I hope to become a parent one day, and when I do I would like to be a good one. I have been trying to learn a bit about what that entails, which has so far involved reading lots of questions and answers on this site, as well as the "Parenting" Wikipedia page. That page contains the following quote:

Parenting skills are widely thought to be naturally present in parents; however, there is substantial evidence to the contrary.

My question is: How do I transition from someone with no knowledge of parenting into someone who is likely to succeed at the task? How do I gain those parenting skills that are not naturally present, ideally before they're required of me?

To clarify, and (hopefully) to keep this question from being considered too broad, I am not asking for a list of everything I need to know. I'm asking more for an overview of the process. When someone wants to become a doctor, they're told they need good high school grades, they need to take certain university courses and attain a certain GPA, then apply to med school and pass the exams. What is the closest equivalent for becoming a good parent? Of course, becoming a doctor is a legally certified and clearly defined accomplishment - I'm aware that being a good parent is more nebulous than that. But I hope it's a useful analogy. I'm not looking for the information I'd receive during lectures, but the information on which lectures to attend.

Learning nothing ahead of time seems ill-advised. Googling has led to about a million options for where to start, many of which feel skewed towards selling a book or course. And I do not feel qualified to evaluate whether advice a book gives is worth listening to; I'm wary of getting sucked in by a well-written book full of wrong-headed ideas.

And to keep answers from being too subjective, I would prefer answers that reflect generally agreed-upon best practices. What subjects would a paediatrician, or a developmental psychologist, recommend reading up on before becoming a parent?

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    Much of what I know comes from volunteering with children in many situations. Not only did it give me a chance to observe many children and try out various techniques to see which worked best it also put me in contact with other volunteers with more experience. Every time I saw someone else handle a situation with a kid better then I thought I could have I'd tell myself "hey that trick works well, I should steal it!". Part of why I'm good with kids now is having such a huge arsenal of tricks and techniques stolen from other's that I can fall back upon if I'm in doubt of what to do.
    – dsollen
    Dec 8, 2020 at 0:43
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    @dsollen Thanks for this advise. I will look into volunteering with children, particularly post-COVID. Could I ask what sort of volunteer work you did? Big brother, sports, etc? Dec 9, 2020 at 7:41
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    I did do Big Brothers, but while I loved it that likely wouldn't be the best place if your primary goal is to learn to work with kids; that's just throwing you in the deep end with a different kid instead of your own. I started in the nursery, and then an assistant sunday school, at my local church, which was a good start since I had more experience people around to pick up the slack if I didn't know what to do. From there I moved on to respite care for special needs children, which admittedly was kind of diving into the deep end in it's own way but it was very educational.
    – dsollen
    Dec 9, 2020 at 15:58
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    I also have allot of experience babysitting/mentoring kids. The way I became an honorary Uncle to so many children is...unique and perhaps not what your looking for, but I do think babysitting or helping friends with their own kids is a good learning opportunity. It lets you see what methods other adults use with their kids and thus pick up which parenting methods worked and which didn't. After all the point is to get a chance to learn from other adults as well. I highly doubt anyone will complain about an offer for a free babysitter from a friend ;)
    – dsollen
    Dec 9, 2020 at 16:01

1 Answer 1


Here's the approach I've taken as a soon-to-be Dad, in my personal order of importance:

  1. Babysit the kids of friends or family members. Nothing in the world will prepare you more than actually caring for children. It's so easy to get caught up in philosophical debates about discipline strategies or parenting styles or whatever where everything is high-minded and theoretical. These debates seem so abstract and silly when you've got a screaming child throwing themselves on the ground for not getting their way, or a toddler intent on doing dangerous things, or (on the good side) a snuggly child that just wants some love and attention.
  2. Spend time with family members or friends with kids. Watch their interactions, see how they handle the parent-child relationship, discipline, etc. You'll learn some tricks, some things to avoid, and you'll start to see the wide range of variation in both children and parents. This last part is so often left out in discussions of parenting: Every parent/child relationship is different, and will require different approaches.
  3. If you know educators who work with kids, spend time with them and pick their brain on what they see in class, what kids struggle with behaviorally, etc. The effects of family interactions play out in the classroom.
  4. Read (or listen to) lots of books. This is less to find any prescriptive "best way" of doing things (there isn't one), but to expose you to the simple fact that there are a ton of ways to care for children, and this will give you tools and ideas to draw on as you decide what's best for your family. Use these as fodder to introspect on what your own values and goals are.

Above all, always be open to learning new ideas, admitting to and correcting your own personal wrongs, and remember the humanity of the child. They're human just like you. We all struggle, get angry, make mistakes, get sad when we don't get our way, etc. And we've all got a lot of good in us too.

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    As a father of 3 I was about to write something like this but you have hit the nails on the head. Spending time with other families with kids, relatives, etc - gaining experience first hand - really makes things easier when you have your own. It will still be hard - parenting is not easy - but the head start will help make it less painful.
    – Rory Alsop
    Dec 8, 2020 at 17:25
  • I was on this same boat a couple years ago, and I would swear by your first point. What I learnt from it was how not to parent, and that is a very valuable lesson too.
    – learner101
    Dec 9, 2020 at 5:01
  • Apart from all these excellent points, I'd like to add that its wise to educate yourself specifically about the newborn stage. Its the most trying time.
    – learner101
    Dec 9, 2020 at 5:05
  • Thank you for your answer. I don’t actually know anyone with kids I could babysit. Would finding a volunteer opportunity with kids be sensible? Is the goal just to spend time as a caretaker for children’s before having my own? Dec 9, 2020 at 7:38
  • @learner101, thanks, I will be sure to read up on the newborn stage of parenting. Part of my goal is to avoid feeling unknowledgeable during the parts of parenting when I’ll have little or no time to gain knowledge. Dec 9, 2020 at 7:39

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