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What Is the Role of Parents in a Child’s Life? (by age group)

role of parents in a child’s life family of 4 walking on a beach towards the ocean at sundown with their backs to the camera Middle Class Dad

As a father of 3 daughters, there are so many different things I could be doing with them, so I’ve wondered what is the role of parents in a child’s life?

Here’s what I learned:

The role parents play in the lives of their kids is to provide a loving & stable home environment. But we must model the behavior we expect in them. Parents should also lay the groundwork for children’s emotional, cognitive & physical development and not expect the school system to take full responsibility for that.

But there’s a great deal more that goes into parenting and the crucial role parents play in the lives of their kids, so let’s dig in further.

In this article, we’ll dive deep into the world of parenting.

We’ll explore parenting styles and how different ones affect kids differently. But we’ll also look at the crucial ways our bad habits affect them. Ultimately, we’re examining the role of parents in a child’s life.

As parents, one of the things we rely on the most is recommendations from other trusted sources. That’s the reason I created a page on my website for Top Parenting Resources (click to see my page).

I have compiled what I believe to be the absolute best parenting resources out there on a wide variety of needs. So no matter what your parenting challenge, I bet you’ll find a solution there.

Want to skip to the specific tips by age ranges? Just click the box below with the age of your choice!

How do parents affect child behavior?

Kids learn at a young age by watching what we do.

How we treat others and especially our spouse is critical. Everything you say and do is being watched, studied, and will eventually be mimicked.

Even as kids grow older and begin to understand some of your poor choices and know they are bad, they may still copy the behavior. So, children of smokers or drug addicts often take up the habits themselves despite knowing the dangers.

But even more than habits, if your child sees you berating waiters or flipping off bad drivers, guess what behaviors you are programming into them?

So, while we will never be perfect, we need to understand that the choice to be a parent means paying closer attention to our own flaws and behaviors and striving to do better.

When you make a mistake, own it. Apologize to your kids for it and explain why it was wrong. If your child hurts your feelings, however, that requires a much different response.

Kids WILL hurt our feelings from time to time. HOW we respond to that can make ALL the difference, so take a moment and review my recommended steps on what to do when Your Child Hurts Your Feelings (click to read on my site).

What do parents provide?

All parents, like all people in general, are different.

That being said, there are some basic societal expectations that most of us would consider the bare minimum of what parents should be doing and providing for their kids, such as:

  • Provide food and clothing
  • Make a loving and stable home environment
  • Put the kid’s needs first most of the time
  • Provide physical affection to your kids
  • Connect as a family
  • Ensure your kids get a good education both at school and at home (it can’t all fall to the school)

role of parents in a child’s life a small child's hand high fiving a dad's hand Middle Class Dad

What should parents do for their child?

Beyond those basic necessities, there are some great things parents can do to grow their children in a healthy way.

  • Model the behavior you expect in them (no one likes a hypocrite)
  • Set limits, boundaries, and guidelines for them
  • Limit technology usage for them and you
  • Have dinner together as often as possible (ideally at the dinner table with no electronics)
  • Do things together as a family
  • Also, have some times where one parent spends quality time with one child
  • Don’t discipline out of anger and don’t do it in a way that makes your child afraid of you

You’ll notice I mentioned the use of technology twice there.

These days almost all kids LOVE smartphones, tablets, video games, and other devices. A little of that is fine, of course, so I’m not recommending you nix it altogether. But the overuse can have DEVASTATING effects.

So if you aren’t sure, take a moment and review the Benefits of Limiting Screen Time (click to read on my site).

Do parents know what is best for their child?

“Best” is a pretty subjective term.

Parents are people. By our very nature, people are imperfect, so ALL parents are imperfect too.

We make mistakes, have moments of weakness, can be selfish, have regrets, do stupid things, and sometimes do things to damage our relationships with others.

So all that is to say that while MANY, if not most parents genuinely have their child’s best interests at heart, they aren’t perfect and don’t have all the answers.

But I can say as a parent to 3 daughters, that while not perfect, my life experience and my wife’s life experience is significantly larger than my daughter’s.

So while they may not always agree with our choices, I can say we genuinely make our decisions under the guise of doing what’s best for our kids.

Every parent is different and many parenting experts disagree on what the best way to parent is.

That being said, there are some things that most experts agree on which can help you be a better parent. Learn more about the Parenting Styles Preferred by Child Psychologists (click to read my article which reveals that).

The crucial role of explaining “why” to kids

One thing that helps is to explain the “why” behind decisions that kids don’t agree with.

Many of us may have grown up with parents or grandparents who simply barked orders and expected blind obedience. “Because I said so” was a common parenting phrase for the authoritarian parent.

In reality, that’s a terrible way to parent.

It’s terrible because it teaches kids to be afraid of you. But it also doesn’t inform them as to why what you’re asking them to do is important. Lastly, it teaches them that to get what they want, they have to do it behind your back.

Explaining the “why” behind the request changes everything.

Explaining why you told them no:

  • Shows them you respect them enough to explain yourself (because I said so is the worst answer on the planet)
  • Helps them understand why the decision was made
  • Makes them less frustrated
  • They may still disagree but it won’t likely negatively impact their opinion of you

Taking the time to explain “why” is one of the things that authoritative parents do.

The authoritative parenting style (not to be confused with the fear-based authoritarian style) gives clear boundaries, structure, and guidelines in a loving way.

Check out all the Examples of Authoritative Parents do and see why many experts think it’s the best way to parent. Just click that link to read it on my site.

Why parents are important in our life?

Ultimately parents SHOULD  be the most important people in their kid’s lives.

That being said, I know from personal experience that’s not always the case. In my own life, I grew up with an Alcoholic Father (click to read my article). I never doubted his love for me, but it certainly complicated my and my brother’s childhood.

But for MANY kids, parents play an incredibly vital role in their development and well-being. This is due to:

  • Parents are your safety net for when life gets you down
  • They are your first and best teachers
  • Parents love you unconditionally
  • They champion you and lift you up
  • Parents sacrifice for your benefit

These days, with the divorce rate as high as it is, some kids sadly don’t live in a 2 parent household. That’s not to make single parents feel bad; I grew up with a single mom and am divorced myself.

But it’s undeniable that kids just do better in life with 2 parents fully involved in their life. So even in the face of divorce, don’t ever forget the Benefits of Father Involvement (click to read on my site).

Even in a reduced capacity, kids need both parents actively involved. And if we need to sacrifice to make that happen or put aside differences with our ex, then that’s what needs to happen.

Do all parents love their child?

Sadly no. Not all parents love their child or are even fully capable of love.

Parents, as I mentioned above, are just people. As people, we are inherently flawed and sometimes damaged from our own childhoods.

It’s possible for anyone to overcome anything with time, effort, focus, and help. But, not all damaged people will want to change or even recognize the need. Some of those people become parents themselves.

For some of us damaged people, becoming a parent brings out the best in us, and helps get us on track with being the person we were truly meant to be. That was certainly true for my wife and me who both grew up with a lot of parental challenges.

In my wife and my case, becoming a parent helped solidify our relationship. But it also showed us enough light that it helped push us towards other forms of self-betterment, such as:

  • Therapy
  • Quitting drinking
  • Meditation
  • And other physical and mental health practices

But sometimes becoming a parent makes a person’s issues worse.

Becoming a parent can sometimes make addictions worse and can drive the couple apart. Childhood issues often destroy our self-esteem and feelings of self-worth. And for some new parents, those feelings get worse rather than better.

Sometimes parents don’t even love themselves and so, aren’t even capable of really loving another. I go into great detail on this phenomenon in a newer article called Why Do Some Parents Not Care? (click to read on my site).

The good news is that anyone can change at any time. We CAN make the choice today to be a better parent tomorrow.

The role of parents from birth through toddler age

From the time of birth through toddler years (1 year to 3 years), the role of parents is seemingly quite simple.

Obviously safety is of huge importance as kids are curious about everything. But beyond that, this age is crucial for them feeling love and connection with you. If they don’t form that bond and feel that love and connection, they may never be able to really feel it with others when they are older.

So you can’t snuggle them enough. Or tell them “I love you” enough. 

In 2010, a study by Duke University Medical School was published. That study had been started 30 years earlier with the intent of measuring the impact on a mother’s affection as the child moved into adulthood.

They found that “High levels of maternal affection at 8 months were associated with significantly lower levels of distress in adult offspring”.

The study rated the mothers on a scale from 1 to 5, from “negative” to “extravagant.”

About 10% of the mothers had low levels of affection with their child. 85% of moms showed a “normal” amount of affection for their kids. Lastly, about 6% showed very high levels of love and affection with their children.

Fast-forward 30 years later, and the psychologists at Duke interviewed all of those kids, now well into adulthood.

The adults whose mothers rated “extravagant” or close to a 5 on the scale were far more well-balanced emotionally. Compared to the others in the study, they had less anxiety, less stress, and less aggressive personalities. 

So at this age, aside from baby-proofing the house, your job is to love them unconditionally as much as possible.

The role of parents for pre-k kids

As kids enter the pre-k years (2 1/2 to 4 1/2), they are starting to explore the world a lot more.

They still need, want, and crave that love from their parents that I outlined above. But their needs are growing along with their bodies. One of the key things happening at this stage is independence. 

Kids will naturally want to start doing things on their own and unassisted.

As parents, we will naturally want to help and to keep them safe. These are good instincts. But we have to balance that with not helicoptering too much. They have to learn to try and fail as we won’t always be there to catch them.

There are a number of great strategies for helping kids learn to play independently. I break them all down in a recent article, including the 1 thing guaranteed to improve their resilience and confidence.

Just click the link to read that on my site.

The so-called “terrible twos” are happening at this stage too. The reason they are called that as our kids are starting to feel a lot of complicated feelings. But they lack the ability to communicate them properly.

So it’s not uncommon for something they want to come out as a yelled command on the 1st request.

As parents, we have to take a lot of deep breaths. Then we have to ask them to repeat their question more positively. But avoid pointing out what was wrong. Instead, repeat their question the way you would like it to be asked.

Rinse and repeat (a lot).

Lastly, this is also the age where a mother’s day out program 2 or 3 days a week can help weary moms or dads catch a much-needed break, but it also helps the child too. Being in a social setting helps them learn how to play well with others, learn to share, and navigate the world without you.

The role of parents for elementary school ages

Elementary age is generally ages 5 to 11; kinder through 5th grade in most schools these days.

This age is also the fastest cognitive growth period for the brain. All kinds of things are happening mentally, including the speed of processing, the ability to problem-solve, remembering how to do things.

Amazingly, our brains are at 90% of their adult weight by 6 years of age.

The independence felt in the previous age bracket is only growing here. They will be making friends and wanting to have sleepovers. Parents once adored start to be seen a little less cool. 

But this is also a crucial age for helping our kids learn right from wrong.

After all, they will be around a wide variety of kids, some of whom will have behaviors we don’t approve of. As with the previous ages, we have to balance between keeping them safe and letting them learn from their mistakes and feel consequences.

But as they age into elementary school, some mistakes are worse than others. 

Make sure to monitor things like screen time and set strict limits. Encourage outdoor play. And definitely don’t let them get social media accounts at this age. The hard reality for parents of kids at this age is that sometimes we can do the right thing, and sometimes we can have them like us.

But we can’t always do both at the same time.

The role of parents for tweens

Just like the terrible twos, parents of tweens get a lot of attitude. Tweens are defined as ages 8 to 12.

I know, as my wife and I not only have a toddler but 2 tween daughters. The irony is that at this age, they act like they don’t need us (and sometimes like they don’t like us). But they need us now, as much as they ever did.

Middle school brings a lot of new challenges. 

Sex and drugs become part of the conversation. Online predators ramp up. Bullying, social pressures to conform, different cliques at school and eating disorders all start to ramp up.

For girls, this is often when they start their cycle, which can start as young as age 9. If you have tween daughters who haven’t started their cycles yet, I have a recent article that breaks down all the signs it’s about to start. 

Believe me, that brings a whole new level of challenges to your parenting, so it’s good to look out for the symptoms. Just click that link to read it on my site.

Arguably, middle school is more challenging than high school because it’s so different from elementary school. And by the time kids hit high school, they’ve gotten adjusted.

So now, at this age where you often aren’t even sure if your kid still likes you, you must be strong.

Set clear boundaries and guidelines. Have set consequences for poor choices. Hold them to those. Kids will NEVER tell you they want boundaries, guidelines, or structure. But they CRAVE those things.

Life challenges even the best of us. But for those kids who grew up with free-range parents who let them get away with anything, life can be especially unkind.

The role of parents for teens

Our job as parents for kids of all ages is to prepare them for how to live in the real world without us. But now, in these last years before adulthood, that’s truer than ever.

As kids enter the teen years, many of the tween challenges continue to grow:

  • Moodiness
  • Defiance
  • They’ll make friends with kids you don’t like
  • Seeking approval from their peers
  • Increased peer-pressure for sex and drugs
  • They rarely want to hang out with you
  • Increased interest in the opposite sex (or same-sex)
  • They’ll act as if you can’t understand what they are going through
  • They feel everything very intensely

As much as we might want to clamp down on their freedom, monitor their every action, and eliminate the friends we think are bad influences, that doesn’t work.

No, at this age that will only push them away and make them want to do those things more.

Instead, we have to remain calm; avoid escalating or trying to match their emotional outbursts. Explain the reasons behind decisions, but involve them in the decision making process. Allow them even more freedoms than when they were tweens, but have greater consequences for poor choices.

By now, they may have smartphones and social media accounts. But you can install parenting monitoring apps to help ensure nothing is getting too far out of hand. 

Did I cover all your questions about the role of parents in a child’s life?

In this article, I took an in-depth look into the different types of parents and how they parent their kids.

We examined some of the basic things parents should be providing their kids, and why parents are crucial for a child’s development.

Specifically, we examined the role of parents in a child’s life. None of us parents are perfect. The best we can hope for is to keep trying, keep learning, and to not make the same mistakes twice.

What is your biggest parenting struggle?

There’s a lot that goes into being a good parent, so whether father or mother, I highly recommend you take a moment and check out my post on the 23 top Qualities of a Good Father (click to read on my site).

None of us are born knowing how to be a good parent, but the good news is that countless parents before us have made a lot of mistakes and figured a lot of it out for us if we just listen.

If you like this post, please follow my Parenting board on Pinterest for more great tips from myself and top parenting experts!

Jeff Campbell