independent

Thursday 17 April 2014

Allison Keating: What is the best for your child? It's all about navigating the parental map

Childcare is always fraught, but it's never wrong to rely on your instincts
Childcare is always fraught, but it's never wrong to rely on your instincts

CHILDCARE is not an easy one for parents. Believe me, I know. Motherhood involves huge decisions. For every plus, there is a minus. Let's be realistic, though; with the majority of people requiring a dual income to survive the current financial and emotional flood that is the economic minefield we are living in, the precedent for the mother to have the option to stay home is not often a clear runner in this country.

Regardless of financial reasons, there are also a lot of women who want to work and I praise women who know that being a full-time mother is not for them. From a psychological point of view, a happy mother means a happy child.

The difficulty for parents is finding someone who can care for their child in a way that makes them happy, comfortable and safe as parents.

Developmentally, your child needs to learn attachment in order to feel safe and secure. They learn from your reaction and model their behaviour on learnt responses.

Perhaps as a parent you try to provide this secure base at home and this is what you hope is mirrored in your absence. Your child's emotional development and neural hardwiring are influenced by their environment and what they learn.

Children will make mistakes – that is how they learn. But the core learning curve comes from others' reactions to them. Instead of building shame or fear, we need to teach security, trust and empathy.

I recently read an article on the impact of a parent's angry tone on a child. To the child, it can feel like the ultimate betrayal, that this person who loves them is shouting at them.

The early years are so emotionally important for your child to learn how to interact with the world. More importantly, the child learns and becomes conditioned to see and react in a very cause-and-effect way.

If, for example, your child spills or throws their cereal on the ground – or, in my own personal case, when my toddler's flying fist of porridge is being thrown across the room and into their hair and your hair – your natural reaction is to be annoyed. But this is when you have to stop and breathe for a couple of seconds and think "bigger picture".

Think – did they do this just to annoy you? No, they did it because it felt good to have a handful of squishy porridge and they were curious to see what would happen when they hurtled it across the kitchen.

It's your job to teach them (obviously) not to do this, but not to intimidate them by yelling. What will they learn from that?

Society is tough. A read through the papers this week is not for the faint-hearted. It seems grisly out there at the moment. We have to protect the ones who can't speak for themselves, we have to have a society that has zero tolerance for the intolerable. We need to protect our children and give them a childhood.

When asked about doing this piece I was asked is the child better off at home? That is a very difficult question and a personal choice for parents – one that I feel I don't have a right to answer.

But there are guidelines that could help parents to make a good ecological fit for their family. Firstly, if financially possible, would you like to be at home full-time?

If yes, then the solution is pretty clear.

If not, then you need to work out the values you have as parents, the parenting boundaries that you would like provided by a secondary carer and try to make a good match.

Go with your instincts. Parents are bombarded with advice and I think they need to re-set their parental confidence on the fact that you know your child best. If you see a change in your child's behaviour, make a conscious effort to get down and spend some quality one-to-one time to see if you can elucidate what the issue is.

Remember, your child will not have the verbal acuity to express emotionally how they feel, so it's best to let the child lead and use props such as drawing to allow them to illustrate how they feel about what is bothering them. No matter how good your child's verbal prowess is, they can't articulate those emotions.

Figure out your parental map, what do you want for your child? Do you want them to be kind, empathetic, reasonable, then start with yourself, and check in with your child often because you know them best.

I would love if Dutch family policy was put not just on the agenda but into action. The Dutch people are given a full year's paid maternity.

If we had more family-focused policy, then childcare may go from a must to a choice.

I think that creating family-friendly policies needs to be on the political agenda to create a happier, more balanced State.

Allison Keating is a psychologist and runs the bWell Clinic in Malahide, Co Dublin

Irish Independent

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