Mandy has been working in the mental health field for more than eight years and has worked with a diverse group of clients. These range ...Read More
Do you want to bring out the best in your children? Here are top tips from a professional mental health expert on ways to be a wonderful parent (and how not to screw up your kids).
1) Offer unconditional love and acceptance.
Never make your children feel as though they have to earn your love and approval. This can lead to low self esteem and a feeling of never being good enough. Your love and support should never be dependent on good grades at school or marrying the right person that you approve of. Learn to love your children regardless. This reinforces that they are inherently loveable, no matter what the situation and is the best way to nurture high self esteem in your children.
2) Hold your children in high regard. Treat them with respect
Just because they are younger than you and have less say in what goes on does not mean that their rights should be ignored. Wherever possible, include your children in family decisions and discussions. You obviously have the final overall say (especially with younger children) but including children and listening to what they want helps them to believe that their opinion counts and they are have a right to an opinion and will be heard.
3) Don’t compare
Never compare your children to others. I often hear parents say ” oooh, isn’t your friend, Tom clever? He’s top of the class and captain of the rugby team. Why can’t you try harder?” This erodes a child’s self esteem and will most likely have long terms consequences that persist into adulthood and perhaps forever. Don’t compare siblings either. See each child on their own merits and look for the strengths in each child. Nurture their strengths rather than focusing on their weaknesses.
4) Don’t suppress
Emotions are natural and normal. It is unhealthy to suppress a child’s emotions and not allow them to be angry or upset. If they become violent or inappropriate with that emotion, realise that the emotion is okay but that they need to learn to manage their emotions. This gets easier with age. A child has every right to be angry with you and to verbally express that anger. If they are violent with it or engage in anti social behaviour, a time out is in order or removing them from the situation. Acknowledge their emotions but reinforce that feeling an emotion does not mean they can act out or act inappropriately. I have seen parents shout at their children for crying or for being angry – this is not the correct reaction at all and can lead to an adult that is emotionally unavailable – an inability to access their emotions as they have been taught to suppress them. Honour their emotional responses, good or bad – it is part of being human. Talk to them about it and see if there are ways you can diffuse the situation. Confront rather than suppress.
5) Acceptance of who your child essentially is
There are going to be aspects to our children that we may find disconcerting. Perhaps as a person, you are very outgoing or academic and your child isn’t. This can cause issues and unwelcome feelings on a parent’s part. Acknowledge these negative emotions but never try to foist your way of seeing life or your personality traits onto your children. Doing this effectively invalidates them as a person. They will begin to feel as if they have to be someone else in order to be loved and accepted and this is detrimental to a child’s self esteem. Accept who they are and love them and their quirks.
6) Avoid taking your frustrations about life and /or stress out on your kids
Many parents use their children as a punching bag. It’s very tempting to do this as the relationship we have with our children is not equal and we hold the authority and the abilities to make decisions. Children have very little power initially and they can be an easy target for adult frustrations. When you feel irritable and feel you might be snappy or unnecessarily hard on your children, remove yourself from their company and find a system to relax and destress. Music, a massage, a bubble bath, drinks with friends – whatever helps you to wind down. Find appropriate ways to channel your stress as much as possible and don’t use your children to diffuse your tension.
7) Don’t force them to participate in everything. Separate your ambitions from your childs.
Forcing children to participate in every after school activity on offer says more about the parent than it does about the child. Let your child be a child. There will be plenty of opportunities for stress and racing around when they are older. If you force a child to attend something they detest, year in year out, you may inadvertently teach them that they must get used to a life of doing things to please others and to fill their time with activities they don’t like. It can also encourage a child to accept a job they don’t particularly like as they have bee conditioned to believe that this is how life is. By all means, give your children opportunities and ask them to try different activities but do not force them to continue if they hate it. This can cause more damage than good and can cause a child to rebel and end up lazier and less interested in life than if they had been allowed to follow their own interests freely. Be aware of why you want your children to participate in many activities – is that to keep up with other families or is it truly because you feel it is in your child’s best interests?
8) Clear boundaries and discipline – backed up with sound reasoning
All children flourish in an environment that has freedom within limits. This means that they have quite a bit of personal freedom but that there are boundaries that are not negotiable. Make the “not negotiable” rules relevant to safety rather than to safeguard protocol. Learn to pick your battles. I have witnessed absolute chaos in families over the relatively harmless act of leaving elbows on the dinner table. Perspective is necessary here. If you tie your children up in too many rules they will begin to rebel the moment they are old enough to.
Curfews, notifying parents of whereabouts and who they are with are the types of rules that should be non negotiable. When they do their homework or whether they change out of their school uniform the moment they return from school are less important in the grand scheme of things.
9) Encourage them to explore and push out of their comfort zones. To think big
Children learn from their parents constantly. They watch what you do, how you do it and what the end result is. Try to encourage your children to be adventurous. Parents who instil fear into their children will end up with cautious, frightened children who live fearfully. Be positive rather than continually pointing out the possible dangers constantly.
10) Foster self belief
Talk to your children in a positive manner. Don’t criticise them unnecessarily and regularly give them positive verbal feedback. If you do feel the need to criticise, make sure it is constructive. Don’t tell your children that they are “useless” or “worthless”. This message over time can kill a child’s spirit. Instead focus on their strengths and help them to achieve their true potential by supporting them as much as possible.
Bringing up children is a tough job and no one’s perfect at it. We all have the odd crabby day and we all say things sometime that we later wish we hadn’t. As long as we keep tabs on our parenting approach and always put the interests of our children at the forefront, we’re doing alright.