A more positive approach makes parenting fun. Image via Unsplash.
As parents, it’s not uncommon to be our own worst critics. We have all sorts of emotions such as fear and guilt when it comes to trusting our own emotions, because our children are the most precious thing that we have, and sometimes the sense of responsibility that can bring is completely overwhelming. Although most of us accept that there is no right or wrong way to parent, that doesn’t stop sales of parenting guides, using a development tracker for your baby and analysing every little event. Although a little self-reflection is a good thing, if we become too anxious and critical about our parenting choices, then that is the behaviour we are modelling for our children unconsciously. How can we expect our kids to trust unwaveringly in our judgement if we don’t trust ourselves?
Gaining confidence in parenting skills isn’t an overnight thing. We’re learning on the job, and sometimes it takes a few mistakes to find the right approach and parenting style for us. We need to encourage ourselves and take a more positive approach to parenting – working with our partner and extended family to create boundaries which work for us. Stop negative thoughts and over-anxiety in its tracks and find a balance. Becoming a more positive parent can be hugely impactful on ourselves and our kids and make all the difference when it comes to those tough decisions every parent faces…
Question Your Internal Dialogue
Many of us are so used to internalising that negative, self-critical voice that we don’t even realise it’s there. Make a conscious decision to end the cycle of self-criticism by questioning yourself whenever you notice it. For example, if a situation hasn’t gone the way you intended in parenting, instead of thinking ‘I messed up’, ask yourself why you handled it like that and what you might choose to do differently next time. If you find yourself having overly critical thoughts, try stopping, recognising what is going on and reframing it by forcing yourself to think about some positives instead. This can feel quite unnatural at first, but in the true spirit of ‘fake it til you make it’, if you do this enough you will be able to reprogramme your internal dialogue and take a happier approach. It’s also helpful to think through your strategies for dealing with a challenging scenario ahead of time. If you know your child is currently throwing quite a few tantrums, think about how you might handle one in a public place. Being prepared means you won’t feel as put on the spot, and you’ll have the tools to handle the situation constructively rather than doing the wrong thing out of fear or worry. You and your partner – and anyone else who is involved in helping to parent your kids on a practical level, such as grandparents – need to be united in your approach. Children can quickly sense division among adults and are masters at finding a weakness to exploit! Agree on certain boundaries ahead of time to prevent any conflict.
Appreciate Individual Differences
Children are little individuals, and the ways in which they behave can be very different. Most of the time, you’ll find an approach which works perfectly on one child may not wash with another. This is no reflection on your parenting ability. Learning your parenting style and how your child likes to be parented is a process. Some kids need discipline, boundaries and routine in order to feel secure. Others thrive on a bit more freedom and chaos. Some love to create and read quietly on their own. Others adore team play and socialising. If you can be flexible in your approach, while still honouring your own values, that’s the sweet spot where you hit your parenting flow state – but getting there may take some time. Learn to trust yourself when it comes to understanding your child. It’s a good idea to gather intelligence from other sources too – perhaps a nursery school teacher or someone who has close interaction with your child – but don’t become too reliant on the judgement of others. You are best placed to understand your child above all others.
Do you ever get the feeling your children are tuning you out? If you’re endlessly repeating yourself without getting the result you want, that can be very demotivating. You need your children to have their own motivation and sense of responsibility so that it doesn’t feel like a constant battle. How do you teach your kids to be responsible? Only by giving them trust. This is of course easier said than done. But if you keep on at them to do something in a certain way it tends to be white noise. They have to learn, in a practical sense, that actions have consequences. And the only way to teach that lesson is to tell them once and leave them to it. There is a big difference between coaching and encouraging and just stepping in to do something for them. You have to enable the learning opportunity by creating space for them to do it on their own.
Handling negative emotions well is an important skill. Image via Unsplash.
Managing Anger – Theirs And Yours!
Helping our children to deal with their emotions is one of the most positive moves we can make in parenting – and indeed, one of the most valuable tools we can give our kids for their future, too. Although it’s a natural instinct to try and keep our kids away from things like anger, hurt and upset, it’s a natural fact of human life that they will experience these emotions. Anger management techniques for children can include getting them to visualise their anger and then letting it go – a physical act such as ‘blowing’ their anger into a cloud that then floats away can be very helpful. You could also try asking them to draw a picture about the way they feel and then ripping it up and throwing it away. Techniques like this help them to work through and process what they are feeling. Visualisation is something which can really help us as parents too – whether it’s mentally rehearsing a positive outcome to a situation that scares us, or release our own feelings of sadness over something.
Building Self Esteem
Just as easily as adults, children can get discouraged, or their self-esteem can take a battering – especially at times of big change, such as welcoming a new sibling or starting school. This can be extremely hard to watch, and knowing what to do as a parent is hard. If your child lacks self-esteem it can affect every area of their life – they will dwell on their failures, doubt their abilities and compare themselves unfavourably to other children. Combat this by encouraging your child to try new things, and praising more the effort they put into a task than the outcome. Don’t be tempted to give false praise, as children will know themselves whether they have done their best and can quickly detect soft-soaping. If something doesn’t work, acknowledge that it didn’t but remind them that they will have the opportunity to practice and try again. Your place as a role model is also hugely significant. Show, rather than tell, your kids the effort you put into things like jobs around the house. Model a cheerful attitude, even when acknowledging a job isn’t your favourite, and your children will soon learn to approach things they don’t like with grace. Avoid using critical language about yourself in front of your child and correct them if they speak about themselves in such a way. Refocus the conversation onto their positive attributes and strengths when they encounter failure. Children need a sense of belonging and that what they do matters as much as adults, so get them to help out in the home or do things for others and encourage them to be kind. Research shows that acts of kindness increase self-esteem.
Focus On The Good
Take a moment to think about how much negative feedback you give your children in a given day – ‘Don’t do that! Stop shouting! Put that down!’. Although you are simply trying to prevent an accident or a mess or even provide guidance, there is a tendency to deliver a lot of criticism. How would you feel about having a boss who gave so much negatively phrased guidance, even with the best of intentions? Instead of waiting to catch your children doing something wrong – try to catch them out doing something right. Recognise the times they listen to you, show kindness to their siblings, tidying something away without being asked or show good manners. Positive reinforcement can do wonders if repeated regularly over time. Plus, taking this approach can actually make you feel more positive about yourself and your abilities, so it becomes a domino effect of good things. Positive parenting is a highly beneficial approach that is easy to get into with just a little conscious practice. Try out some of the techniques today and you and your children could be looking forward to a less anxious, calmer and happier future together.