Empathic Parenting Counseling and Coaching

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Five Important Qualities for Effective Parenting

We all bring our own individual strengths to parenthood. For example, my husband is great at planning grand adventures, I’m good at packing the snacks and making sure everyone dresses in layers. (Can you guess who the fun one in that relationship might be?)

Some traits serve us better than others, and we’ve all heard about the ones parents are supposed to have: patience, honesty, compassion, a healthy lifestyle, etc. Of course, I agree with all of these. But out of all the skills and traits we could possibly cultivate, there are five that I think will most help you to be a positive parent.

1. Flexibility

People talk a lot about the importance of consistency in parenting, and I can see why it’s valuable in some regards. But I think flexibility matters a whole lot more.

Say you have big plans for Saturday. You have lots of errands to run, your seven-year-old has a basketball game, and you’re hoping to squeeze in a workout and maybe even a shower. Unfortunately, your baby spent Friday night cutting a new tooth and your toddler has a fever. You’re going to have to reorganize your day.

You knew exactly which school you wanted your kid to attend, and you’re overjoyed when she gets in. But the transition is rough, the teacher isn’t a good fit, and two months in your kid is still struggling. The school wasn’t what you expected, and you’re having second thoughts. Your daughter simply isn’t thriving. It might be time to make a new plan.

We can figure out how our kids operate and what they need only to find that what worked last week is a dud this week. Since our kids are perpetually growing and changing, we must hold our strategies lightly. The only thing that’s constant with kids is that nothing ever really stays the same.

2. Curiosity

I’ll admit it, sometimes I forget this one. I assume I know what’s going on without asking any questions or digging deeper. I think I know what every situation calls for and exactly why my kid is acting out. However, it turns out I’m not actually a mind reader. And when I assume to know what’s happening and what needs to be done about it, I frequently get it wrong.  

When a behavior comes up that bewilders me, it always helps when I remember to slow down and be curious. What is he trying to tell me? What is it that he’s NOT saying? What’s going on underneath the surface that I could miss if I were to continue to skim along rather than dig deep? What can I do to more fully understand this little person?

I’ve discovered that at 5, my son thinks about concepts like love, death, and altruism. When I leave times for him to reflect and I remember to listen more than I talk, I learn about his thoughts on homelessness, the big bang, and what god is. There’s a whole lot going on in that little mind, and being curious allows me a glimpse inside.

3. Personal Development

No, this doesn’t mean you have to start listening to Tony Robbins books (unless that’s your jam, of course). Essentially what I mean is that our kids need us to get our shit together. And if we’re honest, we all have work to do in this regard.

I’m a perfectionist and a people pleaser, and I’ve responded to my son in ways I’m not proud of simply because of who happened to be watching. I can also be critical and shaming. Not great qualities for nurturing a small person’s development. Accepting these qualities as much as I recognize my strengths allows me to notice when I’m parenting in ways I’d like to change.

And while no one escapes childhood entirely unscathed, working on ourselves means that our children won’t need to recover from their childhoods. It gives them the space to work through their own issues rather than ours. It also models that we’re all imperfect and that there’s great strength to be found in accepting our flaws even while working toward becoming our best selves.

4. Really Good Boundaries

Having good boundaries means recognizing what belongs to us and what doesn’t. When your kid is upset, it’s his upset. Not yours. I love the imagery I first learned from Rebecca Eanes of the parent as a lighthouse. When storms are raging, we are the steadfast beacon, the light guiding our kids back to safety. We don’t dive into choppy waters, we remain on solid ground and beckon small vessels to safety.

Plus all those adages about self-care exist for a reason. We have to put our own oxygen mask on first. We have to take care of ourselves in order to care for others. When we accept responsibility for our children’s drama in whatever form it takes, we are committing to solving problems that aren’t ours to solve and absorbing emotions that are none of our business to fix. We rob our children of the opportunity to learn and grow, and we will burn ourselves out in record time. Tantrums and meltdowns are much easier to navigate when we realize we aren’t responsible for making them stop. We offer compassion, but we resist the urge to rescue our kids from their own feelings. We really only ever do that to make ourselves feel better anyway, right?

5. A Sense of Humor

In the course of your time as a parent, you will find yourself in a myriad of ridiculous situations. You’ll say, do, and hear things you could never have imagined. I’ve played “Charles Dickens goes to Costco” and I’ve danced to a dinosaur rock opera in the kitchen, crooning about a parasaurolophus. And these are just examples from the span of a week. I’ve also inadvertently picked poop up off the floor with my bare hand (three times and counting – apparently I’m a slow learner), I’ve stifled laughs when my son tries out new words and misses the mark, and I’ve gone to outlandish lengths to make him sleep. Life is easier and more fun if you can laugh at the absurdity, messiness, and relentless of parenthood.

Individual parenting styles will differ, and we’ll all bring our own strengths along for the ride. By taking care of ourselves, making an effort to truly see our children for who they are, and approaching parenting with a sense of lightness, we will be in good shape to raise healthy kids and actually enjoy ourselves along the way.


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