What Makes a Great Parent?

10 min read

Executive Summary

I have outlined the key qualities of being a great parent — plus, tips on how to achieve each one if it’s an area where you want to grow. Click each bullet point to skip to that section and learn more.

What makes a great parent? There are a million answers to this question, and it’s something I’m sure every current and aspiring parent has thought about at one point or another. After reading countless books, talking with my parenting coach, and raising my own kids, I believe there are four major characteristics that make a great parent…

What Makes a Great Parent: Patience

We all know a great parent has lots of patience. Children need endless patience as they learn the way the world works and develop the basic skills of being a (little) human. “When you demonstrate patience, you are also giving your child the message that s/he is valued and validated,” says child development specialist Dr. Gail Gross. She adds that since kids are social learners, when parents are patient they’re also modeling and teaching their kids key behaviors, like respect, empathy, security, and good self-esteem.

“When I am calm, my children are, too, and we avoid that deadly cycle of emotional escalation that can ruin relationships,” writes Dr. Robert Epstein, a psychologist who did a study analyzing the effectiveness of different parenting techniques. He says one surprising takeaway was the importance of parents’ own stress management, aka the ability to not lose your cool. He found that good stress management was associated with happier kids and a better relationship between parents and their kids. “Keeping calm is probably step one in good parenting,” he says. In short, staying calm requires patience.

What To Do If You Lose Your Patience

Of course, every parent will lose their patience at some point. “All parents yell,” says Dr. Becky in her famous Ted Talk on parenting. She says when you lose your patience and yell or snap at your kid, it can make them feel alone, overwhelmed, and distressed. And kids often cope with those feelings by blaming themselves, which overtime can lead to depression, anxiety, and deep feelings of worthlessness, according to Dr. Becky. Which is why patience is so important in the first place.

But the good news is you can repair those moments and use them to teach your kids important life lessons. “What defines us is not whether we mess up, it’s what happens after,” Dr. Becky says. I highly recommend watching her full Ted Talk for all the insights on what repair looks like. I am so here for Dr Becky and the Positive Parenting movement!

What Makes a Great Parent: Showing Your Love

A great parent is loving. I think we have all noticed how much our kiddos love our hugs, cuddles, and verbal encouragement. That same study I mentioned above by Dr. Epstein found that “the best thing we can do for our children is to give them lots of love and affection.” Their data found that “showing love is an excellent predictor of good outcomes with children: of the quality of the relationship we have with our children, of their happiness, and even of their health.” This is one of my favorite characteristics of being a great parent because it’s one of the easiest to develop if it’s not already easy for you.

How to show more warmth

It can be as simple as making sure you tell your kids you love them each day. I’ve told my kids, “I love you always,” since they were babies. Every few days before we turn out the lights, we cuddle and I explain that: “I’ll love you no matter what. Even if I don’t agree with you, even if I’m disappointed in your choice, there’s nothing you can do that would make me not love you. I love you always.”

If you want to dive deeper into showing more warmth and affection, this article from the American Academy of Pediatrics has some tips for kids of all ages, and this article from Care for Kids Australia has advice specific to babies and young kids. The author of the famous “Love Languages” book has also written one specifically for parents: The 5 Love Languages of Children: The Secret to Loving Children Effectively.

What Makes a Great Parent: Engagement

Our kids crave connection with us, and a great parent is engaged. Being engaged means being present and attentive to your kids when you’re with them. Not answering emails on your phone, or mentally running through your grocery list while they’re trying to tell you a story. Trust me. Your kids will notice the difference.

“Our children know when they are being ignored or dismissed,” says sleep trainer and parenting coach Davis Ehrler. “I think what it comes down to is satisfying the core need of every human being, that we are being listened to, and paid attention to.”

How to be more engaged as parent

Ehrler, who was my night nurse and is still my parenting coach, says if your kid asks you a question, show you’re an engaged and present parent by answering it. “It is incredibly important that we pay attention, and we engage, especially when the child is seeking it.”

Another parenting tip that can help you be engaged is to dedicate specific increments of time where you plan to give your kids your full attention. It’s about the quality of this time, not the quantity, so focus on manageable increments and leave your phone in a different room.

Thirty minutes where I’m fully engaged — whether that’s listening to a story they’re telling, answering their questions, reading a book, or playing with toys —  will stay with them longer than a 2-hour window where I was mostly checked out and on my phone, or got annoyed when they asked me a question that forced me to look up from what I was doing.

“It’s not about the length of time, but rather the value and consistency of it,” says Carolina Agudelo, a conscious parenting coach at Sunshine in Casa.

What Makes a Great Parent: Playfulness

A great parent is playful. Studies have found that playing with your kid helps build their resilience, strengthens the bond you have with them, and teaches them new skills. In fact, play is so important that the UN’s Human Rights Commission lists it as a right every child should have. And if you need yet another reason to embrace playfulness, when you play with your kids it also releases oxytocin in your own brain, which has been shown to reduce stress and anxiety.

As a success-driven business person, I don’t naturally fall into the “playful” category. Not because I’m not fun, but prior to having kids I just wasn’t accustomed to “playing” in my daily adult life. Before kids, my husband and I didn’t go to a park to run around, roll on the floor, make funny faces, or stack blocks for our own entertainment. For that matter, no adult has ever asked us, “Can you play with me?”

How to become more playful

Learning how to be playful is a skill. You have to learn to go with the flow. To be willing to sink into the carpet and know that you are about to make the same funny face 50 times to make your little one giggle.

I’ve found that if I commit fully to a certain amount of time to “play” then I am ALL IN. I approach this the same way I do engagement — rather than trying to play for a few hours, but being distracted the whole time, I commit to PURE PLAYFULNESS for a set period of time, say 30 minutes. During that time, I embrace their looks of genuine joy as I press the button (again), read that same silly book (for the 5th time in a row), or watch them climb up and down the fort they built with couch cushions (AGAIN).

If you need some ideas on different games or ways to play with your kids, First 5 California has a whole database of activities and you can search based on the age of your child.

How To Become A Great Parent: Self-Care

We’ve defined what makes a great parent and offered some tips for how to develop each characteristic, but I’ve found an overarching solution to developing all these characteristics as a whole: self-care.

Many experts agree that one of the first steps to being a great parent is taking care of yourself. You’re a lot more likely to be loving, engaged, and playful, and a lot less likely to lose your patience and snap at your child if you’re well-rested and recharged.

“One of the best things you can do to be patient with a child is to take care of yourself,” says Dr. Mini Tandon, a child psychiatrist at St. Louis Children’s Hospital. “Stop feeling guilty about it and model good behavior to your children by caring for yourself.”

For me, taking care of myself begins with asking for help. In order to be available – both mentally and physically –  for my kids, I need help doing all the behind-the-scenes work that children don’t see their parents do.

In fact, when I sat down to think about what makes a great parent, none of the answers that came to mind involved menial tasks, such as refiling the diaper genie, emptying the dishwasher, or cleaning breast pump parts. These innumerable household chores seriously deplete a parent. How can we develop patience, show warmth, be meaningfully engaged, and make time to play if we are depleted? The answer is we can’t.

The cure for depletion is delegation. I delegate most household chores and menial tasks to my family assistant so I have the headspace, energy, and time to be patient, loving, engaged, and playful for my kids after a long day at work.

There are numerous ways to delegate depending on your personal preferences and lifestyle. Check out my free parenting guide on 99 Ways to Do it All (Without Doing it All) for all my tips on how to delegate the menial tasks in your household so you have the bandwidth to be a great parent. And don’t forget to subscribe to our newsletter to receive our latest articles in your inbox.

Want more tips on self-care? Read my article, “Self Care for Parent: 5 Ways to Create More Me Time In Parenting.”

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