7 Habits of Highly Effective Parents

There are those moms out there that seem to have it all together.  They take great pictures of their kids, bake healthy cookies, and exercise for fun.  Then they post all those great photos on Instagram, saying that their children have “brought light to their lives.”  But those two moms are the exception.  The rest of us are trying hard to make life work from day to day.  I know I am.  That’s why I decided to read the book, 7 Habits of Highly Effective People by Stephen Covey.  I had hoped that it would bring some balance to my life, and the lessons I have learned have helped immensely.

Let’s just be clear – I am not a psychologist, nor do I have any secret answers to living.  I did not develop these concepts.  I’m just applying them to parenting life specifically.  What I’m writing below is more or less a book review.  If you really want to understand the 7 Habits, you should read the book yourself!

1.  They Are Proactive

Raising tiny human beings, paying bills, putting food on the table, cleaning the house – a parent’s world is overwhelming.  It’s easy to feel as if you have no control over your life.  “I can’t get my children to clean up their rooms.  They just won’t do it.”  “I hate my job.”  “We just can’t stay within our budget.”  “It’s no use trying to clean the house, it will just get dirty again.”

The first step to being an effective parent is to realize what you have control over.  You have the ability to discipline your children.  You can search for a new job or take steps to enjoy the one you have.  You can implement budgeting rules.  You can set up a system to get and keep your house clean.  Being proactive means that you don’t sit around sitting sorry for yourself.  You get up, make a plan, and carry it out!

Attitude Is Everything

Most importantly, you have control of the attitude you begin each day with.  For instance, I really can’t control a lot of things about my one year old.  She’s too young to learn discipline, and she can’t express what she’s feeling to me.  However, I can impact the attitude I take towards her.  On a “bad day” when she wakes up early, fights me getting dressed, won’t eat her breakfast, and in general makes me want to pull my hair out, I can remember that I’m the adult in the situation.  I can choose to deal patiently with her, or I can choose to blow my top.

Here are some tips to develop a habit of being proactive:

  • Be conscious of your words and thoughts.  When you find yourself feeling defeated or unable to impact a situation, reframe it.  Are you really trapped?
  • Take the 30 day challenge – spend 30 days being proactive in big and little ways: make plans and carry them out.
  • What is the one thing in your life you feel most powerless about?  Think of five ways you can take control of the situation – even if it’s just your attitude.
  • Listen to your words for an entire day – try to avoid saying things that sound helpless, like, “I can’t,” “If only,” and “I have to.”

2.  They Begin With the End In Mind

Effective people set meaningful goals.  To begin with the end in mind is to think about what truly matters.  What do you want your children to say about you at your funeral?  If you know the answer to that question, then you can set meaningful goals to get you there.

For instance, I would like Bugaboo to be able to say I was a great mother, I was a good listener, I provided meaningful advice, guidance, and discipline, and that I valued quality time with her.  Even though she’s just a toddler, I can start working on those goals – especially by being present!  (Find out about how to put the smart phone down and be present in this digital age!)

Just because you are a parent, your goals don’t have to all be about family togetherness like a Hallmark channel movie on steroids.  You can have amazing life goals and dreams, too.  Just keep the end in mind.  Consider how your goals interact with each other.  When you die, your boss may say you were the best worker he ever had.  But your children may not have a lot to say if you were never around.

Here are some tips to begin with the end in mind:

  • Brainstorm five important areas or roles in your life (family, friends, faith, work, accomplishments, wealth, bucket list, etc.) and what you want each to look like.  Where are your priorities?
  • Write a personal mission statement incorporating the important areas of your life
  • Using your mission statement, start to set goals that will lead you to the end you are looking to achieve
  • Collect inspirational messages that will help you stay positive toward achieving your life goals

3.  They Put First Things First

The great equalizer in our society is time.  Everyone gets 24 hours.  Most of us don’t know how to spend it.  Effective parents are great time managers.  They know how to prioritize.

Most of us spend a lot of time doing things that are urgent but not important.  Think about the last time you were talking to someone and they interrupted you to answer the phone, only to find out it was a telemarketer.  In our society, a ringing phone sends a message of urgency, but the person on the other end of the phone may not be as important as the task at hand.  This is especially true now that everyone has voicemail.  How often do you do this to your children – put them off so you can finish a task that seems urgent but, in reality, is not all that important?

Another way we waste time is by…wasting time.  At the end of the long day, we come home and want to decompress by watching TV, scrolling through Facebook, and otherwise “vegging out.”

Effective parents know how to prioritize things that are important but not urgent such as spending quality time with their children.  They are efficient at their jobs so that they can come home and be present with their families at night.

Here are some tips to put first things first:

  • Plan your months, weeks, and days – Use a monthly calendar to track important events such as dentist appointments and dance recitals.  Each week, sit down and plan out what needs to get done – what the meals will be, what is on the to-do list, and what activities you will be doing with the kids.  Finally, if you have busy days, transfer your to-do list to your daily planner so that you don’t miss important meetings but still have time to do what is most important.
  • When planning your week, think about something that is important but not urgent that has been neglected – your family, your health, your personal enrichment?  Schedule time this week to devote to that something.
  • Write a list of things that you can delegate to someone else – are your children old enough to start helping with chores?  Do you or your spouse have more spare time to complete that little chore?  Do you need to consider hiring a handyman instead of trying to fix the sink yourself?
  • Set specific times to check your phone throughout the day.  Except for during those times, ignore a ringing phone or text message.  (Set your spouse’s ring tone to something unique so that you can pick up in case of an emergency).

4.  They Think Win/Win

When looking for solutions to problems, effective people look to come up with win/win answers.  In other words, I’m happy, you’re happy, or else we keep looking.

As parents, it’s easy to look at the world as win/lose or lose/win.  It seems to be win/lose when we are disciplining our children, right?  “I’m the mom, I said you can’t have a cookie.  I said no.”  However, if we discipline out of love, we are teaching our children life skills that will help them succeed.  Even if you hold your ground and don’t give your daughter the cookie, you can do it out of love, and you are helping her to learn skills such as delayed gratification and moderation.

Lose/Win or Lose/Lose

Sometimes it feels like we are stuck in lose/win or lose/lose scenarios.  I feel that way during the dreaded diaper changes.  Bugaboo is in a phase where she rolls around and kicks up her legs and won’t sit still.  In a lose/win scenario, I give up and hand her my phone so she can watch a video while I change her.  “You won.”  I say with a sigh.  Or there’s the lose/lose scenario: she rolls around, gets poop everywhere, I shout and scream, and when she’s finally in her new diaper, I have to walk away for a few minutes to collect my cool.  Not fun.

Parenting can feel like it’s full of these lose/win and lose/lose scenarios.  But we can look for ways to turn them into win/wins – we just have to keep looking and be creative.  Building on my knowledge that Bugaboo liked to listen to music while her diaper was being changed, I began to sing songs to her during diaper changes.  I would stop singing whenever she started to struggle.  In addition, since she’s not allowed to have her pacifier except to sleep, I offer her a pacifier just during the diaper change.  Now I get to change her diaper without her kicking, and she gets to suck on her pacifier and listen to a song.  Win/win.

Here are some ideas for implementing win/win scenarios:

  • Consider the personal aspect – winning is not just about getting your way but about maintaining positive relations with your children
  • Check your attitude – don’t go into a situation thinking that there is no solution.  Start by asking for the world, and then work your way in to something realistic, cutting away the extra stuff at the edges.  You will be surprised how much you are able to attain by thinking positively.
  • Make sure your win/win solutions stick – if you have to, write down the solution and create accountability systems (charts, weekly check-ins) to make sure everyone is still holding up his or her end of the bargain.
  • Put yourself in the your spouse or children’s shoes and brainstorm the solution you think they would want
  • Make deposits into the “emotional bank accounts” of your spouse and children – in other words, take time to make them feel appreciated, respected, and loved.  When the time comes for negotiations, you will be starting on solid ground.

5.  They Seek First to Understand, Then to Be Understood

Who among us is actually a great listener?  Hardly anyone.  It’s easy to get caught up in our own world when we are supposed to be listening to someone.  My most common problem is that I’m always trying to think about my response or what I want to say next.

Effective people seek to understand.  They don’t daydream about their next response when you are talking to them.  And they don’t cut in and offer unwanted advice.  They simply try to understand.  This can be a difficult discipline to learn for parents!

A lot of the time, trying to understand can feel like being a psychologist.  You simply repeat what your child said, mirror their feelings back to them.  “I’m so mad at my teacher!”  Says your son.  “It sounds like you’re pretty angry at your teacher.”  You reply.  “Why?”

Trying to truly listen and understand will help you to build strong relationships your children.  At some point, once you fully understand, they may even ask for your advice.  “What do you think?”  “What would you do?”

Here are some tips to help you seek first to understand:

  • If your children are old enough, take each one to ice cream one by one, spending some time listening.  Ask about their day, their school, their friends and listen to the answers.
  • Spend some time people watching – can you guess how the conversation is going just by watching body language?  Use what you have learned to be aware of your own body language and the unintended messages you are sending your spouse and children.
  • When your child is emotional, take a deep breath and count to three.  Try to maintain a conversation with her in an even-toned voice, taking care to listen to her concerns.
  • When your spouse comes home, challenge yourself to give him at least 10 minutes of undivided attention before you start talking about your day.  See if he needs dinner or a snack.  Ask him about his day, and then ask meaningful follow up questions.  Start to memorize the names and roles of his coworkers – even the ones he doesn’t work with on a day-to-day basis.

6.  They Synergize

What does it mean to “synergize?”  Creating synergy is like saying 1 + 1 = 3.  It’s like saying win/win/win.  It’s when you come to a higher and better answer than you ever thought possible.

Synergy happens when we truly value the people we interact with.  It is what makes marriages work.  It is where children come from.  When you follow the first five habits, you will begin to truly respect the people around you, and they will have respect for you.  Instead of searching for win/win (I win some and you win some) solutions to problems, you and your family will be focused on what is going make everyone happy.

Here are some tips on creating synergy in your family:

  • Think of a situation at home where you would like to see greater teamwork and synergy, such as getting particular chores done or avoiding sibling rivalry.  Take some time to plan out some ideas on how to have things work smoother.  Consider what road blocks may be in the way.
  • The next time you find yourself in a disagreement, stop talking and start to really listen.  Can you see a way to address this person’s concerns without “losing”?
  • Think about the last time things went well – really well – with your family.  Perhaps it was during the Christmas season or on a family vacation.  List out some of the common themes about those times and brainstorm how you can make them work in your week to week life.

7.  They Sharpen the Saw

Highly effective parents never stop trying to do better.  They find their weaknesses and try to strengthen them.  They find their strengths and try to find ways to play to those strengths.

However you see it – reaching towards goals, lifelong learning, self care – you need to prioritize time for what matters to you.  Consider your spiritual, physical, mental, and social skills and find ways to keep each category sharp.

Here are some tips to sharpen the saw:


  • Take time each morning before your family wakes up to read the Bible, say your prayers, and read inspirational books.
  • Practice your faith by incorporating faith traditions into your family life
  • Surround yourself with friends and mentors who will encourage you in your faith.


  • Take time to plan healthy, balanced meals
  • Find a form of physical exercise and commit to at least 90 minutes a week
  • Play with your kids: play tag, play hide and seek, wrestle with them, tickle with them, dance


  • Challenge yourself to read one book a week for a year.  Divide your books into intellectually stimulating and entertaining categories: biographies, novels, non-fiction, inspiration
  • Make a knowledge bucket list – do you want to learn a language?  What about a new skill?  Map out the steps to achieve your goal, and get started!
  • Find intellectual entertainment – documentaries, Jeopardy!, and news shows.


  • Write a list of the people in your network (including current and former bosses and coworkers, friends, family, and others) and make an effort to reconnect with them on a rotating basis.  Perhaps choose one day a week to try to get out to meet them.
  • Prepare three questions you would like to ask each person when you go to meet them – show them that you are taking an interest in their life.
  • Model appropriate social behavior to your children – shake hands at church, introduce them to adults, teach them how to be respectful.

Again, I did not come up with these habits and am not a psychologist.  I encourage you to check out Steven Covey’s book for yourself!  There is so much more detail and inspirational material.  It will make you want to be a better person and, more importantly, it will give you the tools to get there!

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