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Published on January 24, 2020

5 Ways to Improve Your Parenting Skills (Psychology-Backed)

5 Ways to Improve Your Parenting Skills (Psychology-Backed)

There is no such thing as a perfect parent. Parenting is hard. It takes a great deal of effort to be even a decent parent. My husband and I are raising our three children ages 6, 6, and 7.

Yes, I have my hands full. Twin six-year-old boys and a seven-year-old girl keep me on my parenting toes, so to speak. It is not easy, but I do my best to be a good parent. Having a PhD in psychology is helpful, but I still devour plenty of parenting books and research articles to continually try to do better. I am still a work in progress just like all parents.

    It would be great if we knew exactly what to do and how to do it with our kids. But not all kids are the same and they are not born with a manual that provides us with instructions on how to raise them right. However, we do have research on parenting and psychology that can help us out and point us in the right direction.

    Below I have five tips on how to improve your parenting skills starting today! These tips are backed by research. The first step toward being a great parent is knowing how. It is difficult to be a good parent without knowing first and foremost the how and why.

    1. Practice Loving without Conditions

    Loving unconditionally seems like a given that we all assume we are doing as a parent. However, we may have behaviors or words spoken that undermine our ability for our children to feel unconditionally loved.

    For example, asking our child if he wants another mom when he is acting out is not practicing unconditional love. The message that is being sent to the child is that if they act out or misbehave, they are at risk of losing you as a mother, since you ask “do you want another mom” or “do you want to live somewhere else?”

    If you have ever made these statements, it doesn’t mean you are a terrible parent. However, if we want our child to feel loved unconditionally, then we need to stop saying things that make the child feel like the relationship could ever be severed because of their behavior.

    Another way to look at these threats is comparing them to threatening divorce. If you have ever been married, or lived in a home with married parents, then you know that when one person threatens divorce, it cuts to the core.

    Threatening divorce damages the relationship, because trust is lost. The other person begins to feel that that their relationship may not be forever, and that the relationship can be ended because their spouse is threatening divorce. Even if the person threatening doesn’t really mean what they are saying and they truly love their spouse, the words are damaging none the less.

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    The same principles go for parent and child relationships. If a child has been threatened with loss of their current home life, the parent leaving them, or being placed in foster care, then that child does not feel loved unconditionally. They will believe that love from their parent is contingent on their behavior. It is conditional love which means that they are only loved under certain conditions.

    My son Charlie has recently gotten into the habit of saying “I love you Mom” every time that he gets in trouble. He kicked the dog the other day. Not hard, but nevertheless he kicked our family dog. I was fuming. I yelled at him and he was sent to his room for a long time out (I know the yelling was not a good thing to do). I couldn’t even think of a consequence in the heat of the moment so I said “go to your room, I don’t want to see you right now, I will think about your consequence later.”

    He cried, and as he was running up the stairs and he was saying “I love you Mommy, I love you Mommy, I love you Mommy.” Why was he saying that? Because in his six-year-old mind, he is worried that I will stop loving him if he has bad behavior.

    Kids don’t know that we love them unconditionally. They are learning though and we must teach them that we do. My response in this situation and always is to say “I love you too.” I then usually follow it up with “I don’t like your behavior right now, but I will always love you.”

    Kids need to be told that they are loved regardless of their behavior. It needs to be ingrained that they are loved even if they act out, break the rules, or misbehave.

    An article by Elite Daily examined several research studies on unconditional love.[1] The findings from these studies showed that children become more well-adjusted, emotionally healthy, and physically healthy adults when they experience unconditional love in childhood. When children are exposed to conditional love in their parent-child relationship, the research showed that, children have higher levels of anxiety which in turn negatively affects their long-range health, such as heart health.

    Loving unconditionally means loving without conditions. Unconditional love is loving someone just the way that they are, flaws and all. Tell your children that you love them, even when they break the rules, misbehave, or they tell you that they hate you (most kids say this to their parents at some point in time).

    You must always respond with “I love you regardless of your behavior.” It doesn’t mean that you are accepting or allowing the bad behavior. There should always be reasonable consequences to match the behavior. However, they shouldn’t ever be made to feel that the love of their parent can be revoked because of bad behaviors.

    2. Develop a Bond That Will Last a Lifetime by Creating Memories

    You need to spend time with your kids in order to create a bond. Quality time matters, but so does quantity time.

    Kids want to be with their parents. Spend time together as a family. For example, make it a point to have dinner at the kitchen or dining room table at least a few nights a week. Make a rule that no technology is allowed at the table during that time, so that you can talk and spend time together.

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    Before you know it, that child will be grown and out of your home. Take the time to spend meal times together, talking and truly getting to know your child before they leave your home as an adult.

    Barking Up the Wrong Tree looked at research on how to create happy memories that last a lifetime. Some of the things discovered in the research included:[2]

    • Memories are made when our senses and emotions are elevated.
    • If we are pulling out the camera phone, it is likely an elevated experience that you want to remember.
    • Celebrating milestones and praiseworthy moments (graduations, winning seasons, etc.) helps to create positive lasting memories.
    • Struggling together creates a bond. If you have worked through conflict in your relationship and made it better in the process then you have created a bond. Fraternities haze, soldier fight together, and families overcome struggles together. These all make for lasting bonds. When you struggle together as a family, celebrate the success at the end of your victory, once you have overcome the challenge together.

    Take the time to make memories with your children. They are only little once. Go on those vacations, hike to the top of a mountain together, sail across an ocean, go camping, or teach them to ice-skate.

    Do anything and everything that will help create memories, bonds, and experiences that will last a lifetime in their memory. Those memories are what will carry them into old age with happiness in their heart.

    3. Stop the Yelling

    Yelling at our kids is not good parenting. Yet it is still happening on regular basis in most homes. I admit, I am still continually working on this one. I think this quote summarizes the situation.

      However, I know I need to continually work to not yell or raise my voice, as I would prefer a household with zero voices ever raised.

      Yelling causes our children to become anxious. It also affects them emotionally and mentally in a negative manner. If you have ever been yelled at by a boss or superior, you probably remember it and it is not a fond memory. It made you feel bad. It is hard enough to be reprimanded in a calm voice.

      When someone, whether adult or child, is yelled at while being reprimanded it causes anxiety, stress, and negative emotions to abound. When the yelling involves name calling or insults it becomes emotional abuse.

      Heathline Parenthood examined research on the topic of yelling and found that parents who yell at their kids end up with children who are more aggressive verbally and physically.[3] Children learn from their parents’ example. If yelling is a regular occurrence in your household, then your child is learning that when dealing with behavior or situations that they don’t like, it is appropriate to yell. None of us want to teach that to our children, so we must take action to stop the yelling.

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      Healthline provides some tips on how to stop yelling:

      • Know what triggers the yelling. What are the behaviors occurring or situations where you find yourself yelling at your children?
      • When you feel that you are going to yell, give yourself a time out or count to ten.
      • Practice responding in a calm, even tone. Practice makes the action a habit.
      • If you do yell, then admit the mistake and apologize to your child. They will then learn that it is not an acceptable behavior and that they too should apologize if they make a mistake and end up yelling. (Yes, I apologized to Charlie for yelling and he had to apologize to our dog Max.)

      My article about yelling less at your kids less is also helpful: The Only Effective Way to Talk With Children When They Are Acting Out. This article outlines the steps to use the “one-ask” parenting approach. This approach is used to help parents follow up with consequences more quickly so that situations don’t escalate to worse behavior by the children and yelling from the parents. Some tips from this article on talking to your children without yelling include the following.

      • Get on their level, talking face to face in a calm voice.
      • Don’t make repeated threats about a consequence that is coming to them and wait for the situation to become more heated.
      • Follow through with the consequence (i.e. loss of playtime or time-out) immediately after they violate your warning. Don’t wait for them to repeat the bad behavior several more times. One warning is all that is needed. Then, if they break the rule or don’t obey, the consequence should be immediately implemented.

      If you find that your yelling is so entrenched in your daily behaviors that you have a hard time kicking the habit and you need more support, then buy, or find at your local library, the book Triggers by Amber Lia and Wendy Speake. Their tips were even featured on the Focus on the Family national radio program and were rated as a number one show for 2019. Their gentle parenting methods simply work.

      A quote from the book:

      “Peacemaking moms produce peacemaking kids.”

      Wendy and Amber also have a Facebook group that is free to join. It is Gentle Parenting with Amber and Wendy. In this group, you will find thousands of other parents looking for support to yell less in their homes. Check out the group if you want more connected support to stop yelling at your kids. I am a member of this group too. Nobody is perfect, but we can do better as parents by yelling less starting today.

      4. Provide Experiences Over Toys

      Toys are fun. But our kids don’t need an excess of overcomplicated, electronic, and expensive toys in order to be happy or develop in a healthy manner. Focusing on experiences over toys is a way to improve as a parent now.

      The next holiday or birthday that comes up, think about gifting your child an experience, for example, a year membership to the children’s museum or zoo. Another experience is a trip to someplace interesting such as a National Park. These experiences help to create memories. They also help to make your child a more well rounded individual as they are out in the world experiencing activities rather than sitting in their room playing the newest video game.

      Motherly posted a recent article that delved into the science that experiences are better for our kids than toys. Here is a quote from that article that is worth noting.[4]

      And if we need one more reason to cool it on the toy giving, researchers have discovered that gratitude and generosity increase when experiences are given instead of objects. Thomas Gilovich, a psychology professor at Cornell University, conducted many studies over many decades and found that happiness is derived from experiences, not things. Bottom line: The happiness derived from a childhood experience is far more significant than the fleeting excitement of toys under the Christmas tree. Giving experiences that involve spending time together instead of gifting toys brings greater and longer-lasting joy. Don’t stress about the number of toys, mama. Focus on making memories.

      Creating family experiences and making memories go hand-in-hand. Our money and resources get more bang for their buck when they are used on experiences for the family instead of things. The research from the Motherly article shows that families are happier overall when they have more experiences together and less toys.

      5. Let Them Play and Be a Child

      Play and childhood development go hand-in-hand. However, the amount of playtime our children are getting has been diminishing in recent decades.

      We are so intent on our children learning, that we take away from their playtime. Play is learning. We need to get our children back to basic playtime so they can develop and learn in a natural way.

      Increase their playtime and limit the electronics. Research by Very Well Family found that too much technology is damaging to our children.[5] When children get too much time on electronic devices, their research found that children have sleep issues, obesity, behavior problems, academic problems, and emotional issues. Limit your children’s time on technology.

      According to We Can, we need to aim for less than two of screen time per day for our school aged children. The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends far less time for children under the age of five. We Can offers a free screen time chart so you can track your child’s time on digital devices.

      The goal is to get children playing and off the technology. Playing will help them developmentally. In my book Let Them Play, I explain the importance of play and provide 100 child developmental play activities. Some great play activities that promote development and learning that are listed in the book including Play Doh, magnet blocks, Legos, puppet shows, and hopscotch.

      Parents can teach their children different play activities while they actively play with their children. Fifteen or twenty minutes of playtime together can help to create bonding time between parent and child. Then the parent can allow their children to continue playing the activity on their own. This play time is crucial to the child’s healthy social, emotional, physical, and cognitive development.

      They are only little once. Let them be a child when they are little. Two-year-old children aren’t meant to sit at desks for hours completing school work. They were made to play, explore, and be active physically. This is how they learn and develop best.

      Final Thoughts

      These are not the only ways to improve as a parent. However, these are five ways that you can begin improving as a parent starting today.

      Nobody is a perfect parent, which means we all have room for improvement. Look at your own parenting methods objectively and decide where you can improve. Then do something about it.

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      Featured photo credit: Jonathan Daniels via unsplash.com

      Reference

      More by this author

      Dr. Magdalena Battles

      A Doctor of Psychology with specialties include children, family relationships, domestic violence, and sexual assault

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      Published on July 23, 2020

      11 Signs You’re an Overprotective Parent (And What to Do About It)

      11 Signs You’re an Overprotective Parent (And What to Do About It)

      Have you ever followed your child around the playground? They may have been a toddler and you were worried they would take the wrong step and fall off the jungle gym. Therefore, you followed your toddler around, keeping them within arm’s reach so that you could prevent them from falling or having an accident.

      I have been that parent at the playground in the past. With twin boys who had no fear as toddlers, I would follow them onto playground equipment because I was concerned for their safety.

      After a few months of doing this, I stopped. I came to realize that children need to learn through their own experiences. They will fall, but they will also learn how to avoid danger and make calculated judgments about risks through their experiences. If I was always there to stop them from falling, they wouldn’t learn to stop themselves.

      They had to learn things on their own. Of course, as a parent, it is still my responsibility to not place them in situations where they could be terribly injured.

      For example, we started at playgrounds that were intended for children under the age of five. We didn’t move up to the big playgrounds until they were old enough and aware of their behaviors and the risks involved in playground play activities.

      Why Parents Become Overprotective

      The intention of overprotective parenting is well-meaning. These types of parents are highly concerned about their children’s safety and decision making. Their ultimate goal is to protect their child from harm. Parents should be concerned about the safety and well-being of their children.

      However, on the flip side, parents should also be teaching their children about risk and responsibility. Those lessons are best taught through life experience. If we are always following behind our children, ready to catch them at a moment’s notice, then we aren’t allowing them to learn about risk and responsibility.

      Unger, a researcher on overprotective parenting, suggests that parents should allow children to participate in activities on their own that are considered low-risk.[1] This means allowing children to engage in activities on their own that provide “manageable amounts of risk and responsibility.”

      Unger cited that parents have become increasingly more protective of their children and are much more watchful of their children’s activities than previous generations.

      The problem with being an overprotective parent is that the child misses out on the opportunity to build responsible behavior skills, build autonomy, and develop self-esteem. Their confidence can be undermined when mom or dad are always watching and guiding their behavior.

      They can develop a sense that they are unable to make their own good decisions because they are never allowed to do so in life. Their confidence and self-esteem are hindered when they aren’t allowed to do things on their own without their parents hovering or watching over them.

      What Are the Signs of an Overprotective Parent?

      Parents with overly protective tendencies think that they are helping their child. Their goal is to protect their child, but it goes to the extreme. Below are some ways that a parent can be overly protective.

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      This type of behavior can end up harming their child’s development when one or more of these behaviors is present. There are likely other ways that a parent can be overprotective of their child, as this list is not comprehensive.

      These are examples so you can assess your behavior to determine if you need to loosen up overly protective parenting habits.

      1. You choose your child’s friends or direct them toward friendships with particular children.
      2. You don’t allow them to do activities on their own. For example, not allowing them to walk the dog in front of your home even though you live in a safe neighborhood and could even watch them from the front window.
      3. You are constantly monitoring your child. For example, you show up at their sports practices often to check in and see how they are doing or you go online to check their grades every week to ensure that they don’t have any missing work in any classes. If they do have missing work, you make sure that they get it completed and turned in before their final grade can be affected.
      4. You prevent them from making mistakes when you can see that they are going to make a low-risk mistake. For example, not allowing your five-year-old to put ketchup on their pancakes because you know they are going to dislike it and ruin their breakfast. You won’t allow them to chose to make such a mistake because you know that they will cry and get upset and you want to prevent them from becoming emotionally upset.
      5. You don’t allow them to go to friend’s homes without you.
      6. Sleepovers at other homes or camps are never allowed during their childhood.
      7. You drill them with questions about their life when they are out of your sight, such as wanting to know about all the details of their school day every day when you pick them up from school.
      8. You guide them to the extent that they are prevented from failing. For example, not allowing your teen to try out for the basketball team because you know that they will not make the cut.
      9. You make their decisions for them. For example, you don’t allow them to choose whether they can walk to school or ride the bus. You drive them and do not allow for any decision outside of this because you want to keep them safe.
      10. You are always volunteering to serve in their school classroom or chaperone the school trips because you want to “keep an eye on what is going on in your child’s class”.
      11. You do not allow them to have secrets or privacy. For example, they are not allowed to have a locked diary that you do not read or you don’t allow them to lock their bedroom door ever.

      Why Being Overprotective Is Not a Good Idea

      Kids learn from natural consequences. If they are not allowed to have natural consequences because their parent is continually protecting them from failure and harm, their development is being hindered.

      For example, let’s look at a child named Sally who is 13. She is a child who is overly managed by her parents and is not allowed to go to sleepovers or even go to another friend’s home. Her parents are worried about stranger danger and what can happen if they are not with their child.

      Sally is allowed to have friends at her home, but her parents are always watching the kids. Whenever Sally and her friends begin to disagree, the argument is squelched before the children can even begin to work things out between themselves because Sally’s parents will intervene and solve the problem.

      Sally is never alone with friends outside of school because her parents are always present. The presence of her parents in her socialization is hindering her development.

      She doesn’t know how to work out disagreements between her peers because she has never been allowed the opportunity to even try. Her social skills are lacking because parents intervene to direct her behavior while she is with her friends.

      Kids Need Space and Time

      Kids need space and time to be independent while they are children. If Sally were to be left alone with her friends, her friends would eventually push back at her bossy behavior when her parents are not present.

      However, because Sally’s parents are always present she gets away with being overly-bossy to her friends. She is not learning about the natural consequences of her bossiness but someday will when it may be difficult to change her behaviors as she is older in more set in her ways.

      It is easier to learn through natural consequences at a young age. Sally will likely end up going to therapy as an adult because she can’t keep friendships intact. Her bossy behaviors and lack of awareness have led to her having severed friendships repeatedly as a young adult.

      She will have to work with a therapist to uncover the reason why she is losing friends and then work to change her behavior to learn better ways to act towards her friends in the future.

      Effects of Overprotection

      There are a variety of effects of overprotective parenting. It is often dependent on the methods the parent utilizes and the extent of the overprotective behavior.

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      For example, let’s look at Tina who is a girl age 10. She wants to run and participate in her school’s after-school competitive track program. However, she is not allowed to participate in after school activities because her parents are worried that she will be exposed to boys and may start having relationships with the opposite sex too young.

      Another concern is that a boy may “take advantage” of their daughter, so they want to protect her from being exposed to boys outside of school and their supervision.

      The problem with this is that Tina is missing out on participating in a sports activity that could help her develop friendships. She is also missing out on the opportunities associated with being a part of a team, working hard physically to compete, and developing sportsmanship skills.

      Her parents are well-meaning, but their over-protection is preventing her from participating in a sports activity that she deeply desires to engage in.

      There are other effects of overprotective parenting. Below are some examples.

      Examples of Overprotective Parenting

      This list is not comprehensive, as every parenting situation and family is unique. However, this list can help provide some insight into the detrimental effects that overprotective parenting can cause.

      1. Lack of Self-Esteem Development

      If children are not allowed to try things on their own, they cannot build self-confidence and self-esteem.

      2. Lack of Autonomy

      If a child is always accustomed to having a parent around and supervising their behavior, they can become dependent on the decision making of their parents because they are never allowed to be alone or do things alone.

      3. Anxiety

      A child who is never allowed to try to do things on their own can become anxious when they are finally allowed to try things out on their own. They worry about making mistakes or failing because they have continually had a parent to help them avoid mistakes and failure.

      4. Lack of Responsibility

      When parents are always helping and guiding their children to an extreme, children will fail to develop their own responsibility skills. If they are never held responsible for anything, how can they develop a sense of responsibility?

      5. People-Pleasing Tendencies

      Youniverse explained that children who have overprotective parents who constantly direct their children’s behavior end up seeking the approval of those in their life.[2] These children will grow up accustomed to someone always telling them what the “right behavior” looks like.

      If they don’t have that praise or comfort of someone saying they did things right, they can become anxious or depressed. They become people-pleasers who seek the appraisal of others.

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      6. Risky Behavior

      When children are raised in an overly protective home, they often engage in risky behavior when the reigns are lifted. They haven’t experienced the failures associated with low-risk situations at a younger age because of their overly protective parents.

      Therefore, when they get older, access to high-risk situations becomes more easily accessible, and without understanding high risk versus low-risk situations, they engage without the wisdom of previous experiences.

      Because of their inexperience with risks in general, they may engage in high risk because they are unaware of consequences.

      7. Diminished Development Regarding Fear, Social Skills, and Coping Skills

      Psychology Today explains that children with overprotective parents have developmental issues, such as not being able to deal with stress and poor social skills.[3]

      For example, a child who isn’t allowed to play on a playground because the parent wants to protect their child from injury is prevented from learning about risk-taking on the playground and the bumps and bruises from consequences.

      Such a child may grow up to either having too much fear because it was instilled by their parents or have no fear because they have no concept of high-risk versus low-risk behavior.

      8. Lack of Immunity

      The Psychology Today article also explained that children who have overly protective parents that do not allow exposure to germs can become children who have a compromised immune system. Exposure to germs as children is needed for them to develop a healthy immune system naturally.

      When parents are disinfecting everything the child encounters and not allowing exposure to germs (e.g., not allowing them to go to a petting zoo or to play in the sandbox because of the germs in those places), they can be stunting their child’s ability to develop their immune system.

      9. Control Freaks

      Children who have been parented by control freaks learn this behavior from their parents. Parents are the primary role model of behavior for their children. If children see their parents acting as though they must have control over others and every situation at all times, then they too will learn to behave in this same manner.

      What to Do If You Are an Overprotective Parent

      If after reading this content you feel that you may be an overprotective parent, there is hope. You can change.

      It begins with loosening the reigns of control over your child in a calculated and reasonable manner. Allowing for low-risk behaviors and the consequences involved can help your child become more independent.

      There is definitely a balance to protective versus overprotective parenting. Allowing for activities and exposure to experiences that are low-risk is a good way to start.

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      For example, allowing your child to play on age-appropriate playground equipment (without following them) is a good first step. They will experience some bumps and bruises, but this is a part of normal development and learning about consequences.

      You will want to research authoritative parenting methods if you feel you are an overprotective parent. Overprotective parents tend to be authoritarian parents.

      Here is a LifeHack article I previously wrote about authoritarian parenting, so you can understand the drawbacks to this parenting method: Authoritarian Parenting.

      Authoritative parenting is not control-based parenting. It involves teaching consequences naturally, allowing age-appropriate decision-making, and having conversations with children rather than dictating for ultimate control and compliance.

      MSU Extension provides some great guidelines for authoritative parenting.[4] Below are some of the behaviors they described with authoritative parenting methods:

      • Provide reasonable, age-appropriate expectations for children.
      • Stress and anxiety for children can have positive outcomes, as they are allowed to experience these feelings in small doses as children. They can then build their coping skills and ability to deal with stress and anxiety through experience.
      • Encourage independence, as it helps children build their confidence and self-esteem.
      • Allowing for failures when they are young helps them learn how to pick themselves back up and try again. Developing this ability at a young age regularly will help prepare them for bigger failures when they are older, such as breakups, failed classes, or losing a job.

      Final Thoughts

      It is never too late to work on our parenting skills. There is no such thing as a perfect parent, therefore, we can always be working on improving our parenting methods.

      We all want our children to be successful, happy, and competent as adults. It does not happen overnight. Parenting is a continual process of trying daily to help our children live and learn through their own life experiences.

      If we try to protect them every step of the way, then they are not being allowed to truly experience life.

      Allow for age-appropriate experiences and allow for failures so that they can learn how to pick themselves back up and try again.

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      Featured photo credit: Sue Zeng via unsplash.com

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