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What is Parenting?

Parenting is the act and process of raising a child by supporting their healthy physical, emotional, social, and intellectual growth from infancy to adulthood. While biological parents typically hold primary responsibility, children can be raised by guardians, caregivers, adoptive parents, or foster parents. Parental duties include caring for a child’s physical well-being, psychological needs, discipline, education, socialization, and moral development.

Parenting is a delicate balance of instinct, love, and a growing understanding of child development. For the science-minded parent, research offers insights that empower us to make informed choices.

Parenting plays a critical role in a child’s life. A 2021 peer-reviewed study by Harvard University analyzed the impact of parenting interventions on early child development. Data from 102 randomized controlled trials involving over 95,000 participants across 41 countries was analyzed. Researchers found that parenting intervention during the first 3 years of life effectively improved early child development in cognitive, language, motor, socioemotional, attachment, and behavior outcomes across low-, middle-, and high-income countries.​1​

parental responsibilities

What are the top 10 responsibilities of a parent?

Here are the top 10 responsibilities of a mother or father.

  1. Love their children unconditionally.
  2. Protect children from harm.
  3. Meet basic needs, such as food, clothing, shelter, and medical care.
  4. Nurture and discipline children.
  5. Provide education.
  6. Provide emotional support and guidance.
  7. Socialize children and teach them social skills.
  8. Pass on cultural and societal norms.
  9. Foster independence.
  10. Model values and behaviors.

What is child development?

Child development is the process through which children grow from dependent newborns to independent and self-reliant individuals, involving growth in the following key areas.​2​

  1. Physical development: This encompasses the growth of the body, brain, senses, and motor skills. Physical development can be broadly divided into two categories:
    • Gross motor skills: Large muscle activities, such as crawling, walking, running, and jumping.
    • Fine motor skills: Smaller movements, such as grasping, drawing, and manipulating small objects.
  2. Cognitive development: How children think, explore, and figure things out involves learning how to solve problems, make decisions, remember information, and use language to communicate.
  3. Social-emotional development: This aspect covers the child’s experience, expression, and management of emotions and the ability to establish positive and rewarding relationships with others. It includes the development of empathy, emotional regulation, attachment to caregivers, and social skills.
  4. Language development: This is the process by which children come to understand and communicate language during early childhood. Language development is built on cognitive growth, enabling us to know what we hear and express our thoughts and feelings through speech, reading, and writing.
  5. Sensory development: This is how children see, hear, feel, taste, and smell to interpret the world.
  6. Moral development: This involves understanding concepts like right and wrong, fairness, and justice. Children develop a sense of empathy, consider the impact of their actions on others, and make decisions based on internalized values.

Child development is influenced significantly by a combination of nature and nurture. A study published in Nature Genetics in 2015 highlights this complexity, revealing that 49% of traits are attributable to genetics, while 51% result from non-genetic factors, including environmental influences and how genetics interact with these environments.​3​

Regularly monitoring a child’s progress enables the early identification of developmental delays, facilitating timely intervention and support. However, every child is unique and develops at their own pace. Celebrating your child’s journey, rather than focusing exclusively on achieving specific milestones, is equally important. While keeping an eye on their development is beneficial, don’t overemphasize this aspect.

What are parenting styles?

Parenting styles are the patterns of behaviors, attitudes, and approaches parents use to guide, discipline, and respond to their children.

Psychologist Diana Baumrind identified four common parenting styles differentiated according to their levels of responsiveness and demandingness. These parenting styles are associated with different outcomes in children, as the following.​4​

  • Authoritative: Highly responsive and highly demanding. Authoritative parents are warm and have high expectations of their children. Authoritative parenting style is associated with positive outcomes in child development, academic achievement, and behavior.
  • Authoritarian: Non-responsive but highly demanding. Authoritarian parents are cold and have high expectations of their children. Authoritarian parenting style is often linked to less positive outcomes than authoritative style, such as lower self-esteem, more depressive symptoms, and more aggression.
  • Permissive: Highly responsive but non-demanding. Permissive parents are warm and have low expectations. They have few rules or boundaries enforcement. Permissive parenting is associated with less positive outcomes than the authoritative style, including being more impulsive, less self-regulating, and more entitled.
  • Neglectful: Non-responsive and non-demanding. Neglectful parents are cold and have low expectations. They ignore or reject their children. Neglectful parenting is linked to worse outcomes than the other three styles, including less emotional regulation, lower self-esteem, and more depression.

What is child discipline?

Child discipline is the approach used to guide children toward preventing unwanted behavior and developing desirable behaviors. 3 factors can affect the types of child discipline used by parents.

  • Focus of discipline: Child’s growth and well-being vs. immediate compliance and obedience
  • Methods employed: Guide vs. control
  • Perspective taking: Child’s viewpoint vs. parent’s viewpoint

Below is an overview of various discipline strategies, highlighting how they differ across three key elements.

Discipline MethodFocus of DisciplineMethods EmployedPerspective Taking
Positive DisciplineChild’s growth and well-beingGuideChild’s viewpoint
Authoritarian DisciplineImmediate compliance and obedienceControlParent’s viewpoint
Permissive DisciplineChild’s growth and well-being (but lacks structure)Guide (but lacks firmness)Child’s viewpoint (but lacks guidance)
Time-Out (Traditional)Immediate compliance and obedienceControlParent’s viewpoint
Time-Out (Positive)Child’s growth and well-beingGuideChild’s viewpoint
Corporal PunishmentImmediate compliance and obedienceControlParent’s viewpoint
Punishments such as privilege withdrawalImmediate compliance and obedienceControlCould be either

Discipline is often confused with punishment, which only prevents undesirable behaviors but doesn’t teach desirable ones or the reason behind them. Harsh punishment damages the parent-child relationship and creates adverse childhood experiences (ACEs), causing childhood trauma.

How to build a strong parent-child relationship

Parent-child relationships form the foundation of children’s healthy development. Unconditional parental love creates a sense of safety and security, allowing children to feel protected. A secure attachment in children is associated with positive outcomes in child development, including emotional regulation, mental health, and physical health, according to a 2015 peer-reviewed research titled “Parent-child relationship: Peculiarities and Outcome” published in the Review of European Studies.​5​

A positive parent-child bond can be built using the following strategies.

  • Be responsive: Listen actively and respond to your child’s emotional needs
  • Spend quality time: Make time for shared activities, simple talks, and being present in the moment. Empathize quality over quantity.
  • Allow autonomy: within reason and guidance
  • Show affection: Express love through physical touch, words of affirmation, and acts of kindness.

What makes a good parent?

A good parent prioritizes their child’s best interests.

This definition of a ‘good parent’ was confirmed in a 2009 study at St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital involving 62 parents caring for their terminally ill children. Researchers discovered that parents of children who have passed away reported making unselfish decisions in the child’s best interest helped them take comfort after having acted as a good parent.​6​

Being a good parent often involves self-reflection, mental flexibility, and maintaining a balanced approach while offering unconditional love. These qualities often manifest in parental behavior, such as being a good role model, being protective, setting limits, disciplining positively, showing love and empathy, being supportive, and being involved in the child’s education.

How should parents treat their child?

Here are 10 tips on how parents should treat their children, focusing on principles that foster a healthy, loving, and supportive parent-child relationship.

  • Treat children with respect.
  • Treat them with kindness and empathy.
  • Treat them with unconditional love and affection.
  • Treat them with fair rules and discipline.
  • Treat them with honesty and trust.
  • Guide children and support them.
  • Encourage and praise them.
  • Actively listen to them.
  • Provide quality time and full presence.
  • Give them safe autonomy.

What makes a bad parent?

A bad parent often creates a dysfunctional family environment using toxic parenting. Toxic parents prioritize their own needs over their children’s. They are often abusive and emotionally neglectful. Toxic parents can be narcissistic, gaslighting, immature, emotionally unavailable, enmeshed, or alienating the other parent. Bad parenting causes adverse childhood experiences for children and can result in childhood trauma.

What is co-parenting?

Co-parenting is the shared responsibility of raising a child between parents, usually after separation or divorce. The four types of co-parenting are cooperative, conflicted, parallel, and mixed. These different co-parenting types differ in the levels of conflict and engagement.

While parenting styles describe the maternal and paternal practices used in interactions with the child, co-parenting refers to the interplace in childrearing between the parents.

Several studies have found that co-parenting uniquely predicts children’s internalizing and externalizing behavior. When there is a high level of conflict, children are more likely to show depression and anxiety symptoms.

How to raise a successful child

To raise successful children, focus on fostering warm, responsive relationships, teaching emotional regulation by example, encouraging decision-making skills, providing appropriately challenging tasks, and motivating through values rather than rewards or punishment. Authoritative parenting, characterized by kindness, firmness, and respect, has been linked to positive outcomes in children. Parents should rely on science-based methods, avoid common parenting myths, and adopt a positive, inductive approach to discipline, emphasizing mutual respect and critical thinking. These strategies, supported by decades of research, offer a solid foundation for nurturing successful, happy children.

Why is parenting so hard?

Parenting is hard. Parenting involves round-the-clock responsibilities and high stakes in shaping a child’s future, creating significant emotional strain from constant worry and self-judgment. The relentless demands of caregiving, sleep deprivation and the need to multitask, lead to exhaustion. Additionally, the sacrifices required in personal time and the challenge of balancing parental roles often overshadow personal needs, straining relationships and complicating the deeply impactful journey of raising children.


  1. 1.
    Jeong J, Franchett EE, Ramos de Oliveira CV, Rehmani K, Yousafzai AK. Parenting interventions to promote early child development in the first three years of life: A global systematic review and meta-analysis. Persson LÅ, ed. PLoS Med. Published online May 10, 2021:e1003602. doi:10.1371/journal.pmed.1003602
  2. 2.
    Darling-Churchill KE, Lippman L. Early childhood social and emotional development: Advancing the field of measurement. Journal of Applied Developmental Psychology. Published online July 2016:1-7. doi:10.1016/j.appdev.2016.02.002
  3. 3.
    Polderman TJC, Benyamin B, de Leeuw CA, et al. Meta-analysis of the heritability of human traits based on fifty years of twin studies. Nat Genet. Published online May 18, 2015:702-709. doi:10.1038/ng.3285
  4. 4.
    Newman BM, Newman PR. Adolescence, Theories of. Encyclopedia of Adolescence. Published online 2011:20-29. doi:10.1016/b978-0-12-373951-3.00003-x
  5. 5.
    Popov LM, Ilesanmi RA. Parent-Child Relationship: Peculiarities and Outcome. RES. Published online March 29, 2015. doi:10.5539/res.v7n5p253
  6. 6.
    Hinds PS, Oakes LL, Hicks J, et al. “Trying to Be a Good Parent” As Defined By Interviews With Parents Who Made Phase I, Terminal Care, and Resuscitation Decisions for Their Children. JCO. Published online December 10, 2009:5979-5985. doi:10.1200/jco.2008.20.0204


    * All information on is for educational purposes only. Parenting For Brain does not provide medical advice. If you suspect medical problems or need professional advice, please consult a physician. *