Become a Better Parent with 12 Simple Steps!
All good parenting begins with a strategy that ensures both the parent and child’s needs are met, in a loving, mutually beneficial relationship. If a good strategy is not in place, both can become frustrated, angry and disconnected, negatively impacting on the child, the parents’ relationship and the household. Feel free to use the following twelve steps to improve your parenting skills and your child’s future:
- Quality time: Aim for 30 minutes of quality time per day with each child. Children thrive on attention, and they need your attention more than anyone else’s. Give your child 30 minutes, undivided attention per day, and watch this relationship blossom.
- Listen attentively: If you can’t listen, make a time to listen properly. Show your child that you are listening, by using listening cues, such as ‘ah ha’ and nods. The more interested you become in their world, the more you will enjoy them, and the more they will thrive!
- Praise: Praise constantly. When you praise their strengths at any opportunity, you are increasing their self-esteem, which influences their ability to have confidence, make friends, and feel motivated at school, and succeed!
- Criticism: Be critical of actions, not critical of your child. Children are very fast to believe criticism. When you are commenting on what they have done, be careful you criticize their actions, not them! If you are furious, you may wish to calm down, before you speak. Words can hurt and devastate children, as they often hear a parent’s words, and interpret these words as a personal attack – thus damaging their self-esteem. So knock the action; not the child. Constructive criticism: “That was a dangerous thing to do. You could’ve been hurt”. Versus personal attack: “You idiot. Why were you so stupid!”
- Support: Encourage autonomy (support child’s interests, if safe and practical). Children are little adults in the making. Children do not ‘belong to us’. They are on loan for only 18 years, and then they have a greater freedom of choice. When we support their interests, we show love. Children need to feel independent, set their own goals, as this is character building, and will help them later in life, in adulthood.
- Boundaries: Children feel happier, more secure, and thrive, in a world of boundaries, rules and consequences. Boundaries may include household rules, and routines about bedtimes, inappropriate language, respecting others, respecting property, sharing with siblings, allowing shared conversation time at dinner, having chores, and having pocket money (only if chores are done). Think about cows that enter a new paddock. They walk the perimeter, to ‘test the boundaries’ before settling down. Children will test the boundaries, giving parents the opportunity to reinforce rules using appropriate consequences. Studies show that your child will actually respect you more, enhancing this parent/child relationship, if you have provided them with healthy boundaries and consequences.
- Consequences: Children need consequences. Children learn, change and behave through a series of reactions to their environment. If they feel their actions have no consequences, they will do as they please. The parent will feel a lack of control, which will frustrate the parent, and add to the disconnection and anger in this relationship. Ironically, to have a close and loving relationship with your child, he/she must behave, or suffer the consequences (i.e. lose pocket money, have an iPod confiscated for a day, lose TV privileges, not be driven to the party Saturday). We shape our children when we praise them and reward them for good behavior. We also shape our children’s behavior when we discourage negative behavior by giving consequences.
- Respect your child: Show them respect in every opportunity. I once saw a lady yell at her child, ‘Stop yelling at me!’ I laughed to myself, as she was displaying the type of interaction she did not want. Of course children copy us! Children imitate TV show characters, cartoons, their friends, teachers and siblings. We are constantly showing them how to behave. So talk to your child lovingly, with respect, and if they yell, ensure that you tell them, ‘Sorry, I am not talking to you until you talk respectfully’. We teach people how to treat us, so only tolerate, and display, appropriate behavior.
- Feelings: Explain to your child that it is ok to feel angry, upset, frustrated, but it is not ok to throw things, hit people, or damage property. Show them appropriate use of feelings, including diarizing, talking about their feelings, and possibly discussing how thoughts turn into feelings, so they can examine, and maybe replace some unhelpful thoughts. You may wish to do this with a child counsellor/psychologist, if they have a lot of negative thoughts and feelings. Young children respond well to various cartoon faces, showing different emotions, which can be found on the internet. Help children identify their emotions, why they feel that way, and help them channel these emotions in an appropriate fashion. Normalize that it is ok to be angry, upset, scared, frustrated and help them identify these feelings. Then use listening skills to help them discuss these feelings. For example, tell them, if you are angry, it is ok to tell your brother, ‘Stop!’ if he is annoying you. Alternatively, they can tell someone, or walk away; it is not appropriate to hit people.
- Attention: If children do not receive enough quality attention, they will misbehave to get your attention. They would rather get your ‘positive attention’, but if that is not available, they will aim for your ‘negative attention’. Rats, in experiments, have been known to press a lever to have an electric current goes through them, rather than be bored. Children are no different; they would rather be yelled at, than bored…so DON’T LET THEM BECOME BORED! Pre-plan activities so they have plenty to do. Also ensure you continue to give them your daily ‘positive attention’.
- Assertiveness: Be assertive, not aggressive, to ensure all needs are met. Assertiveness is firmly ensuring actions are carried out, without an angry voice tone, hostility, threats or fear. Assertiveness is making sure boundaries are followed, chores are completed, homework is done, family members are respected, etc. It is not yelling; it is speaking up when something needs to be mentioned (or followed through). In relationships, people may be ‘walked on’, disrespected, anger can build, people can become angry and aggressive, and can eventually ‘snap’, and become violent, if partners are not assertive. When I talk to couples, I recommend couples talk to each other in ‘mini-meetings’, starting with a compliment, then: ‘I want…’, ‘I need…’ or ‘I feel…’, ending with a thank you. This is better than talking in an accusative style. An assertive parent could do the same. Instead of saying, ‘You never keep your room tidy’, which may come across as a personal attack, an assertive parent could say, ‘I expect this room to be kept tidy, in order for you to earn your pocket money’. If a child is throwing a ball in the lounge room, the child needs a warning. ‘We respect the lounge room. You will not be able to use the lounge room tonight if you disrespect the room.’ If the child continues to throw a ball in the lounge room, the child needs to be told to remove themselves from the lounge, and miss the family TV watching time as a consequence. ‘If you cannot respect the lounge room, you need to stay out of the lounge room for an hour tonight’.
- Self-Esteem: When we praise, give attention, listen, love, support and encourage our child, we increase their self-esteem. When parents use emotional blackmail, are quick to criticize, control through excess use of power, frequently put down and rarely praise the child, they encourage poor self-esteem. This could leave a child feeling disapproved of, humiliated, insecure, inadequate, making the child’s life more challenging. Every interaction you have with your child is either positive, or harmful, for their self esteem. Because a healthy self-esteem equips your child with the many traits needed for emotional stability
EVERY interaction you have with your child has an impact on how they cope today, and how they will cope (and succeed) in the future. Feel free to print this article out or give a copy to your friends so that more parents can benefit from this simple, but effective, strategy. May your love for yourself, your life, and your children, deepen daily. Phoebe Hutchison (Relationships / Crisis Counsellor) & Author of: Honeymooners Forever, Twelve Step Marriage Survival Guide, Are You Listening? Life is Talking to YOU! and PLP: Passionate Life Program.