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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

      How to Strengthen Family Bonds When You’re Staying at Home Why Self-Compassion Is More Important Than Self-Esteem 15 Ways to Practice Positive Self-Talk for Success How to Help Your Child to Develop the 7 Executive Functioning Skills How to Cope with Empty Nest Syndrome and Be Happy Again

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      Published on April 3, 2020

      How to Strengthen Family Bonds When You’re Staying at Home

      How to Strengthen Family Bonds When You’re Staying at Home

      Now is a perfect time to work on making some memories with your closest family members. When situations call for social distancing outside of our home, we need to do the opposite within home.

      Now, more than ever, we need to engage with those living in our home. We may be together for a while, but look at it is way, it is a wonderful opportunity to create some good family memories and positive interactions together.

      Staying home can be isolating, especially when we hole ourselves up in different rooms than our other family members. Make an effort to spend quality time together. Sitting in the same room on different electronic devices is not quality family time. Put down the elections, join together in one room, and do activities together.

      Your family bonding becomes stronger when you spend time doing activities together. Below are 10 ideas you can do with your family and loved ones.

      1. Create Photo Albums

      If you are like most of the population, you probably have lots of photos and very few physical albums. My parents generation always had photo albums. I can go to my parents’ home in Florida and find at least 20 albums from the lives of my parents and my childhood that I can flip through and reminisce. Physical, tangible photo albums are always cherished.

      Look back at the past five years of your life. Were there meaningful trips that you took as a family or major life events such as a Baptism, marriage, or birth of a child that happened in the past few years? Do you have photos of the event stored somewhere digitally such as social media, on your phone, or on a computer? If you do and you want to savor those memories for years to come, then you may want to think about creating some photo albums.

      This is a great activity for family of all ages. You can approach the project in one of several ways. You can print the photos and put them in your own physical photo album (the kind our parents used and you can still buy), you can scrapbook, or you can create an online photo album.

      Whichever choice you make, the family can be involved in the process. I like the tangible photos and traditional albums or basic (no frills) scrap-booking, as do my kids. We have albums in all three formats. Whichever method you decide to do you can involve the whole family in the creation process.

      Scrap booking as a family can be fun too. It does not have to be over the top either. We do it with scrap booking paper (12 by 12 inches), photos, and bits of paper to write captions for the photos. The family uses photo safe glue to secure the photos to paper that each person selected and then we slide the pages into the clear page holders of the album. Albums are easy to create using this method and this method still allows for personalization of each page.

        To do a photo album project, I simply print out the photos that I want to use for the album. Many albums will ship printed photos directly to your home. For example, we did a National Park trip this past summer and visited seven of them in the United States over a three-week span.

        I printed all of the photos from the trip that I thought we could use for the album. Then I cut strips of colored paper. I use these strips to write a sentence of two. I usually put a strip with details on each page, but not every photo because that becomes more tedious.

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        Having everyone select and do a page or two and write the details about what the photos they selected makes it even more meaningful. For example, my son Charlie writing “This is Glacier National Park where we camped and Max got bit by gobs of ants at the dog run and we had to find a vet to help him” makes it memorable. His handwriting and the thing that captured his memory about that particular day are special. It adds his touch to the memories from the trip. Having every family member participate in putting the photos into the book and writing a few sentences for the photos that they are putting into the book helps to make it a shared family experience.

        It is also a wonderful time for revisiting the occasion that you are creating the album about. For example, doing an album as a family for a trip you all took together provides us with plenty to talk about as we go through the photos. My kids always get excited and say “look mom, remember when….” about a hundred times anytime we do an album together. The photo album activity is a bonding activity, as is the reminiscing over special time you spent together in the past.

        2. Indoor Camping with Sheet Forts

        What kid doesn’t love a good sheet fort? Sheet forts are the kind of memories that make a childhood great. If your kids don’t have any sheet fort memories, then now is the time to start making them!

        All you need are some sheets. The bigger, the better. Flat and fitted work just fine. Fitted sheets can be helpful to secure under legs of tables since they have elastic corners and are gathered. We like to use tables, chairs, and sometimes couch cushions too. You create a space using the furniture and then cover the furniture with sheets. You are essentially making indoor tents.

        My kids like to play inside their forts for hours once they are created. I help with the creation, to ensure that things don’t fall over and hurt anyone, but once that is done, I let them play. They will take books, little action figures, and their stuffed animals into their fort to play. Feel free to climb into their fort with them too! They will think you are the best parent ever!

          3. Bake or Cook Together

          Staying at home is a great opportunity to cook or bake together as a family. If you have special recipes that you would like to teach your children, now is a great time to do that.

          If you have grandma’s apple pie recipe that has been passed down for generations, it would be a nice time to make it with your children. You can use the time to talk about your grandparents, the heritage of your family, and perhaps the meaning of the recipe to you.

          After you make the special dessert or dish with your children, it will then have special meaning to them too. They will be able to recall the time that they made that special concoction with you and the memories you made from that day.

          Here’re also some ideas for you: 15 Easy Recipes for Kids That Don’t Require an Oven

          4. Play Board Games Together

          I come from a family that plays games together. Even as adults, we love to play Boggle, Scrabble, Rummikub, and a variety of card games.

          My kids have caught the game bug too. When we go camping or are home over the weekend, we will play Uno, Connect Four, Dominoes, and Memory. These board and card games are inexpensive and provide hours of entertainment. It is also a great way to bond as a family and create memories.

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          Some of my favorite memories from childhood are sitting at the kitchen table playing games with my siblings and parents.

          For very young children, you can start with games like Candy Land and Chutes and Ladders. From there, you can move onto slightly more challenging games for their minds such as Uno, Monopoly Junior, Memory, War (basic card game), and Connect Four.

          My kids started playing Candy Land at the ages of three and four. From there, they have been hooked on family game time ever since. They ask often to play together and now is a great time to teach them to play even more games. The entertainment, laughs, and memories are priceless!

          5. Put on a Show or Play

          Family talent shows, putting on a play, and putting on a musical show do not require an audience. Your family can do the show and record on your phone or other electronic device. It doesn’t need an audience other than you all to make it memorable. It is the experience of collaborating, planning, and executing the show together that make it special.

          My kids began making their own hat creations out of our various art supplies. I have been helping them in the process. We have art class daily as part of our new home school curriculum (I am one of those moms who never wanted to home school, yet I am doing it because our schools are closed indefinitely).

          Art class daily has become hat making time. Once they have made enough hats for a fashion show, I said we would put on a show and record it. It has spurred on their motivation to create elaborate works of art. They are excited about each hat and the show that is to come to fruition.

          You can find free plays and scripts on Free Drama. You can act them out as a family and record just for fun. You can also use a script from the website to create a puppet show. Each family member can then play multiple roles and it opens the door to more characters.

          If you don’t have puppets, then make some! You probably have a basket of mismatched socks like we do. It is a great way to use them at this point. Go to Pinterest for ideas on how to make sock puppets. Creating the puppets together is also a great bonding activity. Once you have your characters made, then you can act it out.

          Don’t forget to video it, because I can guarantee that your kids are going to be interested in seeing their own performance. Such a great way to make family memories and it doesn’t cost much, if anything at all!

          6. Reading Aloud

          Reading a book aloud is a great way to create some bonding time and memories. It is a much better alternative than everyone isolating themselves doing their own activities. Being pulled into the same imaginative world through a book creates a shared experiences.

          I remember reading The Old Man and the Sea to my mom when we were on a car trip when I was a kid. I recall talking about the premise of the book and our opinions about it. It obviously left an impression on me, as I remember this over 25 years later.

          I have read aloud books to my kids too. The first chapter book we read aloud together was Charlotte’s Web. After we read the book together, we then watched the movie. It is sweet how my kids will still point on the book or movie if we see it somewhere in public. They will say “remember when we read the book together and watched the movie?” They say it with such sweetness and innocent pleasure, it is a good reminder that the simple things in life are sometimes the best.

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          Some other good books that we have read aloud together that my kids personally enjoyed were The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe, The Secret Garden, and Little Women. I know several friends that have read the Harry Potter series with their children who are slightly older than my six and eight year old children.

          Medium shares a list of 20 great books to read aloud with your kids. Their list is helpful because it has descriptions along with recommended ages for each book.

          If you can’t get out of the house to go to the library, you should look into the digital software that your library utilizes. Visit your local library’s website to find out what apps you will need for you to borrow from their digital library.

          Our library offers a multitude of free e-book downloads. You borrow the materials much like you would a physical book. Usually, the downloads can be kept for 2-3 weeks at a time, depending on your library rules. They also have audible books available for download from many libraries as well. For example, our local library subscribes to Cloud Library. To use it, I simply downloaded the app and entered my library card information requested from the app. I was instantly given access to thousands of audible books free!

          7. Plant a Garden

          This tip only applies if you have a yard, however there are options for creating patio gardens and indoor gardens too. Planting a garden and teaching your child how to tend to vegetables is a wonderful bonding opportunity. You are teaching them real life skills, you will have real food to eat from your own garden, and you are creating memories that will last a lifetime.

          If you ask a person if they had a garden when they were a kid, everyone knows the answer. It is not something you have to think to hard about. Why? Because gardening is an experience. Why not experience it with your family too?

          If you don’t know much about gardening, then you can learn with your child as you go through the process. Here is an article from Bonnie Plants on how to plant a garden.

          If you don’t want to leave your home, then you can order gardening supplies online like I did. Lowe’s dropped off our raised garden bed kit on my doorstep and I ordered a variety of seeds from Amazon. Just look online at the garden stores that are closest to you and see what they ship to doorstep if you don’t want to leave the house.

          8. Host Your Own Family Party

          Just because you are home and can’t have a big party with lots of friends doesn’t mean you can’t still have a party. A party with your family is fun if you decide to make it fun.

          Pick a theme to really make it an event. An 80’s themed dance party is sure to get the whole family laughing and smiling. Pull out your best 80’s looking clothing, rat your hair to get that special 80’s look, put on some 1980’s tunes, and teach your kids some dance moves from the 80’s.

          Having a dance party doesn’t require many people. A party of two is still a party! Make some memories and perhaps show your kids what things were like when you were a kid. They will certainly remember an 80’s themed dance party for many years to come.

          Weekends spent at home don’t mean that they can’t be fun. Make the weekend special even if you have to be home. For example, Friday can be family movie night or family game night. Then Saturday night can be your 80’s dance party. Let your creativity go to work and if you need a few ideas check out this blog article that has 32 Party Theme Ideas .

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          9. Learn an Instrument Together

          No time better than the present to start learning to play that instrument you have always wanted to play.

          Have you always wanted to play the guitar? Then, look online for a basic learning guitar that isn’t expensive, yet has good reviews. We did that for my daughter and purchased a decent quality ukulele from Amazon that was intended for beginners while still having a quality sound (it wasn’t some trinket from a tourist destination that wouldn’t hold a tune.)

          We found lessons online from an instructor who would conduct lessons one on one using Skype. Many instructors use this technology or other free software that allows quality video communications from their home to yours.

          The website we happened to use to find an instructor was TakeLessons.com. You can find instructors that will teach anything from drums to cello to saxophone. Prices vary too. You pick your instructor from their pool of instructors available. This website is basically a service that connects people with talent (some with really good music education too) who can teach to students who are looking to learn.

          Learning to play an instrument together and you are creating memories together! You are also learning a new skill that you can enjoy for years to come. Playing music together is good for the mind and soul!

          The TakeLessons.com website also has language lessons. You can learn a new language as a family. All from the comfort of your own home. I am sure there are many different website that offer lessons on learning another language. Do your research and compare prices before committing to anything.

          10. Plan Future Travels

          While you are learning a new language you can begin planning future vacations. You can do a family meeting and discuss where you would like to go and why.

          It would be even better to have each child research where they would like to take a trip. Each child and/or family member can present a pitch on why your family should travel to that location in the future. They can use their research to tell about the area such as its historical value, recreational features, and the learning experiences that can be had from such travels.

          This doesn’t mean you need to book any travels. It more about learning and finding hope in the future. If we can’t plan for the future, then there is no hope. Make mental plans now, as a family, for what you want to do and where you want to travel someday.

          Make Memories Today!

          There is no time better than the present to start making memories together and bonding as a family. In these times when many people are having to stay home for extended periods of time, it is a great opportunity to bond and connect as a family.

          You have a captive audience with your children at home. Don’t miss out on this time by holing up in separate rooms doing your own activities. Make it a point to chose group activities and engage your family during this time at home.

          Every day alive is a blessing. Every day having your family is blessing. Don’t take your blessings for granted. Love on them and create great memories in spite of the circumstances.

          Featured photo credit: Marisa Howenstine via unsplash.com

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