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How to Be a Good Parent

Reviewed by Psychology Today Staff

There is no one right way to be a good parent, although there are many proven ways to be a flawed one, such as abuse, neglect, or overindulgence. A key challenge is resisting the urge to manage, guide, or control kids at all times, but research suggests that parents who give their children room to explore, grow, and, importantly, fail, may be serving them better. No parent should allow kids to put their health or safety at risk, or to allow core house rules to be flouted, especially when it comes to daily home and school responsibilities. But beyond that, building a home life that provides caring, consistency, choices, and consequences should go a long way toward a child’s social, emotional, and intellectual development—which should also lead to a stronger parent-child bond and happier child-raising years for everyone involved.

Making a Happy Home

A paradox of parenting is that kids typically need less from their mothers and fathers than the adults realize. What they need, though, is essential: Love, emotional security, conversation, validation, responsibilities, time outside, and opportunities to play and learn. Parents who can focus their attention on these baseline goals and avoid getting caught up in the minutiae of measuring minutes on screens or dictating which shirt gets worn to preschool, will find that they and their children will enjoy each other more, and that their kids will more quickly become comfortable with their own selves.

How can parents bond with their children?

Daily routines, and regular rituals, can be a powerful way to bond with children and help them feel emotionally secure. Time spent each day reading together, listening to music, going outside, performing a simple chore, and especially a positive interaction to start the day and open time at bedtime to review the day and say goodnight, research finds, helps kids establish a stable, positive emotional outlook.

Why is conversation so important for children?

Research on the casual chitchat also known as banter has found that it is essential for children’s emotional development, and for their vocabulary. Informal talks with parents expand kids’ knowledge and skills, and has positive emotional and social effects that last into adulthood. Weekend plans, neighborhood news, funny memories, seasonal changes, to-do lists, dream recollections, and things that excite you are all valid topics for banter during quiet portions of the day.

Avoiding Pitfalls

It’s impossible for a parent to be perfect. Fortunately, it’s not that hard to be the right parent for your own child. Listening, being supportive, encouraging activity and creativity, and establishing a secure family structure all go a long way toward providing the kind of childhood that help kids thrive. Unfortunately, even in the pursuit of these goals, parents can go too far by overscheduling kids, micromanaging them, refusing to recognize learning or emotional struggles for what they are, modeling unhealthy responses to stress, violating boundaries, or criticizing kids or comparing them to others—even siblings—out of frustration.

Can a parent ever be perfect?

In a word, no, and no child can be perfect, either. But parents who believe perfection is attainable, in themselves or their kids, often struggle to take any joy in their role, or to provide joy to their children. It’s easy for a parent to become self-critical and beat themselves up over opportunities they didn’t offer their kids, or for not pushing them hard enough. But an intense, overscheduled childhood may not be the right one for your child. Being a “good enough” parent, many experts suggest, is sufficient to raise children who are decent and loving, confident enough to pursue their interests, and able to fail.

Is parenting primarily about being in control?

It shouldn’t be. Many parents believe they should control children at all times, directing them to fit their own vision of what type of person they should become. Such parents may be shocked and angered when children resist such pushing, leading to power struggles and potentially years of conflict. Parents who instead focus on baseline expectations and standards for responsibility and routines, and stick to them, while working to understand their children’s temperament and emotional needs, can form a connection with their kids and work with them to discover and pursue their own interests.

Providing Emotional Support

When a parent is anxious or worried, a child may become anxious as well. Parents who talk about adult worries with kids, fail to model or teach coping skills, or who are unreliable or fail to keep promises, can drive anxiety in their sons and daughters. But parents who swoop in to eliminate any source of anxiety, by, for example, taking over difficult tasks, can also inadvertently raise kids who may struggle to cope with challenges or stress. Parents who make time to listen, take children’s concerns seriously, provide consistent support, step back and let kids solve problems on their own (or not), and allow ample free time for play, can help children thrive.

For more, see Children and Anxiety

How can you help an anxious child calm down?

Children may feel anxious in a variety of situations—at the doctor’s office, at a birthday party, before a test, or in a storm—and look to parents for help. Unfortunately, simply telling them to “calm down” likely will not work. But encouraging them to calm themselves by taking slow, deep breaths, chewing gum or singing, talking openly about their worries and naming them, or finding humor in the situation can help them get through it and be better prepared to handle future stressors.

How can parents keep calm when their children are not?

When kids are feeling stress, parents can easily become anxious as well, but mothers and fathers should aim to avoid displaying it, or “mood matching,” which may only amplify a child’s stress. Keeping calm and grounded, perhaps through the application of mindfulness techniques, can help parents remain a source of support even in difficult moments.

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