Parenting can be wonderful and rewarding, but it can also be difficult and unpleasant. Most parents experience moments (or months or years) of feeling overwhelmed. There’s a lot of information out there about what we “should” do to raise “good” kids.
In reality, there are no guaranteed methods for ensuring we and our children will be happy, healthy, and successful in life. There is, however, plenty of research showing that parents can make a significant, positive difference through a number of simple approaches.
Since the 1950s, Search Institute researchers have studied the effects of various influences in young people’s lives. They’ve found that the 40 Developmental Assets clearly relate to good things — like doing well in school, serving others, engaging in the community, and forming healthy habits.
It’s important for grown-ups to help young people experience these things, but parents can’t do it alone. However, there are nine specific parenting strategies that help. Focusing on these nine research-based strategies provides guidance and direction in the uncertain world of parenting. And that’s something parents can feel good about.
Below are our 9 Parenting Strategies based on the Developmental Assets research. Download, print, and share the strategies, and refer to them often in your parenting journey.
Create a warm, caring, supportive family
Take Action! No two parents show love in quite the same way. Some shower their kids with lots of hugs, high-fives, and kind notes; others are more stoic or reserved. Tap into your own way of showing your kids you care.
*Spend time together in ways that fit your lifestyle.
*Try to make time for regular meals together, go for walks, talk in the car, or meet somewhere for coffee.
*Don’t strive to live up to a stereotype or an ideal of parenting; just do what works for you.
Maintain open, honest communication
Take Action! Communicate in ways that work well for you. Texting sometimes gets a bad rap, but so did the telephone years ago. Lots of kids today text—many of them, with their parents. If it works for your family, go for it. The medium you use matters less than how much you truly listen.
*Do you understand what your kids are trying to tell you? Are you paying attention to body language or other cues that might indicate there’s more to a story?
*When you share things, are you grounding yourself in love, respect, and clarity? Do you ever say one thing and mean another? Do you treat them the way you want to be treated?
Connect your kids to other caring, responsible adults
Take Action! Are you able to name at least three non-parent adults who are positive role models for your child? That strict but kind violin teacher who pushes 20 minutes of practice a day may be helping your daughter build confidence. Or maybe the neighbor who hires your son to walk her dogs helps him see himself as a responsible and reliable person.
Adults outside our families can be hidden treasures when it comes to helping us parent. Research shows that all family members can benefit from kids having these kinds of supportive relationships.
You can help nurture them by introducing your children to people you like and respect, and supporting positive relationships that develop naturally.
Get involved in your kid’s school and other activities
Take Action! Most schools and youth-serving programs go out of their way to reach parents through conferences, volunteer opportunities, and special events. If you’re too busy to attend, at the very least, connect with your children’s teachers via e-mail or phone. Then start taking advantage of opportunities to actually get into and spend time at the places your kids go.
*If the idea of going to school makes you uncomfortable, chaperone a field trip out of the building.
*If you aren’t finding good ways to get involved, start talking to or emailing your child’s teachers, principals, program leaders, other directors. Let them know what would work for you and why the current opportunities don’t work.
Empower your kids to contribute
Take Action! Kids may not realize it, but having responsibilities is good for them. All people need to know they are valued and valuable; it’s human nature.
Parents can show kids that they are valued at home by giving them increasing levels of responsibility. We can then take it a step further by helping them get engaged in service in the community, whether this involvement is in the neighborhood, school, or somewhere else.
Keep your child safe
Take Action! Kids need emotional and physical safety in equal measures. The challenges parents face in providing it vary as much as kids and their environments.
*A secret to keeping kids safe is to do the other eight things on this list. If you’re communicating, you’ll know what’s going on in your child’s life, where they might need some help, or if they might need someone to look out for them. If they have contributing roles and positive influences, they’re more likely to make safe choices, and if lots of people care about them, they can get help and support when needed.
*A second key is to take physical safety measures (such as baby proofing when they’re young, or setting rules about driving when they’re teens) out of love for them and a desire for them to have positive experiences, rather than out of fear.
Set boundaries and high expectations
Take Action! It’s no fun being the parent who says no when others are saying yes. But sometimes it’s in the best interest of your kids and your entire family. The key to reducing everyone’s stress and frustration about limits and expectations is to be clear, consistent, reasonable, and evolutionary. “Evolutionary” means being responsive to your child’s changing developmental needs and what they’ve demonstrated about their choices.
*Reward the positive behavior and limit opportunities for negative behavior. For example, if you have a teenager who has a history of impulsive behavior, don’t let her go to an unsupervised party; have a gathering at your home instead.
Or, if your son gets up five mornings a week to go to cross country practice, let him skip an evening workout when he’s feeling ragged and worn out.
Get to know your kids’ friends
Take Action! Be the dad who talks to your passengers during the carpool. Be the mom who asks a lot of questions about school, interests, and activities.
You don’t have to be nosy to get to know your children’s friends, but you do have to be the one to set the tone of kind, friendly interaction. Your kids might think it’s a little weird at first, but in the long run they’ll appreciate it.
Be a positive role model
Take Action! This one is simple, but definitely not easy: Be the kind of person you want your child to be. Know your values and act on them, treat others the way you would like to be treated, follow your dreams, cut yourself some slack when appropriate, and feel good knowing you’re building the assets your kids need to succeed.