10 Ways to Be a Better Parent

From asking questions to practicing active listening, these tricks will help you be a better parent.

Worried Black mother holding hand comforting sad little daughter
Photo: Getty Images

Parenting is tough. That's a fact. Whether your little love bug is 3 or 13 doesn't matter, raising children is hard. But if you want to improve your parenting—and strengthen your relationship and bond—fear not: There are ways to do so. The following tips and tricks can help you rear children at any age. Read on to learn how to be better parent.


One of the most important things you can do for you child is to listen to them. Being present can make all the difference, i.e. children need to feel seen and heard, and being that sounding board is key. Plus, when you listen to your child you actually help build their independence, confidence, and self-esteem.

"When you listen to children, you are giving your time [and] listening ear to hear what it is they have to say," says an article by the Childcare and Education Expo. This lets them know they are valued. It also helps them feel seen and understood. But that's not all: Because children are fun, insightful, curious, and—to put it bluntly—fascinating creatures, in listening to them, you can learn and grow, too.

Avoid Comparisons and Labels

Your best friend's 8-month-old son is babbling, while your daughter, at 9 months, is silent. 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. "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 their age. For instance, if your child is naturally shy and quiet, it may be that they're not inclined to talk—not that they can't," Dr. Karp says.

Among siblings, comparisons can lead to labels. "Our little scholar," you might say of your book-obsessed toddler, or "our wild child," of their energetic sister. Even labels meant to praise your children's differing abilities can be problematic. Siblings sometimes feel that if one "owns" the athlete label, the other 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").

Walk the Walk

Have you ever heard the expression "actions speak louder than words?" Well, when it comes to parenting, it's true. Children, especially young children, watch every move we make. They learn from what they see.

"You are actually teaching your child something every minute of every day—whether you intend to pass along a lesson or not," says Elizabeth Pantley, author of The No-Cry Discipline Solution: Gentle Ways to Encourage Good Behavior Without Whining, Tantrums & Tears. "From how you handle stress to how you celebrate success... your child is observing you and finding out how to respond in various situations." So model the traits you wish to see in your kids.

Be respectful of others. Instill patience, love, and kindness. Remember to be open and honest, no matter how hard it may be. Express thanks and offer compliments, and above all, treat your kids, colleagues, friends, loved ones, and strangers the way you expect other people to treat you.

Let Your Child Make Mistakes

Your 2-year-old is building a tower, and you see that the block they're about to place on top will cause it to come crashing down. Anxious to avoid the crash—and ensuing tears—you stop them from adding the block, explaining that sometimes "one more is one too many." While you're right to prevent accidents that could cause harm, allowing your child to learn from their mistakes instills the lesson better than an explanation ever could, says Christopher Lucas, MD, an associate professor of child and adolescent psychiatry at the New York University School of Medicine, in New York City.

At a very basic level, this kind of mistake helps a child understand cause and effect. But it's also more emotionally healthy to let your child experience disappointment sometimes—especially in the form of a toppled block tower—instead of shielding him from any and all negative events, Dr. Lucas adds.

Of course, this works for older children, too, i.e. letting children learn from their mistakes helps build resilience. It is essential to raising a confident, capable, and successful adult. However, as children grow, so too does the size of their mistakes. Be patient, understanding, and (most importantly) listen.

Be Flexible

While you may be an "expert" parent or a seasoned parent—while you may have more than one child or be set in your ways—being flexible is important. It doesn't just make you a good parent, it sets you apart. But why is flexibility so important? Because every person is different. Every child is different, and we all change over time. The disciplinary tactics you use on your 2-year-old, for example, may not work on your teen.

"As your child changes, you'll gradually have to change your parenting style," an article from Kids Health explains. "Teens tend to look less to their parents and more to their peers for role models. But continue to provide guidance, encouragement, and appropriate discipline while allowing your teen to earn more independence. And seize every available moment to make a connection!"

Ask Questions

While listening to your child is important, asking questions is key. Why? Because questions stimulate conversation. They help you gain a better understanding of what your child is doing. Questions can also help you understand your child's thoughts and/or feelings.

That said, it's important to ask the right questions. In order to get the answers you seek—and to better understand your child—you'll want to pose open-ended questions, like "what do you like/dislike about school" or "what was your favorite part of today?" These questions encourage longer answers, i.e. your child cannot respond with a simple "yes" or "no."

Look Behind "Bad" Behavior

At some point your child will break every rule you make. But if you react to each infraction with the same show of disapproval—Mommy's mad, and little Johnny is going in the time-out chair—you may not reach an understanding of what prompted the rule-breaking behavior in the first place.

Your child's "misbehavior" is a direct result of something, be it an inability to control their emotions or something else, says Pantley. "Your child doesn't whine and have temper tantrums because they are trying to manipulate you, nor are they purposely being 'bad,'" says Pantley. Rather, they are lashing out for a reason. Look behind the "bad" behavior. Find the root cause, and discuss possible solutions.

Validate Your Child's Feelings

You've listened to your child. They've confided in you, telling you their hopes and dreams. Their likes, wants, and fears. Now, you need to validate their feelings.

"Validating your child's emotions can help your child learn self-compassion," says an article by Kaiser Permanente, one of America's leading health care providers. "When people have self-compassion, they are more likely to be able to deal with adversity and setbacks in a healthy way." Validating their feelings also helps them feel heard, seen, and valued. In a confusing time, i.e. childhood, being validated can help them feel understood.

Encourage Creativity

In a world full of "no's," "don'ts," and "you can't," be the voice of reason. Let your child run, dance, skip, jump in puddles, and play. Let them paint with a brush—or their fingers—making art on their terms, and in their own special way, and encourage said behavior. Giving genuine praise will foster creativity and their improve their confidence and self-esteem.

Trust Your Gut

Your intentions are good. In an effort to make the best choices for your child, you read up on how to impose just the right nap schedule, adhere to the appropriate amount of television viewing, and calibrate the best nutritional balance of protein, fats, and carbs. Trying to get it all right can be exhausting, and you're sometimes plagued with guilt that you haven't lived up to these standards. Sound familiar? The truth is, there are a lot of experts out there—and far too much advice, some of it conflicting.

"No one knows your child better than you do," says psychologist Michael Gurian, author of Nurture the Nature: Understanding and Supporting Your Child's Unique Core Personality, who encourages parents to trust their own instincts. "When parents reclaim control over the decision-making process, they feel liberated. They knew what to do," Gurian adds. "It was in their gut somewhere."

Updated by Lenora Gim
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