Parenting is hard! I’m proud of my two teenage boys but sometimes think it’s simply by the grace of God that they’ve “turned out ok”. To some extent it certainly is by the grace of God. But along the way, I learned many lessons – often by making the mistake of not applying the principle – that help make parents effective.
10 Characteristics of Highly Effective Parents
1. An effective parent loves their spouse.
I understand that many family don’t have two parents at home, and that’s a challenge all on it’s own. And I’m not saying a parent can’t be effective alone. But for the families that do have both parents at home, the starting point to effective parenting is loving your spouse. So many negative qualities are learned by a child living in a home with unloving parents. So many observations take root in reality in the heart of a child by observing, listening to and feeling the effects of unloving parents. And, of course, the opposite is true, as well. Kids learn to love by watching Mom & Dad. They learn respect, and teamwork and problem-solving and so much more, simply by watching parents who love each other.
2. An effective parent expresses their love unconditionally.
I dare say that the parent who doesn’t love their child is the extreme exception. All parents love their children! But not all parents express their love unconditionally. Just today I was told of a parent whose child finished 2nd in a large class of students, only to have their father berate and beat them for their “failure”. Yes, this is also an extreme example.
But I’ve also seen parents who withhold their expression of love for the smallest, seemingly ridiculous things. The child who struck out gets the cold shoulder from dad after the game. The child who drops the bag of groceries gets yelled at by mom. Or the child who does something wrong is told they are a disgrace.
That’s conditional, not unconditional, expression of love. And it’s so easy to do. Of course we need to discipline and teach, but it must not be tied to our expression of love for the child.
3. An effective parent doesn’t compare their child to other children.
Just read Psalm 139 to understand that our children were designed and created exactly how God intended for them to be. Their physical characteristics, personality, mental ability and so much more are by design! Don’t compare them to other children, wish they were different, or bemoan anything about them. God made them that way.
And comparing them in other ways – effort put in to school or sports, attitudes, communication abilities, etc. – these are a reflection of how we’ve parented…so stop the comparisons and take responsibility.
4. An effective parent models character.
Actions speak louder than words, plain and simple. And children are very, very observant.
5. An effective parent disciplines for the purpose of discipleship, not punishment.
“Disciple” simply means to be a follower of the way of another. We have certain “ways” in mind for our children to be. Discipline should be used to shape our children into that “way”. Of course, as a follower of Jesus, I think discipline ought to be used to shape children into the way of Christ. This is it’s purpose. Punishment usually has very little value or purpose.
6. An effective parent lets their child make mistakes.
You’ve heard of the “helicopter parent”, the one who hovers relentlessly over their child so that they don’t fall, don’t do anything wrong, and never make a mistake. To varying degrees, every parent has probably done this. But this isn’t how children learn. Sure we can tell them and they’ll learn a little. But it’s through experience that they will learn best. So, to the extent that they are relatively safe, let them
make mistakes learn.
7. An effective parent proactively helps their child develop their strengths.
If you’ve got more than one child, you probably understand how very different they can be. My two sons are opposite in virtually every respect. My older son is not interested in being an athlete, while my younger son lives and breathes soccer. My older son loves teaching and talking with others, while my younger son prefers to stay in the background. My older son is a big picture thinker, while my younger son is much more analytical.
So…I’ve worked with my older son on public speaking and how to put together talks, while I’ve spent hours kicking the soccer ball around with my younger son. I talk about big dreams with my older son, while I’ve purchased countless graph paper notebooks (for design) and lego sets for my younger son.
Effective parents identify strengths and find ways to develop them rather than trying to grow their children into something they are not.
8. An effective parent listens as much (or more!) than they speak.
Oh, this is hard! We’ve got all the answers, right? We’re experienced, we’ve “been there, done that”, and we love to pontificate! But our children have something to say. Our children have thoughts and ideas and words that are meaningful. Listen!
When we listen, we are better able to understand, which allows us to do virtually every act of parenting better.
9. An effective parent knows that quality and quantity time matters.
Quality matters. And often we invest heavily in ensuring that our time is quality. It seems logical that quality matters more than quantity. And, sometimes, that’s the best we can do (I have a job where I travel a lot, so I get that).
But quantity does matter. It matters a lot. I have found that it’s in the quantity that life is lived. It’s where I’m the most real. It’s where my sons have seen and observed me at my best and at my worst. It’s where they’ve learned the most.
And it’s in the quantity time that they’ve had the space to begin the conversations that have mattered. The space to ask questions that are weighing on them. To express themselves in the most real ways. To simply be themselves.
Quality time is important, but quantity shouldn’t be optional.
10. An effective parent has appropriate expectations of their child.
Children are not little adults. They are children. A 4 year old isn’t capable of acting like an adult…or a teenager…or a 10 year old…or even a 7 year old. A 4 year old is a 4 year old. Physically, mentally, emotionally…we need to have expectations appropriate for a 4 year old. And likewise for an 8 year old, or an 11 year old, or a teenager.
In the same way, I need to understand that my soccer loving son probably is never going to play professional soccer. My gifted communicator in my older son will probably never compare to Billy Graham. And that’s ok…or at least it needs to be.
I have discovered that my expectations need to be character focused rather than profession focused.
What characteristic of highly effective parents would you add?
(please share in comments below)