Parenting isn't easy, but sometimes the simplest things can have the biggest impact. These eight tips will make your parenting life a little easier, and family life a little more joyful.
The upcoming change of seasons from late summer to fall is when I get reflective. It's back-to-school time, which means my family is gearing up for lots of new learning. I've been the parent of eight for 27 years now. (And I'm also the super-proud grandparent of an 18-month-old grandson!) When school bells are about to ring, I take stock in my parenting journey, past and present, and size up what I feel great about and what areas I'd like to improve.
Parenting may be the toughest job we'll ever love, but what I genuinely do love most is knowing that I'm not perfect and have endless opportunities to up my parenting game and tweak the areas I want to get better at. You don’t need to make significant changes when you want to make improvements in how you parent. Check out these ten easy tips that will help you strengthen your parenting role.
1. Give yourself a parenting review
One of my favorite rituals in the workforce is my annual job performance review. (No, I'm not kidding!) This used to cause me unreal anxiety, but once I shifted my mindset and recognized this yearly review as constructive feedback that I could use to improve my work role, I finally relaxed and looked forward to it.
Taking self-inventory can be useful for figuring out what's working and what needs improvement.
As parents, it's unlikely that our children will offer us helpful feedback on how we can improve our parenting skills. Taking self-inventory can be useful for figuring out what's working and what needs improvement. Here are some questions you can ask yourself about how you perceive yourself as a parent.
- What makes me unique and excellent as a parent?
- What can I start doing today that will make a difference in my child's life?
- What is my favorite part of being a parent?
- What are my parenting shortcomings, and how can I improve?
Start by focusing on what makes you shine as a person and let that be the foundation for polishing up your parenting game in the weeks to come.
2. Tune-up areas that need improvement
We schedule service tune-ups on our cars and appliances. We take our kids and ourselves to our health care providers for regular wellness visits to make sure we're healthy. So why not give your parenting skills an annual tune-up to make sure all areas function as they should?
What can you do to make your family's life (and your own!) more harmonious? Can you make adjustments to your kids' homework routines? Spend less time texting friends and co-workers? Establishing a chore schedule? Make curfew adjustments for your tweens and teens? Find ways to get your kids more active?
Spiff up some of these areas now so that throughout the upcoming school year, your family will be happier, healthier, and completely refreshed.
3. Learn to stop yelling
In the 27 years that I've been a mom, the one thing that totally makes me cringe is when I catch myself yelling at my kids. Many times, to be honest, it happened rather mindlessly. If I was frazzled and managing crowd control with my gang—like trying to round them up to get in the car—I somehow thought raising my voice would be a good way to get their attention.
I'm not a yeller by nature, but when I'm exasperated by nagging kids or because no one seemed to be listening, I admit, yelling was a natural alternative. Thankfully, my mother stopped by unexpectedly one day and heard me yelling—okay, maybe I was even screaming—to the kids to get their sports gear ready for practice. The problem was, I was in the kitchen, and they were at the other end of the house. My loud voice was just taking up a lot of hot air, and the kids had tuned me out.
My mother had five kids (I’m the oldest of my sibling group), so she very lovingly took me aside and told me how horrifying I sounded that day. I was tired and defensive, but when I calmed down, I realized she was right.
What a turning point that was for me. Soon after, I did pay attention to my volume and my tone when I communicated with my kids. I certainly don't like to be yelled at, and what an awful example it sets for our kids about how to treat others.
One of my most popular episodes, How to Stop Yelling at Your Kids, has more ideas to help you curb your shouting and instead communicate a bit more peacefully.
4. Practice daily calm
As parents, we’re under continuous pressure as we try to balance work, home, kids, personal relationships, finances, and taking care of our own physical and emotional health needs. It's a tall order and, at times, can be overwhelming. It's hard for a frazzled parent to be at their best!
One tool every parent can sharpen is the ability to keep their emotions in check. Finding a calming ritual you can rely on is a great place to start. Years ago, I learned an excellent way to get myself centered and peaceful—visualization. I go into detail on this incredible technique in my episode How Visualization Techniques Can Improve Your Parenting. The reason this tool is so powerful is that during the visualization process, you see yourself moving through the challenging or stressful situation successfully and having a positive outcome.
Check out 6 Ways to Become a Calmer Parent for additional ideas, and you'll learn how to keep your daily calm even when the situation seems too stressful to handle.
5. Prioritize connecting
When there's seemingly never enough time to get everything done, it’s easy to lose focus on the reason we work so hard to keep everything running smoothly—our family.
I struggled with infertility for five years, and when I finally became a mom, I had no idea how fast my life as a parent would move. As busy parents, we move quickly from one task to the next, trying to juggle dozens of balls in the air without missing a beat. When there's seemingly never enough time to get everything done, it’s easy to lose focus on the reason we work so hard to keep everything running smoothly—our family.
Parenting expert Dr. Laura Markham says that committing to connection is one of the best ways you can become a better parent.
In 10 Commitments That Will Make You a Better Parent, she shares this thoughtful advice:
Remember that quality time is about connection, not teaching, so it’s mostly unstructured. Hug your child first thing every morning and when you say goodbye. When you’re reunited later in the day, spend fifteen minutes solely focused on your child. (What do you do in that 15 minutes? Listen, commiserate, hug, roughhouse, laugh, listen some more.)
6. Stay adventurous
Kids experience life with awe and wonder. Adults tend to see life through their to-do lists, with never-ending bills and non-stop schedules that keep them hopping from morning until bedtime. One surefire way to better your parenting is to wash away your practical side for a change and start exploring new possibilities with your kids.
Kids experience life with awe and wonder. Adults tend to see life through their to-do lists.
My family enjoys nearly all water sports. Living near the ocean affords us dozens of opportunities to participate in paddleboarding, snorkeling, kayaking, and our favorite—bodysurfing. Recently, we had a chance to try our hand at white water rafting. I was excited but cautious. But thanks to my kids' overwhelming enthusiasm, my curiosity was piqued, and I decided to join them and give it a try.
Not only was our experience utterly exhilarating, but I also discovered I loved the thrill of a new adventure. I was also one of the only ones who maneuvered my raft without tipping over! Go, Mom! Our excursion will definitely remain one of my family's favorite memories, especially because my kids continue to talk about how awesome it was that I joined in because it meant so much to them.
7. Brush up on listening skills
One skill I continuously try to improve is how carefully I listen to my kids when they talk to me.
I share one of my favorite tips in Become a Better Listener with Your Children:
Pay full attention. When your child walks through the door excitedly calling your name, this is your cue to put down your magazine, turn off the TV, put away your cell phone or whatever else you might be doing, make eye contact, and say 'You sound excited about something—tell me all about it!' Your child knows when you’re really listening, so make this moment count. Not only are you connecting with your child by giving him your full attention, but you’re also teaching him what excellent listening skills are.
8. Say “I love you” often
Say "I love you" whenever you feel it and as often as possible. Sure, we love our kids, and we assume they probably know we do. But saying “I love you” is powerful. Slip notes of appreciation under your child’s pillow. Write “I love you” on the chalkboard in your kitchen. Text “I love you” to your child who is living away at college. Don’t let your child leave for school or practice without sharing, verbally, that you love her. A child will never tire of hearing the words "I love you" from their parent.