My number one goal – more than being highly regarded in my community or super successful in my career – is being a good parent to my children. I want them to grow up knowing that they are loved and supported, and feel that they receive valuable lessons along the way. But, like all parents, I am learning as I go, so I often find myself wondering what makes a good parent?
A lot of new moms and dads are advised simply to "follow their instincts" when it comes to parenting. But as Laurence Steinberg, a professor of psychology at Temple University in Philadelphia, told WebMD, some parents have better instincts than others. In other words, your gut reactions as a parent can vary depending on your own upbringing and the behaviors you have witnessed in other parents. These behaviors may even be outdated and dangerous, such as putting your baby to sleep on their stomach, or introducing solids too early. Trusting your gut isn't always successful if you don't know the right strategies.
In order to find out what really makes a good parent, Romper reached out to psychologist Dr. Wendy B. Rice, child and family therapist Meghan Dahlin, and mental health counselor Ally Chase. Here is what these three highly regarded experts have to say about the makings of an amazing parent.
1. They Pay Attention To Their Kids
It might seem like your kids are OK doing their own thing while you spend your evenings returning work emails or scrolling mindlessly online, but Rice explains that kids actually want their parents' attention more than anything. "Remember that and give it to them," she says. "Put your phone away – it can wait until later."
Dahlin agrees, saying that kids don’t want things as much as they want quality time and positive interactions with their parents. She suggests you, "make breakfast together, do chores together around the house, go on walks, or find a hobby that you both can do together that gets you active or helps you just spend time together."
2. They Set Up Rewards & Consequences
Successful parents set up expectations and rules in the house that everyone understands, Dahlin says. They explain the rewards and consequences that will occur when kids follow or break the rules. As she explains:
Most parents forget the positive aspect of reinforcement. They also underestimate that they are the best reinforcers, because kids want so much to please and bond with their parent. Positive reinforcement doesn’t need to cost money—it can be a kind word, an excited round of applause, or the kids can earn things like choosing their favorite dish for dinner, having special time with just that parent to talk, read a book, watch a movie, or build a fort.
Rice agrees, adding that a few minutes of prepping and planning before an outing (letting your child know how you’d like them to act, where they need to be, the kind of voice volume you’d like to see and what they can expect to encounter) can make a world of difference. She also says that, in regards to punishments, the negative consequences must work for parents first. For example, if you need your child to have his or her phone with them at all times so that you can reach them, threatening to take it away may bother your kids but could potentially inconvenience you more.
3. They Consistently Follow Through
According to Dahlin, consistency is one of the most important parenting strategies. If the parents engage in what she calls "lazy parenting," their kids won’t take them seriously as authority figures.
Rice adds that you shouldn't bother with consequences if you know you aren't going to follow through. "I strongly discourage empty threats and promises," she says. "Do your best to say what you mean and mean what you say to your kids. It goes a long way in building trust in relationships."
4. They Acknowledge Their Kids' Achievements
Rice tells Romper that good parenting is about catching your children being good and acknowledging them for their actions. Often, kids get the most attention for doing the wrong things. Think of all of the times you say “stop doing that” or “if you don’t…” Instead, it is important to let them know you see them and appreciate them when they are helpful, courteous, respectful, kind and generous. Rice says:
If we only pay attention to them when they are misbehaving, we may be inadvertently reinforcing the behavior we don’t want to see which will likely make it continue to happen. In fact, the more attention you pay to misbehavior, the stronger that behavior pattern is likely to become.
5. They Don't Spoil Their Children
Dahlin warns that one of the biggest epidemics of parenting today is overindulgence. If parents buy their kids everything they want, they can't be surprised when they realize they have entitled children. She explains, "kids need to learn to earn extras, which will help them later in life in the workforce and in other areas of adulthood to be a contributing member of society."
6. They Teach Their Kids To Be Safely Self-Sufficient
There comes a point in every child's life when their parents have to stop micromanaging every move they make without putting them in harm's way. Chase tells Romper that a good parent helps their child learn to be autonomous while also advocating for them, including their basic needs. "Parents must understand that their child's brain is incapable of adult-level reasoning, and that they therefore must be guided to make decisions which will keep them safe and healthy," she says.
7. They Are Empathetic Toward Their Children
Rice says that when your kids are upset, you should first show them some empathy and let them know that you care and understand how they are feeling. "We all want to feel understood and kids are no exception," she says. "This helps them to figure out how they are feeling and lets them feel less alone in their anger, frustration and sadness."
When a child's feelings are acknowledged, they tend to calm down which will give you the chance to help them cope with whatever is upsetting them.
8. They Model Respectful Behavior
If you want your kids to speak respectfully to you, Rice suggests that you model this in how you speak to them, your spouse, and to other people you encounter along the way. She says:
Kids will do what we do much more than what we say. If you happen to hear a tone in your child’s voice that makes you cringe, you may want to take a look at yourself first to see if they might have learned it from you. And if so, that’s okay, it's your first step to making a change in that department.