I’ve parented for a long time now. I’ve potty trained seven kids, taught five to drive, and have graduated four so far. And I still have three children at home with two in elementary grades—I’ll be at this parenting thing for a while longer!
All of the years with all of these children have brought such perspective. I can remember being a newer mom and the angst I had when my toddler would hit a new stage or when one of them started some new misbehavior. I just wanted the one key that would help them learn not to hit, to do their chores, or be kind to their siblings.
Parenting isn’t as simple as finding one key. But if I could coach my younger mom-self, I’d share these five essentials of parenting well. It’s great advice for new parents, and “old” parents too!
1. Keep a routine (but write in pencil).
Routines are a parent’s friend. Kids, especially young kids, thrive on predictability. Keeping a routine helps the family function well and reduces strife. If the kids have the same weeknight routine, there won’t be as much conflict getting them to bed. But routines should be written in pencil. We can’t hold so firmly to structure that we become inflexible. Being flexible and teaching our kids flexibility helps when the toddler throws up as you’re headed to playgroup or when the science project makes for a late dinner.
Routines are a parent’s friend. Kids, especially young kids, thrive on predictability.
2. Parent out of love, not fear.
This takes really looking at what drives our responses and decisions. If I parent out of fear, I’m likely to overreact to misbehavior or correct because I’m embarrassed rather than for the child’s best interest. If I parent out of fear, I make decisions based on control. If, however, I parent out of love, I’ll listen and try to understand my child. I correct not because I’m bothered but because I want my child to learn.
3. Inspect what you expect.
I learned this the hard way. I remember being shocked that one of my children hadn’t been completing schoolwork, even though I had asked every day and he had answered it was done. Parenting well means actively checking on our kids. If I expect my children to complete schoolwork before dinner, I need to make sure they’ve done it. If I give my teens a phone with rules about how it’s used, I need to periodically check and make sure they’ve been responsible.
4. Push Pause as needed.
Parenting can’t take a backseat to busy activity. As inconvenient as it may be, there will be times we need to pause from activity to address an issue. When my kids were younger, I remember pulling back from activities for a few days to purposely address attitudes that had cropped up. With my older kids, there have been times I needed to pause my own to-do list to listen. Parenting well means being willing to push Pause on the agenda to teach, guide or train through an issue.
5. Be a student of your child.
Each child is so unique. Remember that potty training? I approached it a bit differently for each of my kids. If you study your kids, you’ll discover whether they learn by reading or listening, what kind of discipline works best, and what fills their love tank. How do they communicate? How are they motivated? What are their vulnerabilities? One-size-fits-all parenting isn’t effective. Being a student of our children helps us mold our parenting to fit their unique personality.
What would you add as an essential to parenting well?