10 ways to be a better parent - tips from David Coleman
Small changes to your parenting style can have a big impact on your children
I love January. There is something fresh, clean and clear about this time of year. Winter is on the turn and the days are getting longer. There is the hope of spring, regrowth and renewal. No wonder many of us choose to set ourselves fresh targets for what we hope to achieve in the new year.
I wonder if many of you decide that the new year will herald a fresh approach to rearing your children? Perhaps you've never really thought about your parenting approach, sometimes called your parenting style. Indeed, many of us will only question our methods of rearing our children when they seem to clash or conflict with the methods our partners and spouses might use.
This new year might be a good time to become a bit more conscious of the way in which you raise your kids. One way to think about parenting style is to consider two distinct constructs; 1) the demands, expectations, limits and rules we set for our children and 2) our responsiveness, warmth and understanding of them.
The most effective parents have high levels of expectations of, and for, their children, as well as high levels of responsiveness towards their children. Parents using this style are called authoritative parents. They are clear about rules and make demands of their children, but marry this with a warmth, caring and kindness.
If we have lots of demands and expectations of our children, but little warmth and responsiveness, we are likely to be authoritarian parents. There is a sternness and strictness to this kind of parenting (because there are rules and expectations), but it tends to lack an understanding of the child or a willingness to see things from the child's perspective. Many of us were probably brought up in households with authoritarian parents.
Seeing things from your child's perspective, and being very warm, understanding and responsive to their needs is good. But, if this isn't balanced with rules and expectations we can have an indulgent parenting style. Children who are overly indulged may struggle later in life.
Finally, if you have neither rules nor warmth and understanding then you are likely to fall into a neglectful parenting style. Needless to say, this is not to be encouraged.
So, if the gold standard parenting style is authoritative, blending clear expectations of your children with lots of warmth and responsiveness to them, how can that best be achieved?
Here are 10 small changes you could make to your parenting style that will bring you a long way to a happier, healthier family dynamic:
1 BE INTERESTED IN YOUR CHILD'S LIFE
When our lives are busy, even frenetic, it is easy to get caught up in the whirlwind of chores, homework, taxiing children around, our own work and so on. Within this, we can lose sight of our children and what is going on for them in school, with friends and even at the hobbies or pastimes we work to facilitate for them. So, learn to pause every day, to listen to their stories and show interest in what they are doing.
2 PRIORITISE YOUR CHILDREN
This follows directly from being interested in them and what they are doing. As soon as you can create more space for them, by pausing, you will find it easier to engage with them. Creating that space might mean delaying some chores until after they are asleep, or not volunteering on a committee, or pausing your favourite TV show. Your children are more important than your next Facebook post, for example, so maybe it is worth setting that time aside for them.
3 SHOW YOUR CHILDREN WHAT YOUR VALUES ARE
Children need our actions to fit with what we say. There is no point in talking about honesty, loyalty, patience and so on, unless we are demonstrating those same values in our dealings with our children and with others.
Your children will, by default, copy your behaviour more than follow your instruction. So, if you want them to be considerate of others, for example, show them how to do it by being considerate of others yourself. Teach your children about right and wrong by how you approach life.
4 BECOME PREDICTABLE FOR YOUR CHILDREN
When we don't know what to expect we can become anxious or fearful. We end up on edge and having to be hypervigilant or alert. When things are more predictable we can relax. The same will be true for your children with your behaviour. So, if you have made a decision, stick by it. Show yourself to be reliable and trustworthy by saying what you mean and then doing what you say. The more reliable we can be, the more relaxed our children can be in our company and in the company of others.
5 SEE THE WORLD FROM YOUR CHILD'S PERSPECTIVE
Most parents have their own agenda, their own needs and their own expectations of what should and shouldn't be done. Often this guides our interactions with our children, to the exclusion of their agenda, their needs or their expectations of themselves.
Being able to put yourself into their shoes can give you real insight into the feelings that might have driven their behaviour, or the rationale that guided them. Even if those feelings, or rationale, differ from our own, we will be more patient and understanding of them, if we take the trouble to look with our children's eyes.
6 STOP PUNISHING YOUR CHILD
Guiding and correcting children's misbehaviour is vital to help them learn to make better choices. Sometimes that means letting them suffer the consequences of their behaviour. But correcting their behaviour doesn't need punishment. Punishment is usually visible when the consequences we apply to them, outweigh, or are not in any way connected to, the misbehaviour.
Punishment will usually appear like a form of retribution. It looks like we are trying to get our own back on our child because of our frustration, disappointment or annoyance with what they have done. Punishment is more likely to lead to resentment and further misbehaviour.
Experiencing natural consequences for misbehaviour, on the other hand, might help them learn from it.
7 LET YOUR CHILD KNOW WHAT THEY DID RIGHT
Catching children being good is a great balance for those times when we might find them misbehaving and have to correct them. Because we are so busy, it is often only the misbehaviour that we seem to have time to notice and deal with. Refocusing on all the good things that our children do, and commenting on them, can shift your perception of your child. Rather than seeing them as bold, we can actually come to see that they are good at heart.
8 CREAT ACHIEVABLE OBJECTIVES
In life we often need a challenge to motivate us to put in effort. Children need challenges too. However, we have to be mindful to set the challenges up such that they are hard enough to motivate them to strive to achieve them, without being too hard, such that they appear to fail all the time. This can be a hard balance to achieve. Occasional failure can be a good learning experience for a child. Repeated failure, however, is disheartening and demotivating. So, where possible make your expectations for them reasonable and achievable.
9 SPEND MORE TIME BEING ACTIVE AND IN THE OUTDOORS
Not only does this have a health benefit for you and your child, but getting outside and having the chance to run, climb, roll, dance, skip, play and have fun can boost everyone's mood and morale.
Particularly in the dark winter months, it can require an extra effort to get out and get active. But if it helps your children to be happier and leads to fewer rows and bickering it is well worth it.
10 IF YOU HAVE A PARTNER, TALK TO THEM ABOUT YOUR PARENTING APPROACH
Discussing how you want to parent your children will force to think about what you actually do, and what you would like to do. It will help you to clarify what is really important for you. It makes your parenting choices very conscious.
Discussing allows you to see where any difference might be and can help you move towards compromise or shared parenting styles.
While instinct, as a parent, can be really useful, it also helps to have a plan. Having a plan that you can both sign up to, is even more helpful!
* David Coleman is a clinical psychologist; see davidcoleman.ie
Health & Living