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Action 11

Use positive parenting techniques

Parenting children can be enormously rewarding and fulfilling - but also exhausting and challenging. It is truly the best and the worst of times. Yet you are the role model for your child, and most parents, when asked what they really want for their children, respond with "I want them to be happy". Your parenting choices really can help - and the love and support you give your children is critical to their future well-being.

Why do it?

Being a positive parent doesn't only mean better outcomes for your child, but it also has benefits for relationships with other important adults in the child's life, and for you as a parent. As babies and children develop they go through natural stages of development and attachment to their parent. Positive parents recognize these stages and respond accordingly, teaching the child that his or her own actions matter, and that loving relationships are stable and secure, no matter what the circumstances may be.

Positive parenting with a partner also means open and honest communication - and teaching your children - by your own actions - about how to find positive solutions to conflicts. Of course all parents argue, and sometimes it's in front of the children. Yet what is essential for the children is to also see the resolution - to witness how two adults who love each other can solve their differences and return to a stable, caring, supportive relationship, despite the fractious emotions.

For you as a parent, recognizing that there will be ups and downs and taking care of yourself goes a long way. If you are stressed or upset, your children will naturally pick up on this and feel those emotions intensely as well. If you are more relaxed and joyful, your children also mirror those sentiments, and the entire household is more harmonious. We all feel those negative emotions at times - and by watching how we deal with them, our children learn models for their own behaviour in future.

Where to start?

Be there for your child

  • No matter the age of your child, he or she wants and needs your full attention.
  • With young babies, this means getting closer to their faces and making noises and imitating their own actions.
  • With toddlers and pre-schoolers, this means getting on the floor with them and playing at their level, reading books, zooming cars, dressing dolls and doing it over and over and over again.
  • As your child starts attending school being present with them means sharing stories about your day as he or she shares stories about what happened at school. Asking open questions with a sense of humour can help draw out interesting anecdotes.
  • With teenagers, some parents tend to draw back and give more room. However, teenagers still need to know that you are there, loving and supportive. Ask questions, and respect their desire for privacy. Be prepared for the unexpected - the most interesting stories come out when you least anticipate it, driving in the car or late at night.
  • And above all, dedicate time to your child - put away the technology and play.

Maintain a positive relationship with your partner

Help your children develop emotional intelligence

  • Accept all emotions and work with your child to name them - both the positive and negative.
  • Share in the joyous moments with your child, letting him or her experience the full pleasure of pride, love, excitement, anticipation, surprise and the like.
  • Accept that your child will have difficult moments. These are the times that build resilience. Instead of trying to take the sad away from a disappointed child, share in the disappointment with him or her and acknowledge the emotion.
  • For example, say "I understand that you're disappointed. It must be very disappointing to have a play date all scheduled and then your friend is sick and can't come over."
  • Give your child a safe and supportive space to share and feel all emotions.

Don't be too hard on yourself

Find optimistic ways to explain things

  • When negative things happen, resist the urge to see them as permanent. A child who is being defiant may be having a bad day, or may be tired, or may be frustrated from an earlier event. That defiance is temporary, and not a permanent character trait.
  • When negative things happen, resist the urge to generalize them across time and space. A child who behaves one way at home may not behave the same way at school, or on the sports team.
  • When good things happen, enjoy them and savour them. Actively share with your child when you see them doing or saying positive things.
  • Catch your child doing things right. For example say "I saw you helping that younger child up when she fell down off the see-saw. That was a very kind thing to do."
The early years really matter

In recent years there have been some startling discoveries about how the love and support we receive in our earliest years affects our lives. It turns out that love is essential to brain development in the early years of life, particularly to the development of our social and emotional brain systems.

As babies, our nervous systems are profoundly shaped by our earliest relationships and this has lasting consequences for our adult life, despite our inability to remember babyhood. Research shows that the way our brain develops as a baby can affect the way we respond to stress and our future emotional well being. A lack of love and support during the crucial early years can increase the likelihood of future mental health issues and conditions such as anorexia, addiction, and anti-social behaviour.

As parents we often think about the early years of our children's lives as a time to be struggled through, where getting our child "into a good routine" and helping them develop their basic skills in eating, walking and speaking are the most important things. But the research suggests that what matters most is providing unconditional love for our children and helping them feel understood, valued and secure.

Be an authoritative (not authoritarian) parent

In addition to unconditional love, our children also need clear boundaries. Generally, researchers have concluded that there are three main types of parenting approach: Authoritarian, Permissive and Authoritative.

  • Authoritarian parents demand a lot from their child, but do not give in response. They often give orders and set strict rules to be obeyed. Sometimes stereotyped as a 'Military Style', this approach can sometimes include physical abuse.
  • Permissive parents encourage their children to their fullest, but do not set limits. They emphasise creativity and feelings, although their children often feel unloved as a result of not having many restrictions. Sometimes stereotyped as the 'Hippy Style', these children often become rebellious against their parents.
  • Authoritative parents set some limits for their children, but also listen and nurture them. A blend of Permissive and Authoritarian, they get the most respect out of all types. Children of authoritative parents grow up to be the most well rounded and level headed

So perhaps the most important thing we can do for the well-being and emotional development of our children is to combine unconditional love with clear and consistent boundaries and rules.

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