By Karen Williams, Child Development and Parenting Expert and owner of Smarter Kids Kindergarten & Preschools.
We all know what a difficult job parenting can be. There is no instruction manual and we are often left with conflicting messages from our families and well-meaning friends who tell us what they went through with their little one. Despite the confusion, there are some sensible things we can do to meet the individual needs of each of our children.
Understand child development
It is valuable to understand the phases of development that all children move through. With this understanding, we can consider how developmentally appropriate their behaviour is due to their age. This allows us to depersonalise their tantrums and refusals, and assists us with knowing how to help them develop the skills they need to build upon.
Between the ages of 0-24 months children are tiny little people who have very limited cognitive (thought) and physical ability. They look to us for attachment and bonding and this is the time when it is crucial we help them feel loved and nurtured and instil a sense of safety and security. We need to provide a safe space for them to learn and grow and we need to respond with kindness and attention to their needs. Children learn in this stage whether the world is a safe or hostile place, based in large part on the way in which those closest to them respond to them.
From two to three years old children enter an exploratory phase where they are beginning to make a more independent assessment of their immediate world. They begin experimenting with cause and effect….if I cry, does Daddy, Mummy or another loving carer come running? How many times can I throw a spoon on the floor and how many times will it be retrieved? How do the people close to me respond when I throw a tantrum?
Understand parental influence
Parents (or those closest to the child acting in the parental role) are the most powerful influence in a child’s life in the early years. Because of this, it is important to understand that everything we do role models to our children what is and is not acceptable behaviour
We know that children are like sponges – they parrot what they hear and they copy what they see. When they see a close caregiver getting angry, they may find it scary yet come to understand that this is how one deals with frustration and gets one’s way.
While anger is an appropriate response to certain situations, and children do need to be exposed to the full range of human emotions, we must ensure that we clearly explain to children, even very young children, why we feel what we do, and how we can work to control and change our emotional responses. We know that emotional awareness and intelligence predicts life and academic success. Children will largely learn how to understand and control their emotions through the modelling exhibited by their parents.
Teach and demonstrate personal responsibility
It is completely and utterly ‘normal’ for children to act out on impulse, demonstrate selfishness, exhibit egocentrism (I AM the only thing in the world), and it is important that we gently and kindly help them understand there are other ways of being.
The trick, of course, is that to teach our children how to be responsible and thoughtful, we as parents need to demonstrate these skills to them. This can be hard when we are so tired and wrung out that we can’t find the energy to be bigger than our base instincts.
We need to help our child understand that yes can’t always be the answer to every one of their requests, listen to their concerns and help them come up with solutions, teach them to apologise for their mistakes and let them see us apologise for ours, and teach them to forgive others their mistakes by forgiving them theirs. In order to do this, we must be emotionally available and connected to our children and their lives.
When children feel close to their parents, they want to be just like them. Connection and communication is most of what parenting is all about. When our child feels the connection, they are open to our guidance. When we show them generosity, kindness, honesty, compassion, responsibility and all the other things we want them to be, that is the person they are most likely to become.
This article was published in Issue 22 of our print magazine, June/July 2017.