7 Parenting Skills That Are Actually Helpful

Want to be a good parent? Discover 7 positive parenting skills that are crucial to raising a well-rounded, happy child.

Parenting SkillsWe’ve all questioned our parenting skills in one way or another.

Maybe it was when your toddler was so upset that he refused to get up off the floor, or when he wouldn’t eat dinner but threw a fit instead. Perhaps it feels like all you do is yell at your kids because that’s the only thing that seems to work. All this, on top of managing your household and getting errands done—no wonder you’re exhausted from it all.

I’ve found that there are seven essential parenting skills that help us get through these struggles. These are the abilities that keep us level-headed, no matter how frustrating the moment can get. And practicing these skills makes for fewer challenges since we can learn how to prevent them.

Because real change goes beyond reading parenting tips and tricks, but changing who you are and how you—and not just your child—behave in these situations. Take a look at these seven parenting skills to see how to do just that:

1. Show empathy

Hands down, one of the best parenting skills to develop is the ability to show empathy toward your child. When you can show him that you truly understand what he’s feeling, you can connect with him in so many ways.

Why is empathy so powerful? For one thing, he doesn’t feel compelled to “make his point” because he knows you understand the depth of his frustration (yep, even if it’s over a lost toy).

You’re also modeling the importance of showing empathy in the first place. This can help him in future scenarios when he has to be the one who should imagine what it feels like to be in someone else’s shoes.

And perhaps most importantly, empathy encourages you to be more patient and calm.

The simple act of seeing the situation from his point of view makes you less likely to yell or lose your patience. Sure, it may just be a lost toy, but you can still relate to the emotions of having lost something precious yourself.

Free resource: Grab your copy of The Power of Empathy! Learn how to prevent power struggles and better connect with your kids, all by understanding their perspective. Get it below—at no cost to you. You’ll also get my newsletters, which parents say they LOVE:

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The Power of Empathy

2. Set boundaries

Despite what many parents think, kids actually need and want boundaries. Even with your child’s pleas and demands, he feels safer and more secure knowing what is and isn’t allowed. He doesn’t want to hold the reins and would rather rest in the reassurance of your consistency and firm limits.

As I say in my book, 31 Days to Better Parenting:

“Because that tantrum they just had? It scares them to feel that way. And when we back down and don’t hold our ground, then that tantrum seems even scarier than ever. After all, if even their parents can’t stand up against a tantrum, then who will?”

Set clear boundaries, those based on his best interests rather than trying to please him or avoid tantrums. As uncomfortable as it may feel to put your foot down and hold your ground, you’d be doing him a disservice if you don’t.

Get more tips about setting boundaries.

How to Set Boundaries with Kids

3. Separate the behavior

At some point in your life as a parent, you probably yelled at your child in what seemed like a natural reaction. She had done something, you told her to stop, she kept doing it, and no amount of reasonable conversation was getting through to her.

So, you yelled.

Trust me, you are definitely not alone. Not only have we all yelled at our kids, but we’ve also taken their behavior so personally. Maybe it was the time they deliberately disobeyed you, complete with a smirk on their faces. Or when they flat-out ignored you, as if you hadn’t said anything at all.

We take their words and actions so personally that we feel attacked.

But reacting and personalizing their behavior means we tie so much of ourselves into the situation that we can’t think clearly. Inserting a simple pause right after your child’s behavior can be all that it takes to separate yourself—a bit of space to remain calm.

You also realize that this isn’t about you. That you don’t have to let other people’s behaviors—including your child’s—determine how you feel. You’re almost “above” it, watching as an observer, instead of immersed right into the situation.

In other words, she can refuse to listen all she wants, but you don’t let it get under your skin. You don’t let this define who you are or drive you to react. You don’t allow yourself to get sucked into the downward spiral, and instead stay floating above.

4. Look for the positive

The best way to handle power struggles is to avoid them in the first place.

Such is what can happen when we look for the positive, instead of dwelling on all the ways our kids aren’t doing what they’re supposed to.

Yes, we need to discipline, but it’s not always easy to convince two kids fighting over the same toy to learn the value of turn-taking. But spot the times when they are taking turns, then you’ve got a golden opportunity to reinforce the positive behavior.

You see, it’s much easier to encourage the behavior you want to see by praising them than correcting your kids when they do the opposite.

Not only that, but looking for the positives changes your mindset. Our brains like to be right, and if we focus on misbehavior, then we’re more likely to spot the times they misbehave to prove ourselves right.

This only sets us up for a horrible cycle: we focus on the negative, we see the negative, and the negative proves we’re right. But if you look for the positive things your child does, then you’re more likely to find and praise those times as well.

Toddler Power Struggles

5. Communicate respectfully

We’ve all taken that “tone” of voice with our kids, the one that says, “Because I said so” (without needing to actually say those infamous words). It’s yet another example of that reaction, as we cling to whatever authority we still have and try to wield it in front of them.

Unfortunately, this power isn’t sustainable. In fact, it can downright damage the strong relationship every parent wants with her child.

Besides resorting to these last-ditch attempts, what can we do instead? We can communicate in a firm and respectful way. We can ask ourselves whether we’d speak that way to others, including our spouses or coworkers, and get away with it (my guess is no).

Because when you speak with respect, you can almost see your child’s defenses melting away. She feels less attacked and her walls crumble as she realizes she doesn’t have to brace herself for another fight. And she’s more likely to actually listen than if you had simply bossed her to do something.

All from a simple change in how you speak.

6. Model the behavior

Easier said than done, the saying goes, especially when it comes to being a good role model to our kids.

Because, in the long run, what we say is only as effective as what we do. You can tell your child to be kind to her brother all day long, but if you yell and snap at others, you might keep seeing the same behavior in her as well.

This is when parenthood truly changes us, when it demands that we grow—and grow up—alongside our kids. When it isn’t enough to tell them one thing while doing the opposite ourselves.

7. Give unconditional love

The phrase “unconditional love” is a bit ironic because true love is always unconditional. But think about the many times we’ve placed conditions on our kids, like withholding hugs and kisses or making them feel guilty for not doing chores.

Unconditional love means reassuring your child you love her no matter what. You won’t love all her behaviors or choices, but you love her nonetheless.

This also doesn’t mean you’re being permissive. You can, in fact you should, continue to show warmth even as you set boundaries and correct her behavior. The ultimate goal of positive discipline is helping her—not because you’re tired and frustrated.

And ultimately, unconditional love means she doesn’t have to do anything to deserve or receive your love and affection. It is her birthright, simply for the very act of existing in your life. That’s unconditional love.

Learn more about the importance of accepting your children for who they are.

Accepting Your Children for Who They Are


We can all stand to improve our parenting skills, and that’s exactly what these moments with our kids—however challenging—present us with. Each tantrum, whine, or power struggle not only help our kids grow but us as well.

It starts with setting boundaries so that your child can explore within the safe confines of her limits. Separate yourself from the behavior, inserting a pause or slight distance so you don’t take it so personally.

Look for the positive and notice more of them instead of the negative. Communicate with respect and empathy to melt her defenses and better connect with her. Model the behavior you want to see, which is far more effective than anything you say.

And finally, show unconditional love, knowing that who she is goes beyond any inappropriate behavior or challenges she may present.

These parenting skills, when taken as a lifelong mission to improve and grow, can help you in so many ways. Starting with convincing your toddler to finally stop throwing a fit and eat his dinner.

Get more tips:

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  1. Hi Nina, My 4 year old isn’t listening to me because I don’t know how to set proper boundaries. This kid rules the house! I am trying to avoid meltdowns but in the meantime I’m creating a spoiled monster! I’m trying to get him to eat his breakfast but I’ve told him probably 30 times “sit down and eat your breakfast!” He tries to negotiate with me all the time. So I did end up taking away his toys because he didn’t listen to me. I don’t usually do this and give in to avoid a fight but I realize that’s not productive. I need him to respect me and listen to me! Its embarrassing to be out with a kid who acts like he rules you! Any thoughts? Thanks!

    1. Nina Garcia says:

      Hi Lauren, It can definitely be rough balancing discipline with helping your child adjust to his new reality. That said, I think you know what to do, it’s just the implementing part that’s difficult. If you find yourself unable to hold your ground, remind yourself that he actually NEEDS you to set these boundaries. Otherwise, he’ll have very little consistency in his life, right at a moment when he needs those boundaries so much.

      This also doesn’t mean you have to be “mean” about it. In fact, it’s best to be firm yet kind, strict yet compassionate. You’re not so much disciplining to show him who’s boss, but to teach him better ways to behave.

      Hang in there, mama <3