Wouldn’t it be great if kids came with manuals that told you exactly what to do and what not to do in order to raise a great kid? Unfortunately, that’s not the case, but, if you’ve found your way here, you’re pretty close.
As someone who studied both children and behavior and now works with children as a behavior technician, I have learned about and seen my fair share. Now, what I say here is not the same thing as true clinical advice (you would need a behavior analyst to work directly with your child for that). Think of it more as your guide on your path to great kids.
In this article, I’m going to run through the best parenting tips that I have learned over the years. No two children are the same, so some of these may not work for your child, but they’re pretty general bits of advice, so you should be good to go. So, without further adieu…
1) Forgive and Forget
Your kids are going to do things that make you angry. They might even do things that hurt your physically without even realizing it. Kids’ frontal lobes are still developing. The frontal lobe is responsible for impulse control, which is why little ones are so impulsive.
Your child could be having such a great time and be so worked up that they throw their toy and hit you with it. No matter how angry you are, or how much it hurt, do your best to forgive and forget. Explain to them what they did was wrong, provide them with a behavior that is a better choice, and have them apologize.
As soon as they apologize, let them know that you accept their apology and move on. It can be really hard to go from being angry and in pain to playing around with your child again, but you really should try.
They will learn that they did something wrong and should do it differently next time, but they will also see that you will forgive them and they don’t need to be afraid.
The exception to this is when you’re dealing with an older child or teenager. If they do something wrong, still explain that it was wrong and tell them what they can do better next time, but then give them a little space to process and regroup.
It is important to let your child have their feelings too. They may not want to be best friends again right away. They may want some space and as long as they go about this respectfully, they should be allowed to take it.
2) Use Positive Reinforcement as Often as Possible
I have written a detailed article that defines and explains positive reinforcement, so I will just give a short reiteration here.
If you want your child to keep doing the really awesome things you love to see, you need to reinforce them. Tell them very specifically that they did a good job with whatever it is they were doing (e.g., “you did such a good job cleaning up all of your toys!”). Give them tangible rewards (more when they’re young, less when they’re older) to keep them motivated.
The more you reinforce your child, the more they will perform that behavior and the stronger your relationship will be.
3) Give Your Child Attention
Yes, every parent pays attention to their child, but the kind I am talking about is very intentional and specific.
Say your child is coloring. Don’t wait for them to say “look at what I drew!” Take a moment to see what they’re doing and say things like “I see you over there coloring! You’re using so many colors” Talk to them about the specifics of what they’re doing. Engage with them and let them know you are with them.
This is different from positive reinforcement because you’re not necessarily praising them for doing anything. Yes, attention can be positively reinforcing, but you’re not specifically saying things like, “I like how you’re being so quiet” or “you’re doing such a good job coloring.”
This just lets your child know that you are interested in and invested in what they’re doing.
4) Remain Calm
This goes hand-in-hand with forgive and forget. You’re going to get angry. It’s inevitable. It’s your job as a parent to try to remain as calm as possible in those situations.
Yelling is actually less effective than remaining calm and explaining. Children do not respond well to being yelled at. They shut down and anything you say does not stick. You could be saying exactly what they need to hear but they probably won’t hear it.
Instead, take a few deep breaths and explain to them why you’re angry. Your words can be stern in order to convey that what they did was wrong, but stay as calm as you possibly can.
If you do yell, give yourself and your child some space to calm down. When everyone is calm and ready to talk, apologize for yelling but tell them what they did was wrong.
5) Keep Explanations Short & Sweet
When you do explain to your child what they did wrong, be as succinct as possible, especially when they’re young. Don’t get bogged down in details.
Tell them exactly what they did to make you angry and only that. Don’t pull things from the past because that’s over with. Tell them what they did in that moment to make you angry and then tell them what they need to do better next time.
That’s it. It doesn’t have to be a full-on trial. It can be over and done with in a matter of minutes. You and your child will both be thankful for this.
6) Be the Right Kind of Model
Children are sponges. We know this. We’ve seen this. That whole, “do as I say, not as I do” thing doesn’t really work. Nine times out of ten, kids will do what you do before they do what you say.
Anything you want them to do or say in life, they need to see you do first. If you want them to speak kindly to others, speak kindly to them and around them. You are their teacher for how to handle the world.
You can also teach older siblings to be the right kind of model for younger siblings. Explain to them that their little sibling looks up to them and likes to do what they do, so they should try to do the best they can.
If you work hard, speak kindly, help others, and be the best person you can be, there’s a good chance your child will follow suit.
7) Talk About Your Feelings Often
Too many people in this world are hiding their feelings out of fear or embarrassment. If you start talking about feelings with your child at an early age, that will become their norm. They will not be afraid to come to you when they’re sad or hurt. They will not bottle it all up and possibly end up with depression or anxiety.
I cannot stress this one enough. Tell them about your feelings and ask them about theirs every day.
Check out my article 6 Children’s Books Discussing Mental Health for easy ways to talk to your children about feelings.
8) Stick to Your Word
Follow through. Follow through. Follow through. I can’t express this enough! You need to follow though… on the good and the bad.
Kids are incredibly fast learners. If you say something like, “don’t throw that again or you’re going to your room” and they throw it again, bring them to their room. It doesn’t need to be for hours, it could be for 2 minutes (depending on their age), but you have to follow through. If they throw it again and nothing happens, they just learned that what your say really doesn’t matter because there’s a chance they will get away with it.
The same goes for good promises. If they got that good grade, take them out to dinner like you said you would. This ensures that they will continue to work hard and keep performing that behavior (positive reinforcement again). It will also build trust between the two of you. Your child will come to trust your word and know that you will stay true to your promises.
Yes, there are times when good promises cannot be kept, but always strive to make it happen. If you can’t make it happen right then and there, do your best to make it happen sometime in the near future.
9) Demand Respect but Give Respect
Never allow your child to speak disrespectfully to you or to others. When they do, firmly tell them that those types of things will not be tolerated. Tell them that they may express their frustrations or unhappiness freely, but they must do so with respect.
In return, you must respect your child. As I said before, follow through on what you say and give them the space they ask for. If you model respect for your child, they will show respect in return.
Listen to what your children have to say. Show them that what they think matters. Even if you have no idea what they’re talking about or it seems silly to you, listen.
If your child is lucky enough to find their passion at a young age, listen to every word they have to say about it and help them learn and foster that passion. I don’t care if their passion is toasters, just listen.
Listen when they’re sad. Listen when they’re happy. Listen to whatever it is they want to say to you.
When you listen, you’re giving them attention, positive reinforcement, and teaching them how to talk about their thoughts and feelings. Listening is invaluable.
If you have any questions or parenting tips of your own, feel free to comment below.