Car seat, check.
Newborn diapers, check.
Tons of onesies, check.
Parenting skills handbook… wait, what?
Were you missing the parenting skills section on your postpartum after-care instructions? Don’t worry, you’re not alone. While it would be nice to bring your newborn home with a “how-to” manual, part of this parenting process is to learn by doing (and sometimes failing).
But what if, instead of stumbling along the way, you had a map (like a checklist of essential parenting skills) that guided you in the right direction?
What are the most essential parenting skills?
It should come as no surprise that some parenting techniques produce better outcomes than others. In general, all parents want their children to be happy and healthy, but our own goals and circumstances can also influence where we place the most value when it comes to our parenting skills.
In an attempt to figure out which parenting skills were most important, Robert Epstein, a senior research psychologist at the American Institute for Behavioral Research and Technology, looked at data from 2,000 parents (who took an online test of parenting skills) to determine which parenting practices encouraged by experts most often lead to happy, healthy, and successful children.
Based on the results, Epstein and his team discovered 10 competencies that predict good parenting outcomes. In order of importance, here are the 10 parenting skills or Parents’ Ten, according to Epstein and team.
1. Love and affection
Showing love is the number one competency that predicts good parenting outcomes. This includes showing unconditional love, support, and acceptance. It also stresses the importance of spending one-on-one time with your child.
2. Stress management
Not only is it important for you to manage your own stress, it’s also critical to teach your child stress management and relaxation techniques.
3. Relationship skills
Success in this area means you model and maintain healthy relationship skills with other people (spouse, significant other, co-parent, co-workers, family, etc).
4. Autonomy and independence
When parents foster autonomy and independence, it tells their children that they respect and believe in their abilities.
5. Education and learning
Teaching children to be lifelong learners begins at home. This includes valuing education, modeling learning, and providing enrichment opportunities for your child.
6. Life skills
Providing for your child’s needs and planning for the future falls into this category. This includes showing your child how to positively view obstacles and challenges, which helps them develop resilience and perseverance.
7. Behavior management
Parents who use positive discipline rely on positive reinforcement and deliver consequences (not punishment) in a kind and firm manner, helping a child feel connected, capable, and a sense of belonging.
This also minimizes or eliminates yelling, and harsh verbal discipline, which one 2014 studyTrusted Source found is damaging to developing adolescents.
You model healthy lifestyle choices that include exercise and good nutrition choices for your family.
You support spiritual and/or religious development.
You help to ensure your child is safe. This includes setting boundaries and being aware of their activities and friends. And it’s also tactical things — everything from babyproofing your home and enforcing wearing helmets while bike riding to teaching them how to cross the street smartly and what sexual consent means.
What can you do improve your parenting skills?
When essential parenting attributes are missing, Deborah Ann Davis, educator, parenting skills coach, and award-winning author, says your child may feel uncertain, insecure, and unsure of how to navigate and move forward in the world.
While not an exhaustive list, the following tips can help you improve your parenting skills.
- practice active listening with your child
- show love and affection daily
- offer choices when possible
- teach them how to express their feelings
- make time for your child
- avoid yelling, shaming, and labeling
- assign age-appropriate chores
- let your child fail (this teaches them how to be resilient)
- set limits and be consistent with discipline and consequences
- don’t make repeated threats about a consequence
- follow through with consequences immediately
- acknowledge and validate their feelings
- separate the action from the child (a behavior is bad; a child isn’t bad)
- respond in a calm, even tone
- show unconditional love
- model the behavior you want them to display
- practice positive discipline
- catch your child doing something right and make a positive comment about it
Parenting skills assessment
Instead of focusing on one aspect of parenting, or worse, bogging yourself down with trying to do all of them simultaneously, Davis says to rotate.
Start with the following assessment, but do it judgment-free, says Davis. You have to know where you’re at so you can see where you’re going.
Parenting skills to assess:
- unconditional love
- dependable security and safety
- stress management techniques
- constant communication
- tools for building healthy relationships
- modeling healthy choices
- life skills development
- education advocacy
- Start by assessing where you currently are. Make a list of all the parenting skills listed above.
- Rank each one on a scale of 1–10 (where 1 = emerging; 5 = adequate; 8 or above = one of your strengths) for the current positive impact.
- Now, it’s time to assess your child’s needs.
- Make a second list of all the parenting skills listed above.
- Rank each one on a scale of 1–10 (where 1 = definitely needed; 5 = fills needs adequately; 8 = benefits child) for what most benefits your child right now.
Davis says you now have a quickie objective indicator of the strengths and weaknesses in your parenting process. That said, she does remind us that you and your child are different people — with different needs, personalities, and outlooks on life, so don’t expect #1 and #2 to match.
For example, showering a child with unconditional love through repetitive hugs is great for a kid who loves hugging, but it’s not suited for all children. “Some kids feel uncomfortable with physical closeness, so establishing unconditional love has to be in a manner they can relate to,” Davis notes.
Now that you’ve assessed where you are, it’s time to take action. Here are Davis’s tips for improving your parenting skills.
- Start by reinforcing the skills that rank highest for your child. It’s already working, so use it to bolster yourself with more success. Do it all week.
- Next week, pick one thing in the middle areas (adequate) from either list, and try a little something new. If it produces the desired results, it’s a keeper. If not, toss it, and try another tactic in the adequate parenting skill zone. When you find one that works, add it to your arsenal.
- With a couple of weeks of confident parenting under your belt, it’s time to select a previously neglected parenting skill that your child needs more of. Choose a baby step to try initially. You don’t have to figure it out by yourself — research strategies you can use. Find an expert in that area to help you.
- Every week, focus on a different parenting skill. Tell your family what you’re working on so they can cheer you on, make you accountable, and recognize the positive changes.
Going forward, each week, Davis recommends emphasizing what works, boosting the middle of the road skills, and rotating through the areas that need the most attention, trying one strategy at a time.
Experts agree there are specific parenting skills associated with positive outcomes for children and parents. Identifying those skills and refining the ones that need work takes time, the right tools, and a whole lot of patience.
The good news? There’s a good chance you’re already using many of these skills. But if you have any questions about parenting skills or strategies, talk to your child’s pediatrician or a child psychologist.