sharing the load in a way that works for you – and if you’re not, take steps to address it. Find ways to give each other time off. For some, this works ad hoc but for others, knowing you have a lie-in to look forward to on a specific day can really help.

For couples, booking in time to reconnect after a tough week of kid-wrangling and working is often overlooked. Use your support network and get friends to babysit so that you can leave the house and go for dinner together.

If you can afford it, outsource the jobs you dislike so you can prioritise family time and time alone. Do not, under any circumstances, compare yourselves to others, especially on social media. If you see a picture-perfect family online, know that it's just a snapshot, not a constant reality.📸

 

How do I know if I am a good parent?

 

The fact that you’re reading this article means you’re a good parent. 

That said, being a good parent doesn’t have to mean studying every parenting manual under the sun. It’s more about taking time to communicate, reflect and adapt. No one gets it right all the time so don’t beat yourself up when you get it wrong. 

Here at GoStudent, we’re all about giving parents a break. You can even book a free trial lesson with one of our expert tutors to help lighten the load.

 

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