Let me share a little secret with you: if you’re reading this article, it already means you’re a good parent. A good parent seeks out information about being a good parent! Now that we got that out of the way, let’s talk about some concrete signs to help us feel good about our parenting as well as some tips to help some popular parenting struggles.
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We wanted to get some professional opinions on how, specifically, you know what you’re doing is working for your kids and your family. We spoke with licensed marriage and family therapist Dr. Natalie Waybrant and licensed child therapist Erin Eising, both moms themselves, to help us notice the signs we’re doing something right.
Your Child Shows Emotion in Front of You
Want to know another secret? Dr. Waybrant shared tantrums can actually be a good thing. “Tantrums mean your child has learned emotional safety around you, and they’re trying to communicate a need,” Dr. Waybrant said.
When kids are young, they have a hard time understanding and expressing their emotions, so those big feelings can come out in tears or fits. If your kid has meltdowns with you, it’s a sign you’re their safe place to express those emotions.
If they have meltdowns in the grocery store aisle, that can be more challenging for you, but the same rule applies. They’re with you, you are their safe space for emotional expression.
Your Child Can Describe How They’re Feeling
When your kids are a little older, hearing them express how they’re feeling is a positive sign they are building self-awareness and emotional intelligence.
Eising shared that emotional intelligence and regulation is not something we’re born with. “It’s not automatic, it has to be taught,” Eising said. When children have a hard time expressing their emotions, parents can help them articulate how they’re feeling. For example, Eising suggested something you might say to an upset toddler: “I see your fists are clenched; are you feeling mad or sad? What is making you feel this way?”
Many moms also have a hard time allowing their kids to see them struggle. But you can show them it’s OK to cry or to be sad or frustrated. “You’re showing them emotion is OK,” Dr. Waybrant said. “Even anger is OK as long as you talk through the why and apologize if needed.”
“When your kids don’t see you ever having a hard time, they may feel they can’t come to you when they’re having a hard time. So, they may keep their emotion to themselves or go elsewhere,” Dr. Waybrant said.
Another good sign is when they can communicate their emotional needs, not just their feelings. For example, I recently overheard my 4-year-old tell her babysitter, “Get away from me.” Clearly, I have some work to do in teaching her how to express her emotional needs with kindness, but I’m at least happy she knows when she needs some space.
Eising suggests being supportive of their requested quiet or alone time to foster independent play—no argument from this mom (or our babysitter, probably) on that one.
Your Child Demonstrates Empathy
Have you heard your child say, “Are you OK?” or seen them try to help you or another friend? If they’re not talking yet, maybe you’ve watched them demonstrate concern with a hug, a head on your shoulder, or a concerned look in their eye? You can take credit for some of that sweetness.
Eising shared most of us have empathy inborn, but parents can foster and develop it further through modeling empathy in their own behavior.
Your Child Tries, Then Tries Again
One of the hardest things I’ve had to learn about parenting is seeing my child struggle and not stepping in to fix it. My oldest child is a perfectionist. It’s hard for her to fail because she internalizes the failure as something wrong with her. While my youngest, even as a toddler, would insist, “My do it myself!” Which, I’ll admit, made it easier to take a step back and let her problem-solve on her own.
You may have read articles or anecdotes surrounding certain styles of parenting like the helicopter, lawnmower, or snowplow parent. These parenting styles share a common goal—to eliminate a child’s risks, potential failures, and obstacles. The parent’s motivation comes from a good place, of course, but a failure-free life isn’t reality. By eliminating the struggle, a parent is also removing important lessons and learning that come with the experience.
“The safest place to practice failure for kids is at home with their parents,” Dr. Waybrant said. Letting them fail, struggle, and learn with the small stuff can help them build resilience for the future.
Your Child Takes “No” for an Answer
So, we’ve mentioned lawnmower parents, but what about bulldozer kids? You know, the kids who keep asking and asking until the parent is so worn down they give in? And who among us hasn’t given into something like more screen time or more dessert in an effort to keep the peace.
When my kids aren’t backing down, part of me is a little proud of their tenacity, commitment, and negotiation skills. “But in the adult world, you can’t push your boss’s boundaries over and over again and expect to get what you want,” Eising said. “In most cases in the adult world, a ‘no’ is no.”
It’s important to teach children to respect other people’s boundaries, beginning with their parents. It also teaches them it’s OK to set boundaries of their own, which can help set them up for healthy relationships in the future.
You’re Not Perfect
“Home doesn’t need to be perfect, that’s not real life,” Dr. Waybrant said. “And having a few rough moments among all of your many, many moments in motherhood does not make you a bad mom.”
Dr. Waybrant often sees clients who have a hard time acknowledging their own needs when they transition to motherhood. Sometimes they overcompensate by striving for perfection with their own children and neglecting themselves in the process.
Eising echoed these sentiments as well. “Most humans like to hear what’s good about them. Why do we, as moms, walk around with the narrative that we’re going to mess up our kids or that we’re doing a bad job?”
“I tell moms to focus on the good they see in their child because it is a reflection of them. Focusing on the positive can change the narrative.”