If you’re a parent, you know that babies don’t come with instruction manuals, and raising kids can be downright exhausting! In addition to meeting our children’s basic needs, we’re entrusted to help shape and mould these amazing creatures into empathetic, resilient, creative, caring, giving, intelligent, hardworking individuals. No pressure, right?!
The good news is, lots of parents are getting it right and sharing their wealth of knowledge. By combining our first-hand experience with expert advice from parenting pros, teachers, psychologists, and child-rearing researchers, we’ve created a comprehensive how-to guide with 12 tried-and-true tips for raising compassionate, well-rounded kids.
It’s important to note that good parenting doesn’t require perfection, and no one gets it right 100% of the time. In order to raise kind, caring kids, we must model unconditional love and compassion for our children and ourselves after those inevitable blunders.
Read on to find out just what it takes to bring up good kids. Whether you have babies, toddlers, or teens, it’s never too early—or too late—to start!
1. Spend Time with Your Child
There’s no substitution for the time we spend with our kids. Not only does this time strengthen the connection between a parent and child; it makes children feel loved and important when their parents prioritize quality time with them on a regular basis. Children with involved parents are more likely to grow up to be empathetic adults who prioritize quality time with their own children and other loved ones.
The following guidelines will help you maximize the time you spend together:
- Get to know your child. If he or she loves basketball, find a local court and take a picnic along, or stop for ice cream after shooting hoops. Showing genuine interest in your child’s favourite pastimes will build trust and respect as you get to know your son or daughter on a whole new level. Plus, you’ll be modelling the importance of learning about the people we care about and love.
- Let your child get to know you. While it’s important to take interest in your child’s favourite music, hobbies, etc., you can strengthen your bond even further by introducing him or her to the things you love most. Break out the photo albums and show your child pictures from when you were younger, make a playlist of your all-time favourite songs, or take your son or daughter on a walk down memory lane by visiting your childhood neighbourhood. There are endless possibilities!
- Create a routine together. It may seem difficult to fit in together time, but establishing a routine can helps tremendously. One of the easiest ways to connect with younger children on a daily basis is to read with them. It’s particularly fun to make regular trips to the library and choose books together. Connecting at mealtimes is also great, whether you’re dining at home or on the go. Ask your child to help you prepare, serve, and clean up dinner a few times a week. If you have multiple children, establish a nightly schedule so everyone has equal opportunities to help Mum or Dad in the kitchen.
- Focus on quality, not quantity. Lots of parents put pressure on themselves to spend every available moment with their children. This unrealistic expectation sets parents up for failure and keeps kids from spreading their wings. Prioritize quality time with your child on a daily basis, whether it’s 15 minutes or 2 hours. The amount of time may differ from day to day, and that’s totally okay!
- Have fun! Time spent with your child doesn’t always have to be pre-planned and serious. Have an impromptu dance party from time to time, tell jokes, and sing silly songs together. Quality time can be serious or completely goofy!
- Make together time a no-phone zone. Regardless of how you connect with your child, leave the digital devices turned off and out of reach. It’s impossible to give each other your full attention if you’re distracted by phone calls and notifications. Show your child you care by leaving your phone at home.
“To be in your children’s memories tomorrow, you have to be in their lives today.” – Unknown
2. Show (and Tell!) Your Child You Care
Like all of us, kids need reassurance, encouragement, and praise on a regular basis. They need to know they’re loved and appreciated, and they need to feel safe and secure.
It may seem like your encouraging words, hugs, and high-fives are unappreciated, but these acts boost self-esteem and strengthen the bond between you and your child.
In addition to telling your child you love them, slip an encouraging card or note into their lunchbox or backpack on occasion, or send them a text just to say hello. Children who feel loved and valued are more likely to become caring, conscientious adults.
3. Comfort Your Child
Kids experience erratic emotions, which you know if you’ve ever witnessed a sudden public temper tantrum during the “terrible twos” or unexpected tears followed by a joyful giggle fit. If you’re a parent, you probably witness these unpredictable ups and downs on a daily basis. Believe it or not, we have the ability to help our kids learn to regulate these emotions.
In an interview with Slate.com, child psychologist Nancy Eisenberg explained that children whose parents offer comfort and support during emotional times wind up being well-adjusted socially. Conversely, kids who are chastised or punished for expressing their emotions struggle with emotional self-regulation, which can lead to big problems later on.
“In general, being supportive—which can include comforting the kids, helping them to deal with their emotions, or helping them take care of [a] problem—tends to be related to better regulation in kids,” Eisenberg told the online magazine.
4. Maintain Healthy Relationships
One grossly underestimated aspect of raising good kids is modelling healthy relationships. Your children aren’t just affected by your interactions with them; they learn how to interact with others by watching your social exchanges.
In addition to modelling good, caring relationships, it’s important to encourage children to do the same. All hope isn’t lost if you struggle to make friends and maintain relationships. You can work on building your own skills and relationships, which will show your child that learning and growing is a lifelong process.
Below are a few tried-and-true tips to build healthy, long-lasting relationships:
- Start with communication. It’s important to talk through problems instead of holding your feelings inside, blowing up, or withdrawing from the situation. Healthy relationships require mutual respect, vulnerability, compromise, support, and nonjudgment. Communication skills are not innate; they’re learned, so you have the opportunity to set a great example for your child.
- Set boundaries and discuss expectations. To maintain healthy relationships, we must set boundaries and voice our expectations while respecting our loved ones’ boundaries and expectations. This is an ongoing process in any relationship, as our needs and wishes change over time depending on our current circumstances.
- Don’t let a relationship drain you. Not all relationships last a lifetime. If you feel unvalued or unsafe, it may be time to cut ties with a friend or partner. Teach your child to listen to his or her gut instincts. If something doesn’t feel right, it probably isn’t.
5. Show Your Child the World
While jet-setting around the globe could teach your child a world of valuable lessons, you don’t have to invest in a passport to introduce your child to new people, cultures, and religions. Taking part in cultural events in your community, and planning road trips or vacations to diverse areas, are excellent ways to expand your child’s world. Books are also a wonderful way to teach your child about a variety of people, cultures, and beliefs.
The children’s book What Do You Believe? introduces kids to a variety of religions, including Buddhism, Christianity, and Islam. Another fantastic book, This Is How We Do It: One Day in the Lives of Seven Kids from around the World, allows kids (and adults!) to travel the world virtually, and learn about cultural and economic diversity.
Learning to be an empathetic person requires learning to understand and feel what someone else is feeling. When we are able to think beyond our own beliefs, values, biases, wishes, and needs, we see the world from a new, awakened perspective. Empathy is a gift your child will carry into every area of his or her life.
6. Praise Your Child for His Efforts, Not His Abilities (or Looks!)
It may be surprising to learn that there’s a right and wrong way to praise children. Appearance and success-driven compliments can actually be detrimental. Below, we’ve listed some do’s and don’ts to help you praise your child:
- Avoid telling your child she’s beautiful. Complimenting your child’s looks emphasizes appearance, which can lead to confidence issues later on. If you tell your child she looks pretty one day and don’t mention her appearance the next, she’ll likely feel let down and/or unsure of your opinion. It’s best to avoid the topic of appearance altogether. Instead, compliment your kiddo for her passion or perseverance, or simply tell her you can’t imagine a world without her. There are plenty of compliments you can give a child (or anyone!) that have nothing to do with appearance. A quick Google search for non-appearance related compliments yields millions of results, but we’re partial to this list of 10 compliments for kids published on huffingtonpost.ca.
- Never, ever comment on your child’s weight. Well-meaning adults often compliment kids on their weight loss or point out a child’s weight gain. These comments affect confidence and self-esteem, and teach children that your opinion of them is conditional and based on their appearance. This can have a lifelong impact on how children and adults view themselves and relate to others. In many cases, these interactions can even lead to disordered eating, over exercise, and eating disorders. Model body positivity to your children, and avoid making comments about your own weight and appearance, to ensure they grow up to be adults who value the important things in life.
- Compliment your child on his effort, not his grades. As mentioned previously, no one can get it right 100% of the time. When we praise our children for acing a test and punish them for failing, their worldview becomes black and white, and they base their worthiness on their achievements instead of their determination and effort. As parents, we should be encouraging a growth mind-set, which allows children to use feedback and experiences to learn and improve. A fixed mind-set is the belief that we’re good or bad at a particular task with little to no room for improvement. To learn more about growth mind-set, visit org.
“The way we talk to our children becomes their inner voice.” – Peggy O’Mara
7. Encourage Your Child to Try New Things
Teaching our kids to seize opportunities early is essential for their growth and development. Playing a team sport, joining choir or band, or enrolling in an art class can boost kids’ confidence as they learn new skills and form friendships.
In addition to group activities, encourage your child to try new things on his own, and take interest in his newfound hobbies. Tell your child to let you know anytime there’s a new activity he’d like to try. You can also set a great example by trying new things from time to time.
8. Teach Your Child How to Do Chores
It turns out assigning chores to our children can help them become happier, healthier, more independent adults. Helping out with household chores makes kids feel capable, confident, and part of the team.
Giving your kids age-appropriate chores is key. While an older child can take out the trash, mow the lawn, or cook a family meal, a younger kiddo can help clean up the toy room or put away groceries.
9. Raise Your Child to Be Resilient
Failed attempts and disappointments are unavoidable in life, but how we respond to those setbacks is what shapes us. Resiliency is the ability to bounce back after experiencing one of life’s inevitable speedbumps or hurdles.
Paediatrician Kenneth Ginsburg highlights the “seven Cs” of resilience in his book, A Parent’s Guide to Building Resilience in Children and Teens: Giving Your Child Roots and Wings. The physician explains that resilience is multifaceted. Through competence, confidence, connection, character, contribution, coping, and control, children’s thoughts and beliefs become less rigid, enabling them to learn and grow after setbacks. You can read in depth descriptions of the seven Cs at healthychildren.org.
10. Advocate for Your Child
If your child excels in school, she may get lost in the shuffle. Educators tend to focus their attention on helping average students excel. “Good” kids may be ignored unintentionally because teachers must spend the majority of the school day dealing with behaviour problems and helping struggling students.
If you sense your child is not getting the support she needs at school, set up a meeting with her teacher. Always participate in parent/teacher conferences and school activities. Your child’s educational experience with have a big impact on the rest of her life.
11. Teach Your Child Financial Literacy
If you have teenagers at home, student credit card applications may be showing up in your letterbox. When kids and young adults aren’t financially literate, they tend to make decisions about money that can wreak havoc on their futures.
Kids form financial habits by the age of seven, according to a study conducted by the University of Cambridge. It may seem like your child is oblivious to your spending habits, but research suggests that’s not the case.
Financial guru Dave Ramsey suggests using a clear jar to save money, so kids can see their money multiply. Have your child bring along her own money when shopping. It won’t take long for her to realize how quickly those purchases add up!
You can help your teens become financially literate by opening a bank account in their name, discussing the risks of credit cards and debt, encouraging them to find a job or become an entrepreneur, and helping them budget their earnings. You can find more tips for teaching kids about money on Dave Ramsey’s blog.
12. Don’t Use Drugs, and Drink in Moderation
Kids whose parents partake in risky behaviours, such as drug use and heavy drinking, are much more likely to develop similar habits. In fact, a study conducted by University College London found that “children whose mothers drank heavily were 80% more likely to drink than those whose mothers didn’t.”
Along with modelling good behaviour, talking to your kids about alcohol and drug use is imperative. Children who are aware of the dangers are less likely to succumb to peer pressure and partake in these risky behaviours. You can find more information about young people and drugs at mentoruk.org. Another fantastic resource for parents is this article published on kidshealth.org, which offers sound advice based on your child’s age.
Parenting Is a Learn-As-You-Go Process
Any parent will tell you that raising kids often feels like navigating a ship in the dark. As American author and activist Maya Angelou once said, “Do the best you can until you know better. Then when you know better, do better.” We’re all in this together, learning as we go.
Adopting a growth mind-set isn’t just important for our kids; it’s equally essential for us parents. Many adults take a definitive approach to parenting, which doesn’t leave room for growth. Open-mindedness allows us to continue to learn and adapt throughout our lives and approach parenting from an awakened perspective. A big part of raising good kids is embracing a growth mind-set.
“There are no perfect parents, and there are no perfect children, but there are plenty of perfect moments along the way.” – Dave Willis
Try implementing one or two of the above guidelines each week rather than attempting to tackle them all at once. Most importantly, communicate with your child, be vulnerable and open with him, and admit when you make a mistake. Although it may seem like a simple act, owning up to your faults satisfies four of the above-listed guidelines; it will comfort your child and show that you care while modelling resiliency and healthy relationship habits.
“Happiness is when you realize your children have turned out to be good people.” – Unknown