We all want the best for our kids. We want them to be the best that they can be, physically, emotionally and socially. We want them to have happy memories of their childhood. With everything that we want to do, that we’re told we “should” be doing and juggling with that with our own lives, it can seem impossible to support healthy child development. Achieving all of this can be a challenge for any parent. With so much to juggle with our children and our own lives it can seem like an impossible task.
Supporting our child’s healthy development doesn’t mean endless classes or after-school activities. They have their place, but if you don’t have the time, the money, or even the desire to organise a variety of activities for your child, I’m here to reassure you that you don’t have to.
1: Keep Calm
No-one likes to be yelled at and yelling doesn’t ensure our child listens anyway. How many times have we all yelled at our kids just to be heard and our kids still don’t listen to us? Frustrating isn’t it!
When we remain calmer by taking a step back and doing some deep breathing before talking to our kids we can guide and redirect them to do what they need to be doing, or behaving in a different way with greater ease.
Our kids learn more quickly when they hear our message in a calmer manner. Them learning quicker mean less repeating of ourselves which makes parenting easier and us a lot happier!
It’s not always easy to stay calm and we all loose our cool. If we can take steps to be more mindful when possible which has a beautiful flow on effect to how our kids are feeling and the quality of the relationship we have with them.
2: Listen To Our Child
Our children want to be heard. Whether it’s our young baby learning to talk by babbling, through to toddlers with a million questions and onto pre-teens and teenagers developing life skills and coping with their problems.
Listening to them, teaches them how to listen to others, including us, by modelling behaviour. This sets them up for positive interpersonal relationships as they grow older and into adulthood. If you want your children to listen to you, start with listening to them.
Listening to our children goes beyond the words they are saying (or screaming!) at us. It is also about listening to what their behaviour is telling us. What are they trying to communicate but don’t have the words to say? If we can listen to the underlying message, not only can we sort out the problem more quickly, we also teach our children that we really understand them. And ultimately they will feel loved and safe which has only a positive impact on their physical, mental and emotional development.
3: Be Consistent
Consistency lays a foundational base of stability. Our children can explore the world knowing they have a safe base to return to when things get too much. It comes from being clear with our children about the family rules as well as limits and boundaries expected from all members (parents included!).
Remember that children don’t know what they don’t know, so going over the family rules with them prior to having to enforce them is a must for supporting their development! You can check out This Parenting Life’s process for setting up family rules here: Family Rules
Consistency requires that there is open communication between parents and child. Family meetings and parenting plans help us achieve this. It may seem formal but it allows for everyone to understand what is expected of them and work together.
In co-parenting families, it is important to have all parents (including step-parents) on the same page. When children get mixed messages from one parent saying one thing, and the other saying another, it is it confusing for the child and healthy child development can be impacted.
Parenting plans are very useful for co-parenting relationships and help facilitate communication between the two households and support the mental and emotional security and development of children in a situation that could possibly be disruptive to their development. But don’t be fooled, they’re not just for children going between two households, every parent can benefit from having a parenting plan in place!
4: Express Empathy
Behaviour is communication. Behaviour problems are often emotional problems. Our children express anger, frustration, sadness, shame, guilt and more through their behaviour.
When we put on our parenting detective hat and ask “What is my child feeling here?”, we can get to the root cause of their behaviour and fix that, not just put a bandaid on the solution.
Everyone, our children included, want to be understood. When we look at our child’s emotions we can help them develop the skills of emotional regularity (the healthy expression of emotions) and support their development.
Being present with our child and telling them , “I can see you’re having a hard time and I’m here to help you work it out” will demonstrate to them that you are on their side and provide that sense of safety and security they need to develop in the best way possible.
5: Pick Your Battles
As parents we can’t support our child when we are constantly fighting with them. Sometimes we have to pick our battles and it’s not a good strategy to try and ‘win’ all the time.
When kids are exposed to calmer and happier family environments where there is less arguing and demanding of their behaviour their mental and emotional health is protected.
Picking our battles means that we are flexible as parents which can also help our children develop the skills of working with someone else. As an added bonus, picking our battles decreases our stress levels. When the parents are less stressed, the kids are less stressed. If stress levels go down, the whole family gets along better.
If it is important that your child does something particular, present them with two options that lead to the same result. “Do you want to wear your blue jeans or leggings today?” Does it really matter? Or is just having them dressed and out the door enough? This is called a double-bind for those whole like the technical term. Your child gets to choose and feels empowered and respected by their decision and you as the parent get what you need as well. Everyone is happy and what needs to get done, gets done!
6: Heal Our Own Past
We don’t come into this parenting gig completely devoid of experience. After all our first experiences of parenting are not when a beautiful child comes into our lives, but are actually when we are parented by our own parents or caregivers. This is where we learn the role of parents, children and what is expected of members of the family.
We will often adopt the attitudes and behaviours of our own parents. Sometimes we have a history of positive and connected experiences that we can draw upon for our children, and other times we may not. Our past experiences may not be helpful to our situation or in line with the type of parent we want to be.
Parenting research (and the results of it) is a relatively new thing. Many of us had parents who weren’t told about the important of child mental and emotional health or how to support us. There is a lot of evidence out there now about the parenting strategies that do support mental and emotional wellbeing of children and the ones that should be avoided. We don’t want to simply blame our parents, but instead think about how we can heal from our past to positively impact how we are with our kids.
Visiting a counsellor or a psychologist who specialises in addressing potential childhood trauma or conflict that we have experienced as a child can help provide a blank slate for us moving forward with our children and supporting their growth and development. Even without significant trauma in our childhood, every parent can benefit from reflecting on how our childhood impacts how we are as a parent.
If you’ve never thought about it, please contact us to have a chat about where to start in this process.
7: Practice Self-Care
Looking after yourself means that you’re looking after your kids. When you ensure you have enough in reserves to give to your kids without feeling resentful you can support your child’s development while supporting your own mental health.
Stress management, physical and emotional self-care makes parenting easier. When we feel looked after then we have the energy within ourselves to be calm, be consistent and pick our battles. If we are exhausted and haven’t spent any time looking after ourselves then this is almost impossible.
With the busy lives parents have it can be hard to find the time to fit self-care in. I spent seven years as a single mum before re-partnering and I learned pretty quickly that if I didn’t look after myself then I couldn’t look after my kids. There was no-one there to say ‘tag, you’re it’ too, so I could sit down and relax. I had to make the time for me. If I left it up to the kids and those around me to make time for me, I would have been waiting a long time!
Parents are great at meeting the needs of their children. If we can shift our perspective so we can believe that our needs as parents and our self-care needs are an equal priority to the needs we meet for our children, it helps a lot! If we are not used to looking after ourselves it can be uncomfortable at first. We need to get into the habit of taking care of ourselves. It is worth being uncomfortable thought. Because if we can look after ourselves we have more in reserves to look after our children.
8: Set A Positive Example
One of the best things we can do for our child’s development is be the type of person that we want them to be. Children learn better by seeing and doing, rather than being told. Setting a positive example means our child will learn the positive behaviour that is expected of them.
When we set a positive example our children develop trust in us. When we set a limit and hold ourselves to the same standards as our children, then they develop trust. This helps them develop a sense of security which supports child development.
The best part of setting a positive example? It allows us to make mistakes. If we act in a way that we don’t want our children to be, or if we yell or say something that we later regret, then rather than feel guilty we can role-model how to repair a relationship. We can be a role model for apologising and taking responsibility for our actions and how it impacts another person.
Setting a positive example doesn’t mean that we have to be perfect all the time but that we can be a positive example for how to be in relationship with other people. And that is a definite plus about supporting our children’s development!
9: Focus On Positive Behaviour
In the day to day routine of parenting it can be easy to slip into a pattern of focusing on our child’s negative behaviour. We notice the tantrums, screaming, fighting and the arguments and not the positive behaviour that happens in between. Constantly saying “don’t do…” or “stop doing….”
Our children’s behaviour is a form of communication, of how they are feeling in that moment. When we focus on the negative behaviour and not look at the underlying need, we miss what is going on with our children. We miss the opportunity to solve the root cause of the problem.
One of the big problems about focusing on negative behaviour is that our children learn that this is the way to get through to us, to get our attention and try and get our help. It is their way of trying to connect with us.
What we want to do is start to shift the focus from the negative to the positive. I guarantee you that there are hundreds of moments every day when your child does listen to you, does what you need them to do or plays calmly with their sibling. Moments when you look at them and laugh, think how much you love them or even sneak a photo or two. But do you tell them about these moments? Do you tell them how wonderful it is when you watch them play or enjoy something special? Do you tell them how grateful you are when listen to you or give you a hug. How often do you tell them that you love them exactly as they are (regardless of their behaviour or their struggles)?
When we start to shift our focus to the positive behaviour from our children it helps foster a sense of self-worth and positive self-belief in our children. They don’t feel as if we are being overly critical of them. We don’t feel as if we are nagging all the time. And as a positive, they often repeat the same behaviour to get more of those positive feelings and attention from us.
It’s not to say that we ignore any behaviour that needs to be addressed or corrected. Just that we don’t overly dwell on it and work towards having a more positive focus in our family. Give it a try for a week or two (change never happens overnight) and see the changes it can make for you.
Being a parent is one of the hardest and most rewarding things we can ever do. The above nine strategies can help us make parenting easier as well as get the best outcomes for our child’s physical and emotional development. After all isn’t that what we all want?
If you enjoyed this article, it’d be very grateful if you’d help spread it by emailing it to a friend or sharing it on Facebook. If you’d like to have a chat with me about supporting your child’s development then get in contact with me through email at firstname.lastname@example.org I’ll get back to you ASAP.