8 Ways to Be a Better Parent

Good news: It's the little things that really make a difference.

1. Avoid Comparisons and Labels

Mom and kids

Lenora Gim

You want to be the kind of parent who takes the time to instill in your child good manners, habits, and behavior. But how? And with controlled chaos ruling the day, every day, when? Relax: Good parenting happens in real time, on the spot, and in the moment. The trick is recognizing those moments when your actions and reactions can help your child learn and grow in the best possible ways. Here's help from top parenting experts -- and a few real moms.

Be Careful of Comparisons -- and Labels

Your best friend's 8-month-old son is babbling, while your daughter, at 9 months, is silent by comparison. Is there something wrong with your child? While it's never a bad idea to express your concerns to your pediatrician, don't equate developmental milestones with developmental deadlines. "Babies develop so rapidly that one set of abilities is bound to develop faster than another," says Harvey Karp, MD, author of The Happiest Toddler on the Block (Bantam), also available on DVD. "Look at your whole baby" when evaluating development, he suggests, a strategy that holds true for toddlers too: one 3-year-old may have fine-motor-control skills, handling a crayon with dexterity, for instance, while another may throw a ball better -- and that's normal.

Taking into account the whole little person means factoring in temperament too. "It's important to consider who your child is, not just his age. For instance, if your child is naturally shy and quiet, it may be that he's not inclined to talk -- not that he can't," Dr. Karp says. "Listen to him at play when he's alone. He may babble happily then."

Among siblings, comparisons can lead to labels. "Our little scholar," you might say of your book-obsessed toddler, or "our wild child," of his energetic sister. Even labels meant to praise your children's differing abilities can be problematic. Siblings sometimes feel that if one brother "owns" the athlete label, the other brother isn't even going to try, for fear of falling short. And that "picky eater" label may fuel the very behavior you'd like to discourage. Sure, there'll be times when you'll find yourself describing your child's likes and dislikes. But when you do so, "reframe" your words, Dr. Karp suggests: try "energetic" (not "wild"), "spirited" (not "hyper"), and "careful" (not "shy").

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