The challenges of parenting
What are some of the practical things we can do to help our children cope well and to reduce the stress of parenting?
- Give children our time and interest, pay attention – for example, playing together, reading stories, going on child-focused outings and talking. Paying attention also allows us to be responsive: “Joe, you are starting to fight with your brother – would you like my attention?”
- Provide a range of experiences and stimulation that give children the opportunity to try different things and challenges. This might include going out together, having a go at something new, or doing something that is a little out of the child’s comfort zone.
- Consistency. This means we respond to children in the same way every time so that they know what to expect. So if we agree that homework needs to happen before TV, it’s important to stick to this. It can be very confusing for children if we vary the rules.
- Routines are hugely powerful for children. Routines provide security and a sense of control. They also minimise unexpected changes, which small children can find especially difficult or unsettling.
- Limit setting. This means being clear and consistent about what behaviour is acceptable and unacceptable, and ensuring that household rules are enforced consistently.
- Here’s a psychological principle worth knowing: paying attention to a child’s behaviour increases it; ignoring behaviour decreases it. This is known as the principle of reinforcement, and it’s a powerful one. In practice, this means giving lots of attention to the behaviour we want and ignoring the behaviour we don’t. So it helps to praise and smile and notice the good stuff. (Of course, you can’t ignore dangerous or harmful behaviour, but you’ll notice there’s less of that happening if the good behaviour gets lots of focus.)
- Listen. Wherever possible, we need to show children that we are listening when they are talking to us. Look at their faces, make eye contact, smile, show them that you are paying attention and that what they say is important to you.
- Warmth and affection – we can never overdo this one.
- Model positive attitudes, values and behaviours, including optimism, in relation to both life and work.
- Manage the world outside the home. Try to actively manage work and other activities that can have an impact on your home life so that they are not intruding or taking over.
- Reduce adult conflict. Experiencing or witnessing adult conflict, whether it is physical or emotional, is harmful for children. We have a responsibility to our children to deal with adult difficulties without including children. This might mean saving difficult conversations for a time of day when children aren’t around. It is also important that we model for children healthy ways of resolving conflict.
- Nurture emotions. This means paying attention to, acknowledging and talking about feelings – theirs and ours.
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