What Makes a Great Parent?

Raising kids is a complicated endeavor, and there's no one recipe for doing it right. Still, certain ingredients are an indispensable part of the mix. Here, top child and family therapists share their insights into the qualities that are essential in an excellent mom or dad.

Knows When to Let Go

A Great Parent Knows When to Let Go

Jane Nelsen, Ed.D., a licensed marriage, family, and child therapist and author or coauthor of 12 books on parenting, including the Positive Discipline series:

"It's a bittersweet reality: The major part of our job as parents is to eventually become dispensable. So, above all, we need to encourage our children to do things for themselves. We need to teach them to think independently, solve their own problems, and believe deeply in their own abilities.

"Sadly, though, in the interest of time and efficiency, parents tend to do things for their children that the kids could easily do for themselves. In an effort to prevent them from feeling pain and discomfort, we rush in and rescue our children, rather than allowing them to learn from their mistakes. By the time a child is 2, he is capable of dressing himself. Of course, he needs to be taught how to do so, and he needs clothing that is easy to slip on and off. Yet so many parents continue to dress kids even when they're preschoolers, robbing them of the opportunity to develop capability and relish their accomplishments. Similarly, it's far more important to encourage children to consider the consequences of their actions than to try to protect them from making mistakes. Suppose, for example, a child leaves her bicycle in the driveway. Sure, it's tempting to put it away for her. But it's far smarter to help her explore possible outcomes by asking, 'What do you think will happen if you leave the bike outside overnight?' Chances are, once she's thought about it, she'll decide that it's best to put the bike away.

"It isn't easy to watch our children fumble and stumble. But sometimes that's what it takes to help them become confident, capable, and independent individuals -- which should be every parent's goal."

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